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Productivity / Office administration

Practical tips for a paperless office

Is a paperless office for a soloists a practical reality? In my article Small business record keeping: Dealing with the shoebox Marc Fraser from Melbourne raised the possibility of maintaining financial source documents electronically.

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Fraser’s discussion motivated me to research and implement my own paperless office.

Firstly, a bit of good news – it is legal. However, ATO Ruling TR 2005/9 stipulates that if you are maintaining your financial records electronically, the documents must be a true and clear reproduction of the original paper records, stored for five years, and retrievable at all times.

So I decided to make my office paperless.

Previously I was receiving and storing a lot of electronic information in my email program. However, nowadays I tend not to rely on its capacity to store information as I am now concerned with the file size, and the ease of archiving and retrieving. Instead I have created a sub-folder in my documents area on my PC and when financially relevant material arrives via email, I open the attachment, rename it and save it there.

Next step on my journey to a paperless office was a scanner. In the course of research, I found cheap models took up to five minutes to scan a single page and slowed down my PC. This may suit some soloists, but I needed more speed.

"Investigate whether your suppliers and your financial institutions will allow you to download online statements, and ask them to stop mailing you."

I quickly discovered something very exciting about some scanners, a feature known as O.C.R., Optical Character Recognition. This enables you to produce a searchable PDF, which allows you to search within the text of what you scan.

Want more articles like this? Check out the office administration section.

Here are some more tips for a paperless office

  • Send electronic invoices and encourage your suppliers to send you electronic invoices.
  • Investigate whether your suppliers and your financial institutions will allow you to download online statements, and ask them to stop mailing you.
  • Stay up to date by reading news online and subscribing to enewsletters.
  • Download cutepdf freeware that will allow you to print to pdf and store the document electronically.
  • For about $15 annually you can buy a Digital Signature which will ensure your emails are secure and encrypted.
  • Sign up to an electronic fax services like Utbox which allows you to both receive and send faxes via email.

If your business is quite complicated you may want to consider a document management system like Info Organiser which uses a database to catalogue all your records, and wait for it, you can link your source document directly to the transaction within your business management software, and retrieve it at the click of a button.

Remember, it is vitally important that you store the documents securely and in a searchable and retrievable format. I can not stress enough the importance of good back-up procedures for your paperless office. Sitting with clients who have paid to have expensive back-up systems installed, and going through the process of retrieving the data to find it is unreadable, or simply not there is never enjoyable.

Finally, in recent times I have received emails discouraging me from unnecessarily printing them:

Please consider the environment before printing this;

or

I know my messages are enthralling but please don’t print them.

Do you have an enviromentally inspirational quote within your email signature you would like to share with other solists?

Click here to read my previous article on Small business record keeping: Dealing with the shoebox.

Heather Smith

is a Chartered Certified Accountant & Xero Accounting Advisor specialising in moving businesses to the cloud, improving productivity and profits. She's written six books including Xero for Dummies & Learn Small Business Start-Up in 7 Days.

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