Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Paper Doll Gives You The Business (Files) -- Part 2: Reference Papers
Longtime readers of Paper Doll know that my Family Files system fits every piece of personal reference paperwork under a simple rubric of financial, legal, medical, household and personal categories. While, as I explained last week, business files are governed by a series of regulations and obligations specific to each profession and locale, the categories of business filing still remain quite similar:
FAMILY FILES vs. BUSINESS FILES
Financial and legal files, whether business or personal, tend to be decidedly straightforward. The financial category is governed by broad money types -- income, expenses and taxes. Legal documentation, for business or personal reasons, tends to focus on proof of ownership (of tangible assets or intellectual property) and legal interactions between parties.
The third category of business files, marketing, actually echoes the medical category in personal files. Like medical issues, the contents of marketing files tend to govern health and growth, only of a business instead of an individual. Medical files include benchmarks of growth and development and incidences of intervention to reverse or forestall a medical problem; similarly, marketing files represent stages of creative endeavors or campaigns designed to reflect and advance the health of a business and the actions taken (or emergency marketing plans created) to handle crisis management.
The fourth category of business files, operational, reflects the parallel (Family File) category of household files. Household files govern all of the practical matters related to running a home and tend to include user's guides and instructional manuals, as well as plans for remodeling, gardening or otherwise identifying and manipulating parts of the household to a more satisfactory effect. In business files, the operational section similarly oversees all the different parts of the "house" -- i.e., the business -- for keeping it running smoothly.
Finally, as with the personal section of the Family Files system, which reflects each member of the household's personal history and interests, the personal section of business files ensures that the individual, whether a solopreneur or a cog in the corporate machine, can maintain paperwork specific to himself or herself.
BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS REFERENCE FILING SYSTEM
Are you surrounded by piles of invoices, vendor catalogs, contracts and general paperwork to the point that you are overwhelmed by your office? Hewing to a simple business filing system for your reference paperwork will help keep your blood pressure down and your profits up.
If you've already got a filing system in place, a little rejiggering should do the trick, but if your office seems as though a whirling dervish has just spun through, start from scratch with five piles, one for each of the five main categories. Then, go through each file or piece of loose paperwork, figure out which category in which it belongs, and move it there. If there's a pre-existing file for a subcategory, tuck loose papers within. If you find papers that don't fit a file, determine in which category it belongs and create a new folder. Easy-peasy!
Every profession is different, as is every professional. However, the following suggestions will help you get started brainstorming those business reference file sub- categories:
--Client payment records
--Employee/Contractor Payment Records
Tax notes: Create hanging folders or sections for different types of tax filings, as you may want to refer back to old documents to help you fill in new forms. Divide tax sections at the federal, state, city and county levels. Within each category, you may have specialized filings, such as for corporate tax, sales tax, FUTA (federal unemployment tax) and personalty tax. (No, not personality tax! One might wonder whether we'd be taxed for having too much, or too little, personality. Personalty tax, which exists only in some states, is a tax on the tangible property you own.)
Even if your office is 100% digital, I encourage you to periodically print out essential documents, like like balance sheets and financial statements. And, before you re-invent the wheel, check out free online business form templates, such as those offered by Office Depot and SCORE.
If your business is very new or very small, your legal section might be sparse. Be sure to leave room in your filing system for this section to grow as your business grows. Documents and files might include:
Contracts -- Contracts govern your rights and responsibilities with regard to your fiduciary and other relationships with individuals and businesses. These might include:
--Third Party Service Providers
--Titles -- Create a file for each major piece of equipment, property, vehicle or other valuable item for which you might have to prove ownership.
--Leases -- If you've chosen to lease or rent, rather than purchase, your business space, vehicles, software or equipment, be sure to create a file for each so that the contracts and specifications can be found and reviewed at a glance.
As you set up your files, make sure the contract documents are valid and up-to-date. Remember to make a cheat sheet so you can consult the deal points (costs, schedules/delivery dates, contact numbers, etc.) at a glance, as we discussed under Red Hot Reference last week.
Insurance -- Not all businesses need all of the following policies. Consult with a trusted insurance advisor to make sure you have all (and only) the policies you need. Create separate files for each policy you hold instead of lumping all policies in one file. For example, you might have:
Some policy types relate not to the business, per se, but those involved in running it:
- General Liability Insurance
- Professional Liability Insurance -- One common type is Errors and Omissions insurance.
- Product Liability Insurance -- Make sure you're covered in case a product you sell causes injury or harm.
- Commercial Property Insurance
- Home-Based Business Insurance -- Did you know that homeowner's insurance usually won't cover business-related losses?
- Health Insurance
- Disability Insurance
- Key Man Insurance -- Also called Key Person Insurance, this type of policy is usually taken out by a company to hedge against potential financial losses in case of a key individual's "extended incapacity" or death.
Create space in your marketing files for your vision of the future. Include your:
Business Plan -- Consult it often!
Marketing Plan -- Do you have a marketing calendar? An editorial calendar?
Both of the above should be living documents -- block time in your schedule to consult them frequently. They're your reference materials, so refer to them!
Marketing Contacts -- Your TV, radio, print and online PR contacts may be kept digitally, but having a frequently-updated print file can be a saving grace in an emergency.
Marketing Event Records -- For each entity that gives you a chance for a speaking gig, workshop, media interview, etc., keep a separate file. Record not only your contacts, but keep a running list of driving directions, the bullet points or general topics previously presented, and other notes to which you can refer the next time you are contacted (or decide to contact them).
Marketing Materials -- Be sure to keep a series of files with all of the essential elements of your print and digital marketing efforts, including:
Logos, photos, and art work
General text copy
CDs/DVDs of audio/video elements
Brainstorming Notes -- Capture concepts for blog posts, articles, videos, books, etc.
Administrivia -- Maintain information on how things work at your company. Keep detailed records regarding:
--Your staff, if you have one
--Human resource policies
--Procedural handbooks or charts
--Benefits policies, such as for profit-sharing, 401(k)s and health insurance
Clients/Customers -- This is where you keep the detailed information regarding the people you serve...so that you can serve them even better.
Prospects -- Note details so that upcoming conversations will be nuanced and textured. Once again, a CRM system is great, but paper notes are easier to read when you're pacing-while-chatting.
Technical Documentation -- Carefully weed and maintain the technical records that keep your business humming, including:
--Computer and equipment manuals -- If your prime filing real estate is limited, use a small bookshelf and bookends to categories manuals by equipment type.
--Logins and Passwords -- How long have those password-bearing Post-Its® been affixed to your monitor for all to see? File them away.
Vendors and Service Providers -- Only keep the most current copies of brochures, catalogs and price lists. If you can bookmark them online, do it, but maintain notes on personal contacts with vendors.
Ancillary Activities -- If your business does just one thing, serving one type of client, this category won't be necessary. However, if you have secondary activities or products in addition to your primary services or lines, develop careful files now. For example, if you spend 95% of your work time as a freelance writer, but occasionally revise resumes, keep samples resumes, lists of actions verbs, and notes on prior clients in their own administrative section. If that part of the business grows, you'll have the basics in place.
Truly personal reference papers belong in a Family Filing system. However, if you work for someone else, be sure to maintain a tidy set of files for keeping track of the oxymoronic "personal work" paperwork like:
--Blank and completed time sheets
--Vacation request forms
--Expense report sheets
Different paperwork has different levels of access priority. Action files and Red Hot Reference need to be close at hand -- you should only have to swivel in your seat. General reference papers might require rolling your chair with a one-foot pushoff, but you'll still be able to reach them with ease.
Archival paperwork is that which legal, tax or operational reasoning requires it be maintained...but nobody said it had to be maintained right where you'd like to be stretching your legs. As long as it's kept in a reasonably accessible, moisture-proof, temperature controlled environment, your archival reference paperwork -- that which you must keep but need not obtain more than a few times a year -- can easily be exiled from your royal real estate.
posted on: 8/30/2011 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.
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