2009 is a year of change for many reasons. A new President is about to take office, the economy is in a state if flux, and people's awareness is generally heightened as they try to look out for the next few weeks, quarter or create a vision for the remainder of the year.
If your business is generally a fast paced environment and things seem slow right now – find other ways of keeping up the pace so you don't lose momentum. Do an internal audit of your process infrastructure and come up with ways to strengthen the business from the inside out. Here is the first entry a series of “Business Process Suggestions:” Paper payments and paper file storage: Are physical checks and invoices still a big part of your office process? It may be worth looking into ways to make this more efficient. Are checks and paper receipts still a big part of your operation? If so, think about centralizing spending – talk with your vendors and ask if they accept credit/debit cards. If they do, then ask if they will discount based on early payment. Pay the invoice early and then leverage the net 30 day terms you have with your credit card company. Or, if you pay with a debit card, you'll see the payments appear on your bank statement more or less right away. You can update your books more frequently in short spurts and keep your files organized to minimize the work it takes to get bookkeeping done – you can download the transactions into your accounting software and monthly reconciliation becomes easier.
Do you get lots of paper invoices and do you have file cabinets stuffed with files? Think about scanning your documents from now on and creating a file system on your hard drive. Electronic files are easier to store and they can be easier locate information, especially by learning to use the search tool in Windows or installing Google Desktop Search which is just like Google online but for your computer only. For example, if you are looking for the invoice number to an order of “cedar lumber,” you can open Google Desktop search and type that in. In less than a second, the results will appear as a list in your browser window and you can click to open the file. In some cases what you are looking for may just be in the search results. Google indexes practically anything with text on it – PDF, word, excel, etc. so its absolutely useful. Because its the desktop version, you can keep it private.
This is a huge time saver but it takes time to setup. You need a scanner, which is generally available on any three in one fax unit and the associated software installed on your computer. For faster, larger volume scanning look into a standalone scanner or a copy machine with a sheet feeder and fast page per minute action. Also, take a moment to think about how you want to organize the files on your computer – organize by vendor or client name, by project, etc. This takes some time but once you get rolling, its worth it.
Keep these files backed up – the biggest risk to making the switch to a virtual filing system is what happens if something goes down. There are back up services you can buy with unlimited storage – Mozy has a $5 per month service level for unlimited use. Its absolutely worth it!