It wasn’t even because we thought it would save us a lot of money. In fact, it was fairly expensive and quite time intensive.
Frankly, I like to be ahead of the technology curve and thought it would be a benefit in our paper-intensive industry. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do, but I wish we had known then what we know now.
Although no two paperless changeovers are the same, it would have been fabulous to have a mentor to advise us during the conversion. But back then, we were the pioneers, not the settlers. Because we were a fairly early adopter, we made up our own system and didn’t buy an expensive system, figuring that software for a firm our size (fewer than 10 employees) would still be buggy and uncertain. At the time, we planned to get the system down pat and later buy industry-specific software.
Eight years and a few tweaks later, we’re still happy with our system. Feel free to recycle some of our tips based upon our experience if you are thinking about going paperless:
- Consensus in your work group is critical.
Moving to paperless is about changing the total concept of how you do business, so be prepared for resistance. I assumed everybody would be as excited as I was to be making such an exciting change. To my surprise, others — even younger than I — saw it as a waste of perfectly good work time. In particular, you need to enlist your office administrator because he or she will be the gatekeeper for the new system.
- Plan to implement in your slowest season.
This would appear obvious, but I just read about a CPA firm that made the change in January. I can’t believe they had any employees left by April 15!
Even if you plan to outsource part of the work, it will be slow at first as everyone adopts the new system and works out kinks. Consider a test run with a willing customer since it could help iron out problems beforeyou go live.
- Map out the new work flow in advance. Six months before we began, we put our heads together to brainstorm what we would need to do, how it would affect work flow and the schedule of the change.
We decided on a two-step process: in the first year, we concentrated on using a paperless system for that year only. The next year, we reviewed what information we needed to retain and what was out-of-date or no longer relevant. We then hired temps to scan and organize historical files according to our outline.
You don’t have to purchase expensive software to benefit. We based our system upon Microsoft Windows’ folder structure. It took us two days to outline the paper flow and figure out the naming structure. Actually, one of the hardest parts of the whole process was agreeing on a consistent naming scheme for folders, sub-folders, etc. Your business structure will determine the picture of your online file structure.
- Research software and equipment.
You don’t have to purchase paperless software, but you should consider it as an option. When we first began to plan paperless, we didn’t even have a full working copy of Adobe Acrobat. Now instead of piles of paper, employees’ desk spaces have a workstation scanner, three to four monitors and a licensed copy of Adobe Acrobat and other complementary software as it has become available (online faxing, for example.)
Line up a licensed shredding service to handle all of the paper you’ll have to dispose. The cost will be worth the time savings unless your papers aren’t confidential and you are really into bonfires. Later on, set rules for what goes into the shredder bin and what doesn’t.
- Plan to review your security system from a different perspective.
Before going paperless, our biggest threat was fire and flood. Now we have extra storage space and can operate from anywhere with an internet connection and laptops. During the 2009 ice storm, for example, employees were able to log in and work with clients electronically from wherever they could power up. On the other hand, secure, reliable backup is now critical.
For over six years, we’ve chosen remote storage with very good results. An unexpected benefit is that the cost has fallen drastically during that time.
- Realize that you will never, ever get rid of all of the paper.
Paperless really just means less paper. For example, we made a strategic decision to keep vendor invoices and old check stubs on file because it would have been time-intensive to separate all of the staples and to scan so many odd-sized pieces of paper.
n Review the system each year and involve everyone in suggesting improvements.
Two years ago, the younger staff convinced me to try reviewing income tax returns online. That was my last link to paper filing and it surprised me how quickly I embraced it once I gave it a try.
- It really helps to have a tech guru on staff.
For a small firm, you don’t need to hire a full-time hardware specialist, but having that one person who can handle the small stuff as part of his/her job really helps when your system goes down or you need to upgrade to a new computer. Otherwise, plan to contract with a dependable local company that specializes in technology support.
Believe me when I say that after you make the change, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
The paper piles of a few years ago are part of a different era to me. I shudder to think of ever again asking a client to hold while I run downstairs to look up a prior year’s income tax number. For all employees but me, it’s the only system we’ve ever had (which, I admit, does make me feel a tad old).
Our clients seem happy with our speed and accuracy and we love having access to information with only a few keystrokes. On the downside, you may want to invest in a stair stepper to offset the “calorie cost” of your new-found efficiency.
Johanna Fox Turner, CPA, a Certified Financial Planner and Registered Life Planner, is owner and investment adviser representative of Milestones Financial Planning, LLC, 907 Paris Road in Mayfield. She is president of Johanna Fox, CPA and a former Mayfield-Graves County Chamber of Commerce president. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-247-0555, 800-991-2721 or www.milestonesfp.com.
The paper piles of a few years ago are part of a different era for me. I shudder to think of ever again asking a client to hold while I run downstairs to look up a prior year’s income tax number. ... Our clients seem happy with our speed and accuracy and we love having access to information with only a few keystrokes.