The need for structure in your business

I’ve been on holiday in the South island of New Zealand for the past 2 weeks.  That’s why this blog has been silent for a while.

I took two cousins from England for a tour of the West Coast, southern lakes and Fiordland.  We spent a lot of time in rain forest and it rekindled my memories of other holidays in the area and of school geography about the structure of the native forests.

We saw the tall rimu, totara, kahikatea, matai and miro in the forest canopy, the ferns and mosses on the ground and the lower growing bushy trees in the middle.  It was all very lush and green. 

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What does gardening have in common with filing?

rengarenga lilies

Last weekend I was in the garden cleaning up around the rengarenga lilies that had been home to snails for some time. (If you don’t know these plants, they form low bushes of long fleshy leaves and a myriad of white flowers in spring and summer).

As I pulled off shredded leaves that the snails had feasted on, and scraped up the dead leaves that I’d left there to compost (but in fact had become snail birthing units and nurseries), I pondered on the wisdom of my strategy that effectively left the garden to its own devices.

Then my thoughts turned to other chores that are often left to their own devices and the mess that ensues. Take filing for example.

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Paper or electronic filing – or both?

Do you store your business information in paper format or in electronic formats? Or both?  Do you remember the logic behind your decision about what to file where and in what format? How do you decide what to do with incoming items?

It can be very confusing when you start to think about a filing system for your business.  You have the electronic files you create; you have stuff coming by email and other stuff coming in paper form through your PO Box and that suppliers hand to you in paper format.

Electronic filing only

If you decide you are only going to have an electronic filing system, you need to be able to scan all the valuable paper business information that arrives at your business.  You need access to a scanner and have a routine so that the scanning gets done regularly. If you don’t, the scanning is left to pile up in an ‘in tray’ or a ‘to be scanned’ tray.   And then it becomes a real chore, just like any pile of filing.

Your process needs to include selecting what paper information you will find useful in the future, useful enough to make the effort to scan and keep.

Then you need to have a list of topic headings so you can store similar information in the same place each time, even if bits of information come in weeks or even months apart.  Scanning and then storing the scanned item on your desktop or in ‘My documents’ may work while you only have a few documents.  It’s going to become hard to find once the volume builds as your business grows.

Hybrid filing – paper and electronic

You may prefer to store the paper based information in physical folders instead of scanning them. But then you have the issue of finding relevant electronic information when you want to see everything to form a full picture.

You can do this by using the same list of topics or subjects for both your paper and electronic files. When you start out you may get away with a simple list, maybe in alphabetical order.  As your business grows, you will probably need to have sub-headings.

Paper filing only

Obviously this is the other side of the first option described above.  If you are going to use a paper filing system as your ‘official’ business you will need to print out everything that you produce from your computer and put the printed version in your paper files.

This will be very time consuming and probably counter-productive.  I don’t recommend this but it is workable if you really need everything in paper.  After all it was the only way to file business information before we got computers


Male secretaries – whatever next?

Organising what’s in your office, on your computer and working out what to do with all that email isn’t the most exciting part of your business.  You’d much rather be working with your clients, earning money, networking with the aim of getting new clients and – well actually anything but filing papers or electronic files in a way you can find them again.

And as for those 2500 emails, well forget it; I’ll find the one I want if I ever need to.

There’s nothing new about filing.  It’s been a necessary evil for centuries. Did you know that secretaries existed in Rome before the Roman Empire? But men, not women.

Women didn’t get into office work until the industrial revolution on the 19th century.

Filing cabinets were developed in the US in the mid 19th century and this form of storage for office paperwork revolutionised businesses.

By the 1930s women began to dominate the role of secretary.  The role of Filing Clerk evolved through to the 90s when these roles were removed from organisations in the name of efficiency. Support staff such as filing clerks were seen as an overhead that contributed little to generating revenue.  The outcome of that was the filing devolved to front line people who didn’t know what to do and didn’t want to learn.

Now that has changed again since computers became widely used across all types of businesses.  Administrative support staff have a range of duties.  Fling papers, electronic files and email has become an important part of good business practices.

For small businesses however it’s often not possible to employ someone to do the office administration, especially when you’re in start-up mode.

It’s even more important then to have a good system set up as part of your start-up activities.  Then you get into good habits from the beginning and as your business grows. We can help you for less than $500. Even your bank manager won’t blink at that as s/he will be well aware of the long-term benefits to your business of making that small investment of time and money up-front.

Simply filing

Last week I wrote about the amount of time wasted in businesses because people can’t find bits of information quickly and easily.

Following on from that, there are two important aspects to consider when it comes to organising your information.

First you need to store it somewhere – and you need to be able to find it again

It’s the finding it again that creates the most problems for people – at home or at work, in small businesses or big corporates.

You need a filing system that is simple, covers all aspects of your business and most importantly – it has to be intuitive to work for you and your team so that it becomes second nature. If it’s not you won’t use it.  Then you’ll be back wasting time hunting around for information you know you have but can’t find.

I want you to stop wasting that time and putting it to productive use in your business.  Problem is that you are concerned that if you put time into getting a filing system, you won’t do real work that brings in business revenue.

I can already hear you already saying Oh – I haven’t got time for that.  But hang on – how many hours did you say you were spending each week looking for information?

And how long will it take to set this up – I’d say 10 hours all up.

So think back to the figures I gave you last week about how the minutes spent looking for information grow into hours and the $ cost of those hours.

Now here’s the nitty gritty for this week about creating your filing system. There are two main ways – one is a formal system with a hierarchical structure. The other uses keywords that are meaningful for you and your team.

You may already have a keyword-based system – with folders for paper and for electronic files labelled with a word or short phrase that describes the content of those folders. These may be organised in alphabetical order or be grouped with folders containing similar information.

So you already have the beginning of your filing system.

As your business becomes bigger and more complex, you may end up with a myriad of folders that you have to wade through whenever you need to find a piece of information.

At this point you may need a more formal structure that has a series of sub-folders.  The trick is to have top-level folders with meaningful labels that can cover all the activities in your business.  Then you need to make sure everyone in your team uses the system every time they want to store some information.  Whether it is sales receipt or customer contact details – each of these must be stored in the same place as other similar bits of information.  Otherwise the system won’t work.

It entirely up to you to decide what will work for you and your business.  Once you’ve decided on what labels to use and how to organise your folders, then you can decide what sort of folders you want to use for your paper files, how to match the paper filing system with your electronic files and if you want to include email into the mix as well.

It’s all possible. It does need some time and effort up front though.  But I can guarantee you that if you set it up well in the first place, you’ll reap rewards through increased productivity within a very short space of time.  You might even reduce the risk of IRD penalties through late filing of tax returns.  Now there’s an incentive to sort out your filing systems and habits.

You might want to give me a call or email me to get some help to get started. I’ll be delighted to get your call or email.

Welcome to Terrace Consulting

Welcome to Terrace Consulting in 2011.

We’ve just added a new section to our web site especially for small businesses.

We’re aware that small business owners get very little, if any, advice on how to keep a record of their business activities.

When I started Terrace Consulting in 2002, my accountant told me that I needed to keep my financial records for seven years.  That was it!

Nothing about how or where to store them.

Nothing about keeping files secure from intruders (physical or virtual).

Now I’ve been thinking that maybe you’re in the same situation and that your office may look a bit of a mess.  Maybe like this?  Or worse?

If you have a messy office like this, how long does it take you to find stuff – flicking through the piles of paper, looking through unlabelled folders.  How much time do you waste, How much has that cost you in lost contracts?  Or tax penalties?

We work with you to develop filing systems and processes that help to sort out the papers on your desk and electronic files on your PC so you can quickly find the papers you want when you need them.

We have saved our clients’ time – up to 30 minutes a day because they have been able to put their finger on a piece of paper within minutes.

We have helped clients to name their electronic files on their PC so they know what to look for when they need them in a hurry.

We can help you regain control of your email inbox!

Contact us today so we can work with you to give you back part of your day.



 Find the information you need, when you need it, quickly and easily

Let us help your business to grow…

Let us help your organization to be more efficient…

…with simple and effective systems and processes to organize your business information


Helping you to:

Provide consistent advice to Management, Boards and/or Government


Save time, reduce stress, lower risks, increase profits


Ask Judy how at Terrace Consulting and Filing Services