Foundations of Operations Pt. 1 - Document Storage (boring but necessary)

I started my consultancy because of a big problem I saw in most new organizations:

Failure to lay the proper operational groundwork when starting things up.

I’m talking about file storage. And bookkeeping. And record tracking. And contract management. And HR management.

Lots of folks think it doesn’t matter how you start if you only have one or two staff members or if you’re starting with one funding source.

Let me tell you….IT MATTERS!

The foundations you lay for your business operations matter. A LOT. If you don’t start out your business with sound operational practices, you’re going to waste a lot of time and money on fixing them later.

In this series, I’m going to talk about the three biggest operations foundational mistakes I see in small businesses so you can avoid these pitfalls and do it right from the beginning.

The first one we’re going to talk about is document storage.

I know I already have lost half of you who think “It’s on my hard drive, it’s fine!” or “I’m the only one accessing this stuff, so it doesn’t matter”.

I’m sorry to tell are so mistaken.

Even if you never grow your business, I promise you that someday you will be in a situation where you have to produce some random old archival document and you won’t be able to find it. You forgot what you titled it or you can’t remember what folder you stored it in because your folders are called random things like “BT8”.

Getting your document storage correct when you start your business is CRUCIAL, especially if you plan on growing.

I developed these three rules for document storage that I follow with every organization I work with so they can have efficient, scalable document storage solutions.

  1. IN THE CLOUD. Period. It’s 2019. There is no reason for you to be hoarding documents on your hard drive. If you are starting a small business or nonprofit, set up a cloud drive IMMEDIATELY. Get in the habit of putting ALL your documents there. Everytime. Even if it’s just you right now. The biggest mistake I see small businesses making here is that the founder will store everything on her personal drive. Then, when she starts hiring staff, she’s spending 20% or more of her time digging through files to share them with those staff members. Your time is valuable! Set yourself up with a cloud based drive right away to save yourself and your staff time and money later. BONUS! Most cloud storage solutions allow for version tracking, so you can stop saving five billion versions of documents and stop wasting time sorting through MapDocv.32CSedits and MapDocv.33CBedits and trying to figure out which one is the most current.

  1. ADOPT A STANDARD FOR SIMPLE FILE NAMING CONVENTIONS. (Key word; SIMPLE!) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with a team and spent hours searching for a seemingly missing document, only to have a staffer tell me “Oh yeah, that one is called MellyCatsSuperCon”. Or worse, how many companies I have worked with that scan documents into a folder and then leave the document titled the random title the scanner gave it (Scan2948594875)! When you start your organization, immediately adopt a simple naming convention for all documents that go into company storage. Part of your employee training should always include training on your company naming conventions for documents, and that naming convention should be as simple and straightforward as possible. Any new staffer walking into your organization should be able to easily locate and identify the documents they need. I always suggested the easiest format. Name of document (abbreviated if necessary) and date. For example: McClatchyContractMay2019. When you have a new team member and you say to them “Hey, we need the two most recent McClatchy contracts” they will be able to find them without having to open documents and scan them in order to figure out which is which.

  1. THINK LIKE AN OUTSIDER WHEN ORGANIZING FOLDERS. As I mentioned above, when you’re organizing your document storage, you want it to be simple enough that a newbie or outsider (like an auditor or accountant) could come in and easily find what they need. This is where you have to be a bit flexible. All to often, I see founders organizing their folders in a way that exclusively works for them. Their logic is “Hey, I’m the founder and I need it to be easy for me”. And while that’s true….it’s rarely a scalable and often becomes a headache for your team. What works exclusively for you probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of other people. Following a tried-and-true hierarchy of folders is probably going to be your best bet here. Start with your basic functions (even if you don’t have them yet): HR, Budgets and Finance, Contracts, & Work Product are a good top level series of folders to start with. From there, try to make the fewest folders possible, and never EVER have a folder for just one document. No one wants to drill down five levels just to find one spreadsheet...that’s just annoying.

Getting your document storage right from the start is going to save you and your team so much time and money in the future. It’s worth it to invest a little bit of time now, even if it’s only for you, and even if it’s not that many documents. Take that first corporate bank statement and load it into your “Budgets and Finance” folder right now! Taking this step is going to help all your operations run smoother so you can focus your attention where it is best used.

Next week, Part 2 - Foundations for HR (It’s not that scary).

Has your business gotten itself into a pickle with bad operational practices and you don’t know how you get yourself out? Shoot me a message and let me help you fix your systems and work smarter.