For any small business, just the thought of being paper-free is cathartic. Making the transition isn’t easy but with a thoughtful, disciplined approach, it can be done. And, oh how sweet it is once you’re free of those piles of paper.
Before jumping into the deep end, there are multiple stages that we need to go through to make sure we lay a strong foundation that will hold over the long term.
Step 1: Changing one paper-related workflow
Going paperless is a process and just like quitting smoking, it’s tough to quit paper cold turkey. We recommend transforming your office to be paperless by starting with one paper-related workflow that you deal with on a regular basis. This allows you to build the habit slowly and in a concrete fashion.
If your office buys snacks for employees, pays cellphone bills or covers the cost of internet for your team, the receipts and bills that are a result of these payments are great paper workflows to start transforming.
Equally important as selecting a workflow that allows you to slowly dip your toe into the water in transforming to a paperless office, is selecting software that feels natural and is easy to add to current habits.
Step 2: Software selection
When starting to change a habit, there’s nothing worse than having to invest money up front before committing wholeheartedly to a new way of doing things. That’s why we highly recommend selecting software that will work with your existing tools.
If you have an office scanner, you can easily start scanning receipts, bills, invoices, etc. and either save them on your computer or in a cloud storage solution, like Dropbox. Scanners we’ve heard great things about are the Neat Connect and Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners. This can work fine but personally, I always find this process arduous. You’ve got to store the receipts until you’re at your scanner and then you have to make the time to load the software, scan and label the receipts from the day. It’s a lot of work. So, the less scanning you have to do, the better.
It’s more likely you’ll stick to the paperless life, if getting your paper into the cloud is almost seamless. And, there are plenty of applications that offer mobile apps for your iPhone or Android that makes it easy to snap a photo of your document and send it up into the cloud for data processing (and potentially, syncing it with your accounting).
There are a few we’d recommend: Hubdoc, ReceiptBank and Shoeboxed.
These tools are all great at extracting the key data from your invoices and receipts and inputting them into your accounting. Though, one solution is better at automating it all.
Step 3: Organizational change
Now that you’re nailing your first workflow, it’s time to get your team onboard. The best way to do this is to add a second workflow that involves one or two of your co-workers. You’re not asking your entire team to drop everything, which would quickly become unmanageable. You’re building a strong foundation through incremental steps and perhaps building some inbound interest from colleagues not yet involved in the exciting change to a paperless office.
Once you’ve selected the co-worker(s) to involve and the workflow you’re going to tackle, take 15 minutes and walk them through your beautifully-designed paperless process, including the software you’re using. This will help your co-workers understand how it works and will make sure they’re successful in making the transition.
Step 4: Rinse, repeat and stay disciplined
At this point, you’ve successfully transitioned two paper workflows to be paperless and figured out the process for doing so. Now, it’s time to rinse and repeat until you’re running a completely paperless office!
It’s also helpful at this point to talk to your accountant or bookkeeper about your paperless process. They might have tips about how you can make it more effective and will make sure you’re following IRS or CRA rules.
Last but not least, stay disciplined. Keep a calendar in your office checking off each day that you’ve stayed paperless. This will help reinforce a good habit and it also wouldn’t hurt to throw your team a pizza party (or something equivalent!) to celebrate 30 days of being paper-free.
Thanks for reading through the steps and preparing yourself for your new paperless (and stress-free!) office. Enjoy it and please let us know if found any tips along the way to made the transition easier!