September 20, 2011

12 Steps to Near-Paperless Bliss

Digitizing paper files and routine processes is so valuable that it has to be at the top of advisors' lists on ways to be more productive

As you implement best practices in your financial planning or wealth management business, a vital question to ask is: Should you go completely paperless?

(The question is not: Should I get rid of most paper? Of course you should.) My preliminary answer to the first question is probably not.

How much paper you retain, if any, may be a personal preference rather than a best practice.

Personally, when I’m proof reading, I like to print a document and mark it up. I can see errors better. And then there’s the “out of sight/out of mind” curse. If I’m not done with a project and I file it out of sight, I might as well reduce it to sub-atomic particles. I will never see it again.

Nevertheless, digitizing paper files and routine processes is so valuable that it has to be on the very top of your ongoing effort to become more productive. So let’s get started

Filing at my company, Bill Good Marketing, is not a popular assignment. We have about 40 four-drawer filing cabinets containing client files going back to 1986. You need rollerblades to file stuff. Heaven forbid you have to file something for Adam Aaimes and then Zelda Zorch.

In the words of the classic song: Did he ever return, No he never returned And his fate is still unlearn'd.

In six weeks, those 40 cabinets will be gone, their paper files converted to easily accessible PDF files. Why six weeks? We’re moving and I’m not going to pay thousands of dollars a year to store all that … ‘er … stuff.

And we will do it with two $500 scanners!

The Process

1)      Set a goal

2)      Buy or lease equipment

3)      Run some tests

4)      Personnel in place

5)      Process documented

6)      Staff trained

7)      File preparation

8)      Scanning

9)      File naming

10)    Secure disposal

11)    Secure access and

12)    Redundant backup

Set Goals

You have to break this project into pieces. We have client files, direct mail files, and seminar files. Plus we generate a lot paper for workbooks for our training classes. We’re going to start with the client files for the simple reason: We’re moving, and they take up the most space.

First objective: All client files scanned to a secure location, redundantly backed up, with access granted to those who need the data. 

Due date: October 21.

In project planning, rule #1: Planning starts with the destination in mind.

We’ll plan and execute the other projects after we move.

Buy or Lease Equipment

We decided on the ScanSnap s1500 Scanner. Our research was really simple.  The daughter of one of our team members works at the Coca-Cola bottling plant within 50 yards of our office.  She said every admin person there had one on their desk. 

We bought a couple. These are awesome machines. I have some information on this scanner on my Paperless Resource Page.

Motto:  When you find something that works, stop checking. Get the job done.

In doing a bit of online research, I read about people taking a year to get their files organized!!  Not interested in that. Let’s get it done.

Run Some Tests

In order to know how many people to assign to the project, we needed two vital pieces of data we didn’t have.

1)      How many files can one person prepare per hour?

2)      How many files can one person scan per hour?

Based on initial tests, we think we can do this with two people on file prep, and two on scanners, although we might have to increase that to three each.

Let’s say roughly that’s $15K in staff pay to finish a massive project. In planning our new office, we were advised we needed 7 square feet per filing cabinet. That’s at least 420 square feet of space. Counting all the expense of office space, it would cost me $8,000 a year to store all this stuff. I break even in two years. Plus we can get rid of rollerblades.

This should get you started. 

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This is the first in a series of articles, which are archived on a “Paperless Resource Page” on my website.

Here’s the link to my author page for Research magazine. Bookmark it. Check here often for parts 2 and 3, and other wisdom.

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