As a small or home-based business owner, you need to be able to operate from your desk quickly and easily.  Though setting up a filing system sounds difficult, it is a relatively easy task that can be made easier by a few tips and tricks.

1 – Sit at your desk for a few minutes and figure out where you will instinctively look for things.  I have a drawer to the left of my workstation.  When I first set up my desk, I didn’t have anything in it.  When I would look for stamps, paperclips or my stapler, it was the first place I would look, even though I knew it was empty.  So naturally I put the stamps, paperclips and stapler in that drawer.  For me, it was the natural home for those items.   Everyone will approach this differently, and what works for me may not work for you.  Take a few minutes to sit down at your primary workspace and reach for equipment, supplies and files.  That will help you establish the idea spot for those items for you personally.

2 – Next determine whether an alphabetical, numerical or subject filing system for your papers will work best for you.  Do you search for things according to the client’s name?  The category (i.e. expenses, financial, marketing)? By reference number?  This is a critical step, as it will determine how you will layout your system.  Do this BEFORE you buy anything for your system.

3 – Next, roughly determine your storage needs.  Do you have a large number of files that you access on a daily basis?  Do you only access your files weekly?  The answers will determine if you need a desktop file holder, a two-drawer filing cabinet close to your desk or a four drawer lateral cabinet across the room.  So many options exist today, that you should choose carefully.  Allow for growth when looking at filing cabinets – buy something to accommodate twice the files you think you will have now.  This will limit the number of times you will have to resort and reorganize.

4 – Invest in a good labelling system for clarity and easy access.  Though making sure you can easily read the file labels sounds like it should be an obvious step, clarity in labelling will save you more time than you can imagine.  Most companies who make labels provide templates that integrate with most popular word processing software.  If you are like me and need to label everything, it may make sense to invest in a label maker that can print out individual labels.  

5 – Now you are ready to purchase file folders.  For those of us who are visual learner, I have found that coloured hanging folders (make sure the plastic label tabs are included) make it very easy to quickly identify categories and files.  I use coloured hanging folders for two reasons: (1) they are widely available and (2) they allow easy recognition of categories.  For example, all my client files are in yellow hanging folders, blue folders contain financial information and red is for marketing.  This way, I can see roughly where I should be searching for a particular file. 

The KISS principle applies to setting up a filing system that is easy to use and easy to grow with.  Keep It Simple Sweetheart!  Broad subject categories will allow you to easily add new files as you grow, and will eliminate the need to upgrade or reorganize your system on a regular basis.

Happy filing!

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