I’ve been to a lot of small two and three-man shops over the years and it’s rare for anyone to be truly paperless. A few of the places I’ve worked for have been paperless long before that was a thing. They typically do this without any need of any sort of special ‘Document Management’ system. One of these places actually went paperless not due to need, but because they thought it odd to have all that computer equipment and not use it for all their file storage.
Thought I’d show how their file structures were set up and how they got documents in there to begin with.
One business was a local financial firm with three generations of one family working there. The youngest generation wasn’t sure how to get dad and grandpa on board with storing everything on the computer so they had to get a little creative. The first thing these guys did is painfully simple most IT guys won’t even think of it, fortunately they’re financial consultants. They made folders A through Z. That’s right, they made an A folder, a B folder, a C folder, a D folder and so forth. Under those folders they would put their client names, last name first as folders there. So I would be under the E folder, and my folder would be EVANS AARON – 12345. The number at the end would be my client number or phone number or even a physical paper folder number (my grandpa files by client number, not by name, it works well). Their father and grandfather were able to catch on to this concept quite easily and never looked back.
Any of their paperwork the client fills out gets scanned, printed to PDF or whatever and named something like this: EVANS AARON – I49B Form.PDF. This would sit in a holding folder, email or whatever until whoever was doing the filing would drag this file into the proper folder, after verifying the file name was correct. Whenever they needed it, they’d just look in the correct folder and print it up.
Another interesting solution actually did involve document management software, but it was a really primitive kind. It was in a lawyer’s office, and they did the same thing the financial consultants did, but they used their forms software to help. They basically just had a folder called “Clients” and then another folder called “Clients Old”. Any of their current clients were put in their own folder by name under the Clients folder. Their forms software used this folder to keep track of what had and hadn’t been filled out, possibly with a database file for each client. I don’t know if they used this folder because the forms software just generated it, or if they just made the forms software comply to how they did things, but it worked out well.
They had a Ricoh copier that they had set up to print to a holding folder and essentially did the same thing as the financial firm. The difference was they had printer software that could tell the scanner where to put things from their computer. There were far fewer mistakes made that way.
One thing both places had in common was the lack of file cabinets. Sure they had some paper files, but the bulk of their stuff was digital so the didn’t have to keep it in the office. I’m sure the law firm had a storage unit or something somewhere that paper files were stored in but it certainly was not at their office.