Ditch the filing cabinet: How to go paperless in a small office

A paperless office is a winning small business strategy if you want to save time, money – and be more sustainable. Here’s how to get started.

Your Work
4 min read
When you’re running a small business, every hour and every dollar counts. That’s why a paperless office ticks all the right boxes: saving time, reducing costs – and being a sustainable business too.

By eliminating time spent searching through filing cabinets and making it easy to access and share documents, you can be more efficient. By reducing printer maintenance costs, paper and ink expenses, you can reduce expenses. Plus, there’s a tidier office, with no paper cluttering your desks. And everything important can be backed-up – removing the worry of missing or damaged documents.

There’s also the positive environmental impact. By going paperless, you’ll not only reduce the amount of paper produced and consumed, but also the amount of ink cartridges going into landfill.

But for small businesses operating at full capacity, going paperless might seem daunting. It needn’t be.

With the right solutions and a clear plan, even the busiest home office or small business can ditch the paperwork.

Find the right digital solutions

Before you jump head first into a paperless business, you need the right technology for your operational needs. Define your budget and write a list of the things you need.

Consider:

  • Online/offline/mobile access
  • Sharing ability
  • Number of users
  • Number of documents or storage capacity.

You might decide to set up a file server, or use a cloud-based application such as Google Drive or Dropbox. There are also many paperless workflow or project management platforms designed for specific industries, so talk to people in your network about what they use.

Start small but with the end in sight

Look around your office, and you’ll probably see paper everywhere. Do a quick audit of your paper usage and related expenses – include printer maintenance, ink and paper. Once you know how much paper you use, you can set some achievable, measurable goals to reduce and eventually eliminate paper in your small business.

Then, you can avoid spending too much time and effort on ideas that won’t get the results you need.

Sort, scan and shred

Once you have a digital storage solution in place, you can get started with the ‘three S’s’ of going paperless: Sort, Scan and Shred.

Start sorting your hard copy documents into those you’ll need to digitise, and those to discard. Scan and file the ones you want to keep, then shred and safely dispose of the ones you don’t need.

Do away with hard copy forms

Most customers prefer things to be emailed these days, so digitising your order forms, quotes, invoices and other paperwork is an easy way to cut back on paper – and keep them happy. There are a number of fillable PDF form programs available for free online, or they might be included in your cloud-based workflow or accounting platform.

Using electronic signature tools such as Docusign can also improve efficiencies and reduce paper use. These also remove the need to be physically present – your customers can sign documents on the go.

Electronic bills and payment

Ask your vendors and suppliers to send invoices and bills via email rather than by mail. Filing your bills digitally will ensure they’re easy to find (think tax time) and paying your bills online allows you to schedule bulk payments, improving efficiency and ensuring they’re paid on time.

Take notes on your devices

Recycle all your note pads and take notes on your device instead. With a myriad of free note-taking apps available, this will save you time and make every day more efficient.

No more time wasted looking through hastily scribbled handwritten notes, no more retyping… and no more paper.

Want to be more energy-efficient in your home office? Read our power-saving tips for freelancers.