Each person in Britain consumes about four and half 40-foot trees for paper every year, according to The Economist. That’s an awful lot of paper. In fact, you’d need 200,000 fully loaded 28-ton trucks to transport all the pages that were printed in Europe, the Middle East and Asia in 2011, according IDC.
While a bit of process and admin is always necessary there’s no reason you can’t make it as painless as possible. As a small business, your agility is your competitive advantage – you need to cut out paperwork and keep red tape and busywork to a minimum. After all, you didn’t start a business to file invoices.
Managed well and with the right tools, administration won’t clog up the works but rather oils the cogs of commerce.
Kick the habit
Paperless is asking too much, but you can certainly aim for a ‘less paper’ office so, first and foremost, stop printing. (Or at least print less.)
Ok, yes, there will always be something you need to print, but you can reduce you paper consumption by:
- Ensuring that you’ve got a modern printer with double-sided printing
- A toner-saving mode that can eke out extra pages
- Secure printing to prevent the waste from uncollected print jobs
To cut out paperwork though, you need to do more than improve you printing habits. You need to streamline your admin and turn process to your advantage to make.
Up in the cloud
Whether you’ve amassed paperwork molehills or mountains, it’s time to scrap the filing cabinet and invest in a fast scanner or one of the many smartphone document scanners to convert your documents, business cards, receipts, etc into digital copies.
You can then collate and store everything off-premise in a cloud storage application like Dropbox or Evernote. This makes filing simpler, safer and more secure. It also gives you and your colleagues access to your documents wherever and whenever you need them. After all, it’s much easier to search for a file by typing in a keyword and share it with a simple link than it is to flick through a filing cabinet and make a bunch of photocopies.
You can also go digital with contracts, using software like EchoSign and DocuSign to send, sign and track them with your digital signature. For most formal documents this is considered just as valid as its ink counterpart.
Show me the money
Rather than sticking with paper invoices and snail mail, use email or an automated invoicing system. An online system also allows you to A/B test the wording and formatting of invoices and track who’s paid, and who hasn’t, more easily.
Over time you can identify late payers and punctual clients and adjust your workflow accordingly, giving you more control over your cash flow. You can also make life easier and get your money faster by allowing your customers to pay online with a credit card, bank transfer or PayPal account.
Cloud-based self-service applications like Turbine offer a one-stop shop for managing purchasing, time off, expenses and HR documentation – all without a single scrap of paper.
Employees can input their own purchase orders, expenses and time off requests, so you (or your beleaguered HR) don’t have to. All you have to do is click to approve. And all of this without any hardware costs or confusing software installation.
Much like cloud file storage, this kind of software-as-a-service also puts everything in the same place, giving you a single source of truth. No more dog-eared spreadsheets and vendor disputes: just digital information at your fingertips.
Cut out paperwork and make room for growth
Ad-hoc, paper-based systems just slow things down. Online, self-service admin systems, on the other hand, take the pressure off busy small businesses. They help you reduce errors and rework and make administrivia a little less tedious.
The paperless myth, bandied about since the ’70s, may remain just that – a myth – but with an intelligent approach to paperwork and admin you can cut paperwork down to size and make it work for you.
Turn mundane admin tasks into more efficient processes and you’ll not only save trees; you’ll kick your business into a higher gear and make more time for what really matters.