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Key considerations for document storage

When you first start thinking about setting up your own business, dreams of your future working life probably consist of winning new customers, coming up with clever and innovative marketing concepts, and so on; everything that makes you feel as though you’re a winner.

Less glamorous, but just as essential to the wellbeing of your company, are things like: balancing the books, planning budgets, and keeping complete records of all monetary incomings and outgoings. All these and more need to be done, and not just for good practice and housekeeping: they’re actually all legal requirements.

Do I have to keep my documents?

Current legislation dictates that a business has to keep financial records for at least six years from the end of the financial year they took place in. However, if you are an employer, you need to retain PAYE records for a minimum of three years, in addition to the current year you are in. When you stop and think about it, that’s a lot of records, even for a small business.

The harsh reality behind this incessant housekeeping is that if you don’t do it, you get penalised by the government. This could be through not having the relevant records, or inaccuracies in your tax return: therefore, it’s just good sense to get it right from the start. All the minutiae of your business’ daily life have to be included: every purchase, every sale, every receipt, every bill, every delivery note, and every contract; basically, anything that affects your tax return.

For further information on the specifics, this government website has a full list of the kinds of records you need to be keeping.

Where to keep your documents

We’re well into the second decade of the 21st century now, so this kind of archive storage should be simple. Digital records are just as good as physical ones, and the paper-free office is supposed to be the nirvana we’re all striving to attain, but how close are we to actually doing it?

We have the means today to store documents and information quickly and efficiently: on discs and hard drives so small that you can comfortably carry them in your pocket or briefcase. Or, you can even bypass these antiquated ideas and keep all your records and archives in cloud-based storage, or on a remote server; each with ever-expanding storage capacities. Simplicity is the key factor here, and we have it abundance.

Yet invoices and bills still get posted, and even when they do get emailed or made available to download from a website, they will still often get printed off, and filed. Many companies, in fact, still have considerable space given over to shelving systems holding rows and rows of archive boxes packed with invoices, orders, faxes, bills, and so on. Is this all just an outdated habit, or do we inherently not trust something we can’t touch and feel?

Head in the Cloud

First of all, let’s not forget that we are talking about comparatively modern technology here. It’s been less than 20 years since the internet entered our daily lives, and even less than that since we had anything bigger than a floppy disk (with a capacity of a megabyte or two only!) to store files onto.

What that essentially means is that there are millions of people working today who learned their jobs the ‘old way’. And while many have embraced the new systems and tools gleefully, just as many view them with suspicion. Words and phrases like ‘crash’, ‘hack’, ‘identity theft’ and ‘virus’ are not ones to imbue confidence in those already reluctant to trust the modern world. It essentially boils down to trust: you buy what you know.

For one reason or another, the majority of businesses, and especially SME’s, are still creating large amounts of important documentation: which they need to keep somewhere safe in case HMRC knocks on the door wanting to take a look at them.

The temptation will be to source the cheapest boxes you can to keep them in: after all, all they’re going to do is hold some paper for six years, which will then in all probability get shredded.

However, there are three key qualities you need from your storage boxes that are designed to endure; qualities that are not exactly found in your everyday bog-standard cardboard box.

1. Strength

In an ideal world, these boxes will sit on a shelf for six years, untouched, and solely in order to meet those government regulations. In the real world, however, you’ll probably be in and out of them on a regular basis if you’re not tech-savvy enough to have digital copies. Get anything too flimsy and they’ll soon start to fall apart. And even if they do sit there untouched for the whole six years, how much better would it be if you could just empty them, shred the contents, and then refill them again with the next set of documents for the next six years? Incidentally, even if you do go for the strongest ones you can find, those boxes will last even longer if you take care not to overfill them: they’ll also be a lot easier to get off the shelf when you do need them. The last thing you want is for the bottom to fall out when you pick it up, and the records drop literally everywhere.

2. Clarity

Just filling random boxes and sticking them on the nearest shelf is not advised: you should not only clearly mark and categorize each box to show what’s in it, dating them is also highly advisable. This means you can go straight to the correct file should you need to retrieve a particular document, and know which are due for emptying when the contents are no longer needed. Good quality boxes will have large labelling areas which will make the identification of contents quick and easy every time.

3. Easy storage

If you’re starting from scratch, it’s worth taking time to make sure your boxes and storage shelving system match, so that you can make best use of the space available and keep your boxes organised, neat and tidy, and easily accessible. It also just makes it aesthetically pleasing, which makes your workspace a much nicer place to be in.

Having all the relevant information you need on storage ties into how efficiently your business can run, no matter how trifling it may seem. For more information and advice on other titbits you’ll need to know to run a tight ship, head to our help centre.