How your firm can go paperless

Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides

5 min read

You can't eliminate every piece of paper from your office. But you can reduce the amount of paper your firm uses – and save money by doing so. We spoke to AccountabilityNet to find out more.

Less paper means more efficiency

It's unrealistic to try to eliminate every sheet of paper from your office. There will always be some paperwork – to and from clients, suppliers and partners.

But by reducing the amount of paper you use, you can improve the efficiency of your firm. Digital documents are easier to store, manage, search, and process. That lets your staff spend more time working, and less time shuffling paper.

You can go paperless by scanning your existing paperwork. Then you can convert it to digital documents and file it for future use. That's not something you can do in a day though. Making your internal systems paperless requires careful planning, dedication and staff buy-in. Michael McCook of AccountabilityNet tells us how they achieved it.

Six compelling reasons to go paperless

Accounting firms can generate a lot of paper. Unfortunately that can make space an issue and daily business operations difficult. Some of the problems include:

  1. Storage
    Up to 25 percent of your firm's office space could be used for storage of paper documents. That's a big overhead and it may prevent you taking on more staff.
  2. Productivity
    It’s hard to find the right piece of paper in a pile containing thousands of others. Locating the right document can take a lot of time. A digital document archive with a powerful search function will greatly improve staff productivity.
  3. Waste
    You may be keeping two or three copies of some documents. They may all be filed in different places for different reasons. Going paperless reduces this duplication and waste and is environmentally friendly.
  4. Appearance
    An office cluttered with papers and stacks of files doesn't look like a professional working environment. Visitors – including clients – won’t be impressed.
  5. Focus
    A disorganized desk covered in paper can prevent staff from thinking in a clear, logical and focused way.
  6. Printing expenses
    Last, and by no means least, is the cost of paper, ink, printers and other associated expenses. These can be significant, even for a small firm.
You can reduce the amount of paper your firm uses – and save money by doing so.

The three big challenges of going paperless

Before you go paperless, you need to overcome three main challenges.

  1. Resistance from staff members
    Some of your employees won't want to change the way they work. They may say, "This is the way we've always done it." But that's not a good reason to continue doing the same old thing. Don't try to push your staff to make the change – they may resent you for it. Explain the benefits of going paperless. Ask for their input and suggestions. Then agree a schedule that gives them plenty of time to adapt to the new way of working.
  2. The sheer volume of papers to digitize can be daunting
    Whether you choose to scan all your paperwork in-house or ask a specialist firm to do it, there's a lot to do. Document scanning takes time, especially digging through old files and removing staples. Don't underestimate the time and effort involved. It's important to do a good job – when all your documents are scanned and filed, life will be much easier for you and your staff.
  3. The expense deters many firms
    Document scanning and destruction companies charge for their services. But even if you do the work in-house you'll need to buy or hire a fast scanner. You'll also need to allow time for your staff to learn how to use it. And then there’s the amount of time taken to actually do the work. But the payoff can be enormous. Once all your documents are digital, you'll wonder how you worked any other way.

Finding a strategy that works for your firm

Each firm is different. Only you can decide on a strategy for going paperless that works for you. Here are some ideas to help you take the big step.

  • Set a date
    Consult with your partners and staff and set a date to go paperless. Add it to the calendar and make sure everyone knows about it. This will help concentrate their minds.
  • Use the cloud
    Don't store your scanned documents on a hard drive or USB stick. Keep them safe using online storage. Services like Dropbox, Box, SharePoint and Google Drive will handle data storage for you.
  • Set up a logical file structure
    Try not to dump every file into the same folder. It’s more useful to set up folders for each year or each client.
  • Take care with metadata
    Metadata is the information or keywords that you use to describe each scanned document. A professional scanning company may do this for you. If you do the work yourself, make sure every document has relevant metadata. This will help your staff find what they're looking for when they search the archive.
  • Scan what you need
    It might be tempting to scan everything. In some cases, this might be sensible so you know your archive is complete. But if you have files going back 20 years for dozens of clients, that may not be the best approach. Instead you could start with what you need, then fill in the gaps as you go along. You could begin by digitizing all papers for the current year or two. Plus you could scan every paper document that’s retrieved from storage.
  • Avoid duplication where you can
    It's not always easy to tell whether two documents are identical. But if you know for sure that they are, don't waste time scanning both.
  • Allow for a productivity dip
    While all this work is going on, there will inevitably be an impact on your firm's productivity. Try to arrange it so you go paperless during a quiet work period. Don't attempt it at year end! Where possible, hire temporary staff to help you manage the extra workload.
  • Train your staff to use the new system
    The better you train your staff, the more they'll get out of your new digital document archive. It will be much easier for them to find the information they need. Help them get to grips with the new systems and workflows, and you'll see great results.

Going paperless is an ongoing job

Once you eliminate most of the paper from your office, your firm will be more organized and efficient. But it won't be long before more paper arrives – so make sure you keep on top of it.

You could set aside one afternoon a week to scan and file new documents. Encourage all your clients and business associates to send you electronic documents instead of paper. Many will be glad to go paperless themselves.

An office without paper will give your firm a competitive edge. So take the time to plan your strategy carefully, and reap the rewards of going paperless.