Document Management Guide for Small Businesses

By Laura Birch

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Document management, in a nutshell, is a computerized way of scanning, storing, and tracking all relevant company documents. These documents include your business plan, profit and loss statements, tax documents, onboarding documentation, brand standards, vendor and other third-party contracts and agreements, and anything else required to run your company. 


Most small businesses start off with very few of these documents and assume that a storage and management system is overkill. Once you hit that first growth stage, however, and those documents start to pile up (whether physically or somewhere on your personal computer), good management can become a matter of profitability. With that in mind, below are some prudent document management guidelines for small businesses. 


Plan Your Creating and Retention Strategy


Start by making a document-creation strategy. You likely already have a long list of business documents, such as proposals, master copies, contracts, and so on. You'll not only be able to upload current docs to the system, but you'll also be able to create new files after. There will be new questions, such as whether you should design new templates or use an existing framework. Make a note of these so you may inquire about them when you're ready to move on to step two.


The second part of the plan is sharing. Sharing documents is a major part of electronic document management. Every time you hit "send," you should be assigning a document sensitivity score. Anything you share, either internally or externally, needs to have security parameters as part of secure document storage. Decide whether you will use things like email verification and password protection. When it comes to internal collaboration, you should have different permission settings for various users and uses. 


Choose Your System Carefully


Start by selecting something with a user-friendly interface. Software that your entire staff must accept and use on a daily basis must be simple to use. It should be easy to set up on the back end, and the user experience on the front end should be as well. The more user-friendly a storage system is, the more it will be used. Instead of needing to open and utilize a separate system, there should be an offline (or off-app) sync feature that allows you to make changes on your desktop and have them automatically sync to the online files.


A document management software should also be easy to integrate. Using the system should be as seamless as your day-to-day tasks, and it should also interface with your office applications. A solid document management system syncs up with current programmes, email, online use, and so on by integrating with your existing framework and requiring very few habit changes.




Assign permissions and access levels to users and the system when you're building up users and integrating the system. While user rules differ by programme, you should arrange your hierarchy around document viewing, editing, creating, and ownership. Ensure that everyone who has access to documents and folders follows the standards for naming conventions, storage, and sharing settings, among other things.


You will also need to check to see whether your systems are compatible. Making the switch from paper to digital requires a structured approach so that you aren't skipping over important details. If you are currently in the middle of recording and categorizing your physical documents, you will definitely want software that makes this process organized and straightforward. 


Proper Storage


Start by setting up subcategories. Using a tiered degree of organization to make navigating and finding easier is key. You may arrange things more easily by creating larger folders or categories, such as general departments or document kinds (marketing materials, contracts, receipts, etc.) and then creating smaller categories within them.


To make discovering files easier, it's also vital to follow naming conventions. Categorization is made easier by following conventions such as putting the file type first or finishing with the creation date.




Checkups need to be done on a regular basis, especially as you continue to grow and certainly as you bring on new partners and employees. Set aside time every month or quarter to go over your system. Regular health checks guarantee that there are no duplicates and that papers are named correctly and kept correctly.


Part of good maintenance also requires document archiving. Archive outdated files that are no longer utilized or referenced as part of routine maintenance. This method will maintain the user interface clutter-free and will ensure you won't lose data that you may need to refer to later because you're only archiving and not deleting anything.




Following document management best practices is one of the most important parts of a successful growth strategy for small businesses. Once you start accumulating and having to organize new documents with a variety of parties on a regular basis, how you handle them starts to influence your profitability. Keep the above steps and recommendations in mind and ensure that your document management system keeps your data secure, easy-to-access and is easy to maintain and amend as you see fit. 

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