The 60-Second Guide to Retaining Business Records

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Business Records

Paper, paper, paper. It’s everywhere in a small business, from customer invoices and expense receipts to your licenses and annual tax returns. Without proper management, these records can gradually proliferate into a monumental mess, making it difficult to find what you really need amid the clutter.

Don’t get caught in the business records runaround. In just 60 seconds, we’ll give you some guidelines for culling that plethora of paper down to the essentials.

0:59 Know What You Need
Some things like copies of your business tax returns, licenses, incorporation papers and capital equipment expenses should be preserved indefinitely. Keep any tax-related documents (expense receipts, client 1099 forms, vehicle mileage logs) for a minimum of seven years.

0:48 Consolidate
Organize your business records in a single, secure, easily accessible location—a file cabinet or subdivided box. This will make the information more easily retrievable, and help you track changes in your business over the years. Also, maintain a summary list of your file contents, particularly if you store little-used back-up information separately.

0:37 Secure the Irreplaceables
Papers that are difficult or impossible to replace should be kept in either a safe deposit box or a fireproof safe. Placing those documents in plastic covers will help protect them, and—more importantly—prevent you from accidentally giving away an original copy. Keep the key or combination in a secure location. Tell two or three people (e.g., key employees, family members) how to access this information in the event you are unavailable when it is needed.

0:26 Look Before You Scan
Scanners and PDF formats makes it easy to convert paper records to more convenient digital media. Depending on the type of document, however, a digitized version may not be acceptable for certain uses. It’s also a good idea to store your digital records on backup disks or CDs. Make a separate backup copy of these records for storage in your safe deposit box or other secure off-site location. Update all backup versions on a regular basis.

0:15 Make Regular Reviews
Don’t let your receipts and other business records pile up. You need only a few moments once or twice a week to route your paperwork to the proper location. Allowing these documents to accumulate for “later” only creates a larger, more intimidating chore, as well as the temptation to simply stuff it away in a box for “much later.”

0:04 Shred It!
When the time comes to purge records from your business, use a shredder to ensure that no sensitive information falls into the wrong hands. Your local office supply store likely offers many low-cost, compact shredders that will easily attach to your office wastebasket. This simple investment will go a long way in safeguarding you and your business from identity theft, and other risks of misplaced documentation.

Article courtesy of SCORE.

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SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.