an office with files in the background, a bright white desk & computer, and white board with post-it notes.

3 Key Steps for a Simple & Successful File Strategy

Perhaps you think you have the simplest solution to document management — you don’t have any plan. That’s not helpful to your business.

By contrast it’s super easy to over think and make a super complicated system. That’s just as detrimental!

I know, I’ve done both.

The key to a successful system is one that is easy for you to use, difficult for you to ignore, and one that works with you and your business. You don’t need fancy software, it’s possible to start with what you have today. This isn’t a magic instant fix — it will take time and effort! The end result will be one in which your files work with your business and you don’t need to stress about if you can find what you need when you need it.

I know this isn’t exciting but it is important for your business. What do you need to do?

an office with files in the background, a bright white desk & computer, and white board with post-it notes.

3 parts to a successful file strategy

  1. A plan. Write down what you do — how you create, where you store, and how long you keep the files your business creates.
  2. Time. Regularly set appointments to review (aka audit) to make sure you’re following the plan.
  3. Revise. Following the review, revise the plan as business needs change and evolve.

Repeat steps 2 & 3. Does this sound familiar to documenting your business? It should.

That’s it. These aren’t difficult tasks for you and your business. You don’t need a fancy degree in business or technology. Nor do you need expensive software. It isn’t an all or nothing deal either you can continue to use what you have and clean up as resources allow.

Of course, the devil’s in the details. That’s why you need to do one key thing after you create the initial plan — regularly set aside time to review its use and revise it!

The majority of my experience is in a client-based professional setting, first as IT Manager of a small law firm and then as I began to build PennyWise Consulting. My document file structure reflects that focus.

Features of a basic system

Most active businesses documents focus on three main areas:

  • Admin
  • Projects/Clients
  • Reference

If you manufacture goods instead of providing service, then Products and Inventory will probably replace Projects. These areas are the key of your file structure. These are the names of the folders (directories) I create for my businesses. You can also think of them as categories. That’s the core part of my systems.

There is also another folder that isn’t part of the normal structure (I store it on another server/computer), that is the Archive. There I store files that aren’t active but aren’t yet set to be removed permanently.

dropbox screenshot -- little acorn files

Here’s a screenshot of my file structure for little acorn creations. I have Marketing at this level as I do both project-based and business-based work. I’ve found that by keeping this initial (“Root”) structure simple and lean, I remember what’s important to the business!

Where to go from here?

How you go about the actual process to organize files from whatever system you have now to one depends on your business. If you’re about to finalize a large project, now is not the time to be changing things, even if the appeal of a new year/decade is tempting you!

However, if you’re beginning to work with a new client it may be a good time to modify the file structure for this project and document as you go. I subscribe to kaban and don’t suggest you change all parts of everything! Make some small changes, maybe you need a place to store inspiration materials and historically they’ve been mixed up with the materials you produce. Create a storage location, “inspiration”!

Yes, this is easiest if you are a soloprenuer without anyone else accessing your files directly. If you share regularly, have a conversation with them about what you’re changing and why!

Upcoming posts in this series

In future posts, I’ll explore how a plan is essential for solopreneurs, why file naming is important, and more.