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A Guide to Document Management System for Small Businesses

A Guide to Document Management System for Small Businesses

Document Management System: One thing that businesses accumulate, aside from revenue and clients, are documents. Even the smallest enterprises produce considerable amounts of records, contracts, and internal documents. 

Simply filing these assets will result in an unorganized pile that will affect productivity later on. Additionally, important documents easily get lost if you do not have a proper system in place. 

A standard workflow ensures proper management of documents while allowing you to focus on the most important parts of your operation. 

This article will explore what document management is, why it matters, and how to set-up your own system.

What is Document Management?

Document Management System

Document management ensures that creating, sharing, storing, and organizing documents follow an efficient and established workflow. 

For most businesses, a document management system is mostly storage and organization using an on-premise or cloud-based platform. 

Others use it to retrieve important documents quickly. For instance, life coaching businesses present certificates to potential customers during a pitch or to new clients when onboarding. 

Modern document management systems also include editing, monitoring, and tracking the documents as they flow through various business processes—this is something easily accomplished with the help of a reliable database management software.  

Furthermore, platforms that come with advanced features automate numerous tasks and integrate smoothly into business operations such as marketing, sales, and more. 

What are the Benefits of a Document Management System?

Think of a document management system as your electronic filing cabinet. It provides numerous benefits, such as:

  1. Save time and effort – And organized file structure makes it quick and easy to locate documents. Furthermore, your team members work efficiently when they have established guidelines to follow. 
  2. Scale effortlessly – As you expand your business, you will need more functionalities and storage. A document management system expands along with your business. Easily add permission access, upgrade to advanced features, and more without modifying your overall system. 
  3. Enhanced security – Most service providers include several layers of security measures that protect your documents, especially if you are using cloud-based platforms. Others come with specialized protection for confidential information in compliance with standards such as HIPAA, GLBA, and similar policies. 
  4. Collaboration – Multiple people working on the same file at once not only saves time but improves teamwork. Use a robust team project management tool to track the changes made to the documents and view the history of changes.
  5. Integration – Most document management systems integrate into other business tools such as HR software, CRM, marketing apps, and more. That means all files are managed in one, centralized system while being accessible through different apps. 

How to Create a Document Management System?

Setting up a document management system does not only increase your small business’ productivity, but it streamlines most, if not all, of your processes. 

It encompasses the entire workflow that your entire team follows. Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Write Guidelines for Document Creation and Retention

Write an outline that will guide the creation, sharing, and storage of documents in your company. 

While this may look unnecessary for very small organizations, having such guidelines in writing will save you the headache of fixing an unorganized mess later when your company grows. 

Consider the following points:

  • Establish a plan for document creation – Complex business documents such as contracts, proposals, and similar files take time if written from scratch. It’s easy to get lost in the legalese and miss key sections that may hurt your business in the long run — set-up templates, outlines, or guides that serve as a basis for such documents.
  • Create security parameters – Identify which documents are internal and which ones are external. Define parameters to make it easy for your staff to determine whether they should share a file with a client or keep it within company access.
  • Think of storage options – Assess whether on-premise solutions or cloud-based storage best fits your needs. Each one provides advantages and disadvantages that will affect your daily operations. You may even consider hybrid options that combine these two types of storage solutions.

Step 2: Choose a Software

Choosing the right software is one of the pillars of an effective digital transformation for any business. 

Having the right tools in place on top of efficient processes provides small businesses a fighting chance against large companies. 

While document management systems come in different types, price points, and functionalities, your chosen platform should at least have these core characteristics: 

  1. Intuitive interface – The faster your staff learns how to use a software, the sooner they can go back to focusing on your business. A user-friendly interface also ensures that documents are not lost within the system. 
  2. Offline capabilities – Cloud technology is a popular choice due to its affordability and mobility. However, it is still at the mercy of your Internet connection. Consider apps that come with an offline sync feature so you can edit your documents even during network problems. 
  3. Integration with other tools – Your entire set of business tools should create a seamless system. A good document management app integrates well with email, office software, and other similar apps. 

If you can’t find a document management software that best fits your business dynamics, why not create your own app? 

Building your own app allows you to tailor a solution that can address all your unique business and internal process needs.

If you’re using Azure DevOps to create your document management app, keep your data secure by running regular backups.

Use Backrightup, a software that automates your Azure DevOps backups to protect your app’s codes, data, instances, and repositories from malicious attacks, accidental deletions, and other issues.

With the tool, you can store your app data securely in your preferred location and run regular backups to recover and restore them easily.  

Step 3: Set-up Organization

Once you have the necessary platforms in place, it is time to create an organizational structure for your documents

Aside from keeping things organized, having a well-defined order will make the migration of your documents from your old system to the new platform a breeze. 

While storage solutions have search functions that make file retrieval quick and seamless, knowing where everything goes further boosts your efficiency. 

Categories and groups will depend on how your company is organized and how your operation works. 

For instance, some companies have specific folders for each department, such as sales, marketing, IT, and so on.

Document Management System

On the other hand, others prefer to organize their files according to their purposes, such as contracts, receipts, and more. 

Combine different tiers and experiment with various organizational methods to figure out the best fit for your team.

On top of that, develop file naming conventions. Consistent filename formats make it easy to maintain a large number of documents, especially if you produce several versions. 

Step 4: Define Roles and Permissions

Just like any business asset, privacy, and security should be a top priority when developing a document management system.

A file may contain confidential information that may compromise the company if shared with competitors. 

Organizations have different ways of setting up privacy measures. One of the easiest to implement is creating roles and access permissions for your staff. 

Here’s an example:

  • Senior Managers and Stakeholders – Create, view, edit, share, delete, and archive all types of high-level files such as contracts, business proposals, financial statements, and more.
  • Managers and Team Leaders – Create, view, edit, share, and archive documents within the Company or Department. Limited access permission to confidential files. 
  • Staff – Create, view, and edit non-confidential files within the department. Sharing option limited to colleagues and supervisors only.
  • Client – View files related to projects such as contracts and agreements. No sharing option.

These roles and their relevant permissions are easily modified as your team grows, and the staff’s responsibilities become more complex. 

For instance, account managers who directly communicate with clients may have access to confidential documents such as contracts. They should also have the ability to share such documents with their clients. 

Also Read: How to Sign a Document on Your Phone or Computer?

What’s Next?

A robust document management system should handle a growing business without frequent modification. However, regular checkups and archiving are still necessary to maintain an efficient system.

Depending on how fast your company generates new documents, schedule a monthly or quarterly checkup. Go through the entire system and conduct health checks, identify duplicates and other potential issues. 

Additionally, assess your team’s workflow and evaluate whether you need new features, advanced functionalities, or more storage in the coming weeks or months. 

Lastly, part of the regular upkeep is archiving old and non-active files. That is archive documents that are no longer part of your daily operations, such as old contracts, outdated guidelines, and so on. 

It is not recommended to delete files, especially high-level documents, as you may refer to these for your next projects, use them to settle disputes, and serve as a paper trail of your various processes and transactions. 

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