Monday, February 21, 2011


Many of my clients are astounded when they ask to see a bank statement or bill and I effortlessly pluck it from the drawer. "Wow!" They gasp, and look at me as if I've just shown them my Nobel Prize for bookkeeping.  When a client calls me to ask me where their cheque book is and I direct them to it in 15 seconds, they seem incredibly grateful: "I just ask for it and there it is!" They say in wonderment, because to have an organized office is tremendously satisfying.

"Filing" has got to be one of the most repellent words in the English language and is right up there with "dieting" or "exercise". There's nothing worse than trudging into your office on a Monday morning and being greeted by a large pile. Of course, there are some clients, like writers and designers who spend their desk-life immersed in a sea of paper and claim to know where everything is. I have one client who tapes paperwork to the walls in his office and I completely understand: yes, it is like laying out your "in" box. If he tapes his American Express bill to the wall, he will be more likely to pay it. Makes sense! In fact, this is a lesson for those with a high credit card balance: tape your bill to the front door and glance at it before you leave the house to go shopping. But I digress.

Organization is the key to success. You might not have any money in the bank, but if your paperwork is organized and your filing is up-to-date you have complete control over your business or personal finances. If you are able to access your price list at a moment's notice, you can inform your customer exactly how much the job will cost while you're on the phone.

Think briefly about the enormous amount of paperwork required to show potential (mortgage) lenders or investors and if it takes you 30 minutes to retrieve and photocopy all of it, you're in a powerful position.

For your paperwork:

- open your mail as soon as it arrives;
- put unpaid bills in their own folder;
- if you don't have a filing cabinet, buy free standing concertina files;
- file all your business documents alphabetically;
- file everything by date "latest first" so your latest bills are more accessible;
- shred all unnecessary statements and paper: weed out the extraneous items to keep your files more easily managed.

If you are filing electronically:

- add a date to your document names (amex_060809.xls) so you know when you saved it;
- if many people make similar files in your business add your initials to your file before you forward it (jnu_amex_060809.xls) so the recipient can see who created the file (thanks PT);
- make desktop folders for all current items;
- file bills in folders by month.

It's such a small weekly chore, but like credit card debt, it piles up when we're not looking. And like dieting or exercise, you'll feel better afterwards.

More important, it's tax time and you have eight weeks until the IRS 2011 tax deadline of April 18th, 2011.

Start with your 2011 receipts and work from there.

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