The Pros and Cons of Going Paperless

It seems we are constantly hearing about how we need to “go green” and cut down on paper. They say, we “should” be turning to digital or paperless ways of handling documents. It’s just good for the planet (supposedly). But there really is more to it than that.

If you’re working virtually with any of your clients (meaning, you work from your office instead of theirs), using electronic documents becomes even more important.

Despite this, and the fact that my own business has been 100% virtual since 2003, I have a confession to make.

I’m only currently about 75% paperless at this point. Getting closer to 95% has not been as easy as I had hoped. That’s mostly due to my own internal resistance.

As necessary as it has been to use paperless methods to work with my clients, I’ve found that most of my own business procedures are still quite paper-based.

So I decided to sit down and come up with both the Pros and Cons of going paperless internally to determine whether I really need to push myself to get closer to that 100% paperless ideal.

Here’s what I came up with:

Pros for going paperless:

  • Easier to work with your clients virtually – I’ve mostly got this one handled since the benefits are nearly a necessity and go straight to the bottom line. They include…
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    • More flexible schedule – that’s because I work in my office not in theirs
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    • More efficient – can handle more work in the same amount of time, which means more billable hours
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    • Increased geographical service reach – my clients can be located anywhere, not just my local area
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    • Travel cost savings – rarely do I need to travel to see my clients face to face, and when I do, it’s a real treat to visit with one another
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  • Saves money on office supplies – I recently compared my costs over the past few years when I’ve started using more scanning and a dual monitor set up, and the cost savings related to paper and toner have been significant, especially during tax season. These savings will only increase by using more scanning and PDF documents for my internal operations
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  • More secure – all my digital files are stored (at least in backup form) online. That is far more secure than paperwork with sensitive data, even if stored in locked file cabinets (which could be destroyed by flood or fire). Digital documentation also can be attached to bookkeeping records for bullet-proof documentation if ever audited.
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  • Space saving and convenient access – This one is significant, since over time accumulated paperwork can take up a lot of space and it’s a pain in the butt to have years of old documentation shredded. Finding needed records in digital form is also much more convenient and fast, since they can be searched if “misplaced” and, at least for me, my digital organization is better than how I’ve been organizing my paper files.
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  • It’s Green – Although I know the real motivation when my banks nag me to get email statements instead of paper copies (it saves them money on paper and postage costs), the more paperless I’ve become the less trash is coming out of my office. And the less trash we all produce definitely makes a difference to the waste load on our planet.
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So, if all this powerful evidence is FOR going paperless, why have I still felt some internal resistance to changing over more of my internal operations?

Let’s take a look at the arguments against going paperless:

Cons against going paperless:

  • Dependent on third party internet services – There is some loss of control when using any web-based services. If your Internet access goes down, or your service provider has server problems (like Intuit has had more often than you’d expect), you may not be able to get access to your documents 100% of the time. The actual percentage of time this happens is not high, but it does happen and can cause frustration. I know this from first-hand experience with some of the SaaS (software as a service) solutions I use regularly.
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  • Changing habits – handling documents and procedures in a new way means workflow needs have to be updated and new habits formed. This has probably been my biggest resistance factor. Despite the fact that I’m often teaching my clients the latest high-tech ways to use QuickBooks software, the “if it ain’t broke, why fix it” mentality still nags at me, too. ;-)
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  • New Costs – While going paperless creates some very significant cost savings, as noted above, there are some costs involved in changing how we deal with digital documents. That includes dual monitors (I could not live without dual monitors now), a scanner (if you don’t already have one), and a document management solution for storing and managing your digital documents (highly recommended). In reality, these costs are quite low compared to the BIG savings in the Pros section.
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My conclusion: The Pros far outweigh the Cons by a long shot.

My New Goal: From this point forward, convert my own “back office” operations to digital format, starting immediately.

This includes using my favorite document management system for all my own business operations.

Document Management Using SmartVault

This coming Thursday, March 31st at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time I’ll be holding a brand new online training surrounding the use of SmartVault.

This FREE webinar training is designed especially for freelance bookkeepers who want to go paperless using this must-have online service for working with your clients on a virtual basis. But you can also try out this amazing and versatile tool for your own business for free for as long as you like.

Click Here to Get all the Details
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One Response to “The Pros and Cons of Going Paperless”

  • Kathy on March 30, 2011

    Great! Thank you. I will try out the Smart Vault
    Kathy

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