Don’t you hate it when you go to find a document or email you clearly remember seeing/preparing/receiving, but no matter how many search phrases you enter, you can’t put your hand on it? Worse still when you find it hiding in a location that makes no sense at all?
Searching for files can cost you more than patience. In fact, some research suggests that the cost of file searching can range from $2,000 to $6,000 per year, not including the frustrations misfiling causes or the cost of bad business decisions you might make based on misinformation. In addition, there are a host of software solutions designed to improve your efficiency and productivity that rely on solid naming structures to work to their full potential.
Having clearly defined and documented naming conventions that are followed by everyone on your team can go a long way to reducing the pain and frustration of searching through files or sorting through misinformation.
If you’re using a document management platform, it’s likely your solution provider gave you some pointers on how to store and categorize information when you first implemented the solution – with some combination of suggested folders, categories, and tags for specific items. Are those filing rules documented, and how well does everyone on your team understand them?
What about if you’re using a Windows or online directory based storage system such as DropBox or Sharepoint, do you have a clearly defined folder and file naming structure in place?
Regardless of your specific solution, the most common naming conventions that we see across our client base tend to take the format [Year] – [Document Description] – [Entity], though it’s important to note that many document management systems remove the need for year and entity to appear in the naming convention because these details are stored in the document properties.
- 2018 – Income Tax Return – John Smith
- 2018 – Financial Statements – John Smith
- 2018 – Minutes – Smith & Sons Pty Ltd
Document Description Matters
When it comes to your naming conventions, the document’s description is often the most crucial element. The key is to be as descriptive as possible and use normalised language whenever possible so it’s easy to locate in the future.
You should include specific details that are meaningful to your organisation and that can remind you of the function or content of the file. For example, a weak description might be “Tax Info”, where a better name might be “Tax Information and Raw Data – 2019 – Jones Family” (with or without the year and entity tags depending on your existing document management platform).
If everyone in your organisation knows that client data relating to their annual processing is referred to in this format it will streamline your internal processes, ensure the transferability of client data between internal team members, and help you easily identify missing information.
Download the Filing Reference Cheat Sheet Template
If you already have a naming convention in place but think it might be time to revisit or refresh your team on where and how common, recurring documents are stored, we’ve created an editable template you can use to map out your own filing cheat sheet.
Include this in internal training for new team members, and if new recurring documents are introduced, be sure to add the details and update your team so everyone knows exactly where and how they should be storing information.