How to Create a Filing System That Works for Your Business

How to Create a Filing System That Works for You

If you want your business to operate as efficiently as possible, you need to get organized. A simple filing system that’s easy to keep up with can ensure that all of your important documents and items are easy to find at a moment’s notice.

Coming Up With Your Filing System

Each small business’s filing system may look a bit different. But there are some commonalities between most solid filing systems. Here are some expert tips to help you set up your system and stay organized for years to come.

Have a Brainstorming Session

Since each business has different types of documents that need to be sorted, it’s important to customize the system to your own needs. That means you need to set aside some time to actually go through the items you need to organize and think about the categories you may want to include.

Rashelle Isip of The Order Expert told Small Business Trends in a phone interview, “The first step is to set aside time to think about it. Setting up a filing system needs to be done properly the first time. You don’t want to do it on the fly.”

Sort All Your Current Documents

During your brainstorming session, you should go through all of the documents you currently have and use in your business. This can help you come up with some general categories or files that you’ll need to create.

Isip says, “Go through all the things that encompass your business — everything from internal process stuff to business operations like marketing, finance, accounting, human resources.”

Gather Team Input

Unless you’re a solopreneur, you’re probably not the only one in your business who will be using your filing system. If you want your system to actually make an impact, you need to make sure that it makes sense to everyone and that it will be easy to maintain once it’s set up.

Isip explains, “You can have the best filing system in the world. But if it’s not properly maintained, it’s going to lead to a lot of headaches in the future. So make sure that it’s something that your team is going to feel comfortable with and that you’ll be able to train new people on how to use it going forward.”

Choose a Simple Ordering System

Once you have things separated into general categories, you need to actually place them into some kind of order.

Isip says, “I think people should strongly consider just using basic alphabetical order. It makes things easy to find and just makes good sense.”

She also reiterated that every business is different. So if you have a different order preference that actually makes sense, consider it. But alphabetical order tends to make sense for teams and a variety of situations.

Label Everything Consistently

You also need to make sure that every single file has a label. This is pretty basic for filing systems. But it’s important to also make sure that everything is written clearly and in a consistent way. For example, if you’re labeling client files, are you going to include “The” when considering alphabetical order?

Consider Color Coding

Choosing different folder or label colors can also help different types of files to stand out visually, so you can find things more quickly.

Sandy Newman of Expert Organizing Solutions said in an email to Small Business Trends, “Use colored file folders and assign each category a different color. This looks tidy and attractive and makes it easy to identify your categories when refiling.”

Choose a Cabinet You Can Grow Into

When purchasing a cabinet or container for your files, Isip says you should choose something that’s a bit larger than what you need at the moment. This gives you room to put extra files as you bring in new clients, vendors or processes. But you don’t necessarily need a gigantic, top-of-the-line cabinet either. Just leave a bit of room to grow. She also recommends considering whether or not you need a cabinet that locks, and trying to find sturdy products that come with a warranty.

Keep Commonly Used Files Close

Placement is another important thing to consider. All of your files should be easily accessible for the people who need them. If you have to, separate certain files from others so you can keep them near the department or desk(s) of the people who need to access them often.

Newman says, “Your filing cabinet should be within easy reach from your desk. If there are file drawers as part of your desk, use these to house the files you need most often.”

Maintain Your System

Once you set up your filing system, make sure your team knows exactly how to file new items or maintain existing files. You should also set aside a bit of time each week or month to go through and make sure everything is in order.

Isip says, “Setting up your system is one thing. But you also have to maintain it often. That also means training your employees and having a point person that people can go to if they have questions.”

Have a Place for Documents to Be Sorted

Part of keeping your system going is having a designated place for the things that still need to be filed or the things that are currently in use. By keeping all those items in one spot, it should be fairly easy to round everything up when it’s time to maintain your files.

Newman recommends, “To keep your desk organized use a 3 or 5 tray Desk Top Organizer or a Desk Top File Box. In this unit you will keep papers that you are currently working on or information you may need.”


Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.