By Tyranni Rineer, Certified Self Storage Manager
When running a small business, the sheer amounts of paperwork you must keep and maintain can seem daunting. Not to mention those files can easily take up a lot of space that you probably don’t have. This also holds true for product inventory. Many times the office or building you rent or own for your business is just not large enough to house all those old files and excess inventory on a daily basis. You need that valuable space for your employees and equipment. That’s where self storage can provide you with business storage solutions. Self storage for small businesses offers you the ability to keep everything you need, but house it off site and out of your way so you and your team can work efficiently.
Let’s Start With Old Files And Paperwork.
First of all you want to make sure you have digital backups of all your important documents. In fact, you should have a backup of your backup! You can have an online service who backs up your files automatically, as well as external hard drives, discs or flash drives to keep your files safe. Now, because you are going to have paper files as well as the digital storage devices, you should opt for a temperature control storage unit. This will protect them both from damage that can be caused by excessive heat and extreme cold. The last thing you need is to go to your storage unit to retrieve an important paper or digital file, only to find out that the paper is starting to disintegrate or your hard drive is warped from the long hot summer and won’t work.
You need to keep certain documents for specified periods of time. For example, tax documents should be kept for 5 years in case of an audit. The IRS can begin an audit up to 3 years after taxes are filed for any given year; meaning they can audit you for 2013 during the 2016 year. And, if they suspect anything dubious, they can go back ever farther. Employee files need to be kept the entire time of employment, and then between 3-4 years after that employee leaves. Any files or records regarding the businesses assets should be kept indefinitely. While these are suggestions, it is always best to check with your attorney or accountant before destroying or getting rid of any paperwork or documents that relate to your business.
Let’s think about that for a moment. Say you are in business for 10 years, have had a total of 50 employees (past, present and current) during that time, and have had more than 500 projects. If you take an educated guess that you can fit 25 employee files into one box and an average of 50 project files per box…you are already up to 12 boxes and we haven’t even looked at accounts payables or tax returns. Needless to say, these files can pile up quickly – the longer you are in business, the more boxes you will have, and the more space you will need.
In organizing your files, you have several methods to choose from to keep them easy to store and locate later when you need them. Binders are good for any kind of comparison reports that you may keep such as graphs and ledgers. File folders are good for sorting invoices, employee records and payroll information. These should then be placed into file boxes by year and category. Make sure they are clearly labeled for easy access. The same goes for your digital files. Clearly label the drives and discs, and place them in a fire proof safe or something similar that will keep them separated and protected.
Now Let’s Talk About Inventory.
If you are a business that provides physical products for your customers, you are going to have inventory all the time. Some of it you will want to keep on site at your office; such as items that are ordered all the time or things that are needed very suddenly. The rest of it is typically overflow and can be kept off site in your self storage unit. You can easily get to your inventory quickly to fulfill orders and make deliveries to your customers, and keep your office free of all the excess that you don’t need immediately. Depending on your products, you may simply need a drive-up access storage unit. We also have inside access and temperature control storage units for more sensitive items like electronics and antique furniture.
You will need a plan to keep your inventory organized inside your storage unit. Many of our business customers use shelving placed around the outer walls. You can also make “aisles” down the center if you have a larger storage unit that allows for it. Depending on your product, drawers, boxes or bins within your shelving may also be necessary to keep small items together. I have a business tenant who has shelves that he built and uses to organize his various fabrics and sewing items. He then has labeled bins on the shelves to hold his inventory. This allows for maximum space usage and easy access, taking advantage of the full height of the storage unit without having to stack boxes on top of boxes to fit it all in. Works very well for him!
I even have another business tenant who actually brought in a bunch of filing cabinets that line up around the perimeter of the unit. Granted, they are a much bigger company, but it is a good way to keep everything organized when you have that many files.
Lastly, Select The Optimal Self Storage Unit Size.
After sorting your files, paperwork and inventory, you need to select the best storage unit to fit your needs. Typically for many small businesses, a 5×5 or 5 x10 storage unit will be plenty of room for your boxes of paperwork and excess inventory. However, if you have a lot of inventory or bulky products and need to create “aisles” of shelves to keep your sanity when visiting your storage unit to retrieve your items, you may want to go with a larger size like a 10×10, 10×15 or 10×20. If you are unsure of the size you need, ask our friendly property managers for help and they will gladly work through it with you.
Once you have selected your storage unit and are ready to begin placing your files and inventory inside, you will want to keep it as organized as possible. Try and keep the boxes and files organized into groups; all the employee files in this row, filing cabinet or shelf; all the financial documents in this row, filing cabinet or shelf; and all the payroll information on the top shelf, etc. In addition to clearly labeling everything, it makes sense to create a color-coded legend, mapping out all of your items so you can find them quickly and easily when you visit. Simply hang it on your shelving or tape it to the wall beside the door, and update it as you make changes. For example: Red=Employee Files, Orange=Invoices, Yellow=Payroll, Green= Tax Documents, Blue=Ledgers, Purple=Backup Files and so on. Using graph paper can be very helpful along with colored stickers that you can write on.
While this all takes time and some planning, you will be appreciative of your efforts later on when you can find what you need with little effort. And, to make it even easier, we have a variety of boxes available for purchase in our retail stores, located inside each rental office. If you are ready to get a self storage unit to organize your business files and excess inventory, you can reserve or rent one online 24/7! You can also call our friendly property managers or stop in any of our locations to get started.