Best Practices for Organizing Company Files and Data

By Ryan Klund - Business Development Associate

Let’s start with a scenario

Let’s say for a minute that you own a landscaping business in Southeastern Wisconsin. It is a business that you have built from the ground up. You used to be the one designing backyard solutions for every home and overseeing a handful employees on site while you did the work yourself.

Now the business has grown, and you have several teams working in the field every day. You have a couple of designers working on projects in the office and a sales team getting new business.

One day, you have an insurance adjuster calling your office because a home in Waukesha that your team worked on years ago has three feet of water in the basement! The homeowner claims that it was your work on the grading of the lawn that caused the damage. You know it isn’t true, but no where in your files can you find the plans, pictures of the finished project or measurements of the soil grading. Someone on your sales team didn’t save the paperwork files in the right folder or label the data in a way that could be searched for and found.

This story is an example of how unorganized data storage and a poor file structure can lead to chaos for a business that hasn’t put the time into organizing data.

At SWICKtech, data is our thing. We help our clients carry out solutions to match their needs and we want to share with you some of our recommendations for keeping track of company data.

File structure should match business structure

Well before digital data, organizations had been keeping track of information successfully without computers. (Think about all the file cabinets that used to be in a doctor’s office!) Now, in the digital world, keeping track of (and losing) data is much easier than it used to be. There are new rules for data storage and our best advice is to have your file structure match your business structure.

Let’s go back to your landscaping business.

You have several teams at your business using different information. Your designers are using design files, the sales team is saving contacts and accounting keeps track of the billing documents and payroll. You don’t need designers looking at payroll information! The best way to start is by dividing by the teams that make up your business. This way, you can set up security permissions, so employees have access to the right information.

Secondly, and to solve the problem we outlined at the outset of this article, would be to create folders for each customer. The main lens with which your design and sales teams are looking at the business is though the lens of projects you do for your customers.

In this instance, it makes sense for each customer to have a folder inside both the sales and design teams. Inside customer folders are a place for each project that’s been completed, and within the project folders are individual folders for more specific things like pictures, designs, measurements, proposals, billing documents, and so on.

With a file structure that matches your business structure, you can look up every project and all materials by customer name so that no documents are lost.

Use unique naming identifiers

Let’s say your landscaping business is getting really big and you have multiple customers named ‘John Smith’ – keeping project information sorted by name gets a little trickier. Hopefully by the time your business gets this big, you’re using an ERP or CRM system to manage all your company data, making the use of unique naming identifiers mandatory.

At SWICKtech we recommend that each customer has a unique name or number associated to her and each project has a unique number assigned to it. This way, anything can be searched for and found quickly when there are large amounts of data to sort through.

Imagine trying to find the lost landscaping project example at the beginning of this article by searching for “soil grading” or “Waukesha”. You’d have hundreds of projects to sort through!

You need buy in

There are technical solutions for file storage problems, but we understand that we live in the real-world and humans are not perfect. Using a CRM or ERP system to assign unique numbers to projects or customers can be helpful but data storage is only as good as the people using the system.

Getting buy in from your team is super important. You’ll continue to have workflow problems and lost files until you’re able to communicate to everyone the importance of following the file structure guidelines for your organization.

Try assigning someone on your team to double-check that file guidelines are being met. Also, work towards having a culture of healthy feedback, where managers can communicate openly with input on the way files are being stored.

At SWICKtech, we’re passionate about this stuff. If you want to ask us questions about documentation, file migration or data solutions, feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation.  

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