When you start a new home based business, it is easy to overlook or put off some of the boring mundane chores while you concentrate on building up your business. One such chore is creating a proper home office filing system for your business documents. In all the excitement and hard work of the first weeks and months of running a new home business, it will be hard to find time for everything you need to do. Good time management strategies will pay off but, even if you have worked out a schedule for yourself, this will almost certainly need some fine tuning to get your days running smoothly and you will probably find you have too many chores to get through each day.
Putting things off is never a good idea and filing is no exception. If you procrastinate, the task will not go away and you will, in fact, find it has grown bigger and more difficult to manage. The amount of documents you generate will depend on the type of business you have started. Even an Internet based home business, which seems pretty much paper-free, will have certain documents that need to be filed for future reference.
Obviously, one aspect of keeping paperwork neat and tidy is that you won’t be wasting time unnecessarily if, instead of searching through piles of documents, you can put your hand straight on the piece of paper you need at any moment. The other reason an efficient filing system is necessary is because, as a self employed person, you are responsible for your own taxes.
Tax time is as regular as Christmas (albeit not so welcome) but, for most people, it inevitably seems to arrive too soon and create a flurry of last minute calculations and frenzied searches for missing documents. A simple filing system can take the pain and anxiety out of tax time. With documents filed in a logical manner, it is easy to collate all the information needed to fill in your tax returns. Don’t forget that, when you work at home, you are allowed to claim tax exemption on a proportion of some of your normal household bills such as heating, phone, broadband connection etc. So, as well as keeping proof of purchase for business items such as stationery or travel expenses, you need to have evidence of your everyday domestic outgoings to back up your claim for tax exemption for those items.
You can have an efficient filing system even if you don’t have space for a filing cabinet. A filing cabinet is useful but not essential; as long as you keep all your folders and ring binders together, you can create a system that will work for you. The basic things you need are some ordinary cardboard folder files, a couple of ring binders, and a highlighter pen. Make sure the folders are clearly labeled as to contents and make sure to separate documents into logical groups. Place all lighting and heating bills in one folder, phone bills in another, vehicle and travel expenses in another, stationary bills in another and so on. You will probably want to have a miscellaneous folder to file the odd bits and pieces that don’t really fit in any obvious category but don’t overuse the miscellaneous folder, if a piece of paper can be allocated to a “proper” category, put it where it belongs. Use the ring binders to hold bank and credit card statements, with the most recent statement on top.
The marker pen will save you a great deal of time provided you use it consistently. Keep the highlighter pen wherever you normally read your mail. As soon as you open a bill use the highlighter pen to mark the bill total. Then, when you are doing the figures for your tax return, you won’t need to look down a column of figures in search of the total: the figure you need will leap right out at you. If you use your personal credit card or bank account for your home business purposes, you will need to distinguish the business expenses from personal spending. When you open a bank statement or credit card, highlight all expenses and income relating to your business as you check the statement. If you pay for things for business use online, keep a highlighter pen by your computer. As soon as you download an invoice for goods or services bought online, highlight the total before you file the document.
It is not hard to highlight figures on documents as soon as they are received and doing so will save you time, it is just a matter of getting into the habit. Filing bills and statements in separate folders and binders only takes seconds longer than throwing them all into one folder but doing this will save you hours in the long run and those hours can be used productively in building up your home business.