My Paperless Workflow

Submitted by mathew on Fri, 25/05/2012 - 15:11

When I started development of Easy Books in 2009, I had already been running my own business for a number of years. Enough time to build up a quite a collection of boxes of paperwork which I stored in the attic.

For the last few years I've been thinking about how much effort it would be to go fully paperless, or at least as paperless as possible. Enter Mr. Simon Wolf (@sgaw) of Otter Software. Simon appeared on an episode called Eco Friendly Developing on the iDeveloper Live podcast. Starting from 15:22 in the podcast episode, Simon talks about his intention to go paperless, about the apps he uses, other equipment you need and also about being careful to avoid taking paper documents in the first place. This encouraged me to get started myself. I decided to wait until the start of a new tax year, and keep nothing on paper past that date. I know I'll need the originals for some documents, even if just for a short time. For example, I'll keep bank statements for a few months because they can act as proof of identity.

 

Technology & Tools

A scanner. To get started, the main thing you'll need is a scanner. I researched them for a while and eventually concluded that the model mentioned in the podcast was a good one for me. I opted for the Canon P-215 over the desktop version partly on price, but also because the P-215 is a smaller, more portable scanner that takes up less room on the desk.

 

Software. Although not strictly necessary, using an application designed for information archiving and retrieval does help if you want to find something you've scanned later. Apps such as Evernote feature optical character recognition (OCR) to help you find something you scanned a while ago. There are other benefits too, over just storing scanned documents in a folder on your computer. Your documents are stored online, so you can get to them from anywhere. I'm interested in using it for bookkeeping (obviously) and being able to send documents from Easy Books over to a system that offers an iOS app was a big draw. I've been an Evernote user for years now, and although there are other alternatives I would second Simon's suggestion of finding a solution that works and sticking to it.

 

I've created separate notebooks in Evernote to record everything from a tax year, akin to my existing system of boxes. Each notebook is named with the business name and the tax year. In addition, I have another notebook called "inbox". This is marked as the default notebook, so anything I send to Evernote from the scanner, Mac or iOS apps or by email will end up in the inbox. I move documents from the inbox over to the current tax year as soon as I've entered them in the books.

The Evernote app for iOS features a document photography mode, which auto-scales, corrects the perspective and uploads to your Evernote inbox notebook. Prior to this, I used a dedicated scanning app called GeniusScan and exported into Evernote. The current workflow is easier as I just use Evernote to take photographs of receipts.

 

I now have a workflow that is easy to use, and includes a safeguard to help make sure I don't forget to enter everything into the books. So for what it's worth, here's what I do.

My Bookkeeping Workflow

Process On Arrival. When I receive invoices, receipts, or statements, I normally enter these into Easy Books straight away. If so, I also scan the document straight into the notebook for its tax year. It is then filed away in case I need it, but most likely I won't need to look at it again. Using the Evernote app for iOS, I can send photos to Evernote too. This allows me to record receipts when I'm away from the office using the iPhone camera.

If a bank statement arrives in the post and I don't have the time to reconcile it in Easy Books straight away, I scan it into Evernote and it will sit in the inbox as a reminder that I need to process it later. This will be stored in the inbox until I enter the information into Easy Books and move the document to a notebook for its tax year.

Often I'm sent invoices by email. For these, I still enter them in Easy Books as they come in, and then forward the email to my private Evernote email address. This is great because I can move things into Evernote from any device, whether or not it has Evernote installed.

Sales Invoices. When I need to keep a copy of sales invoices I've created in Easy Books, I send the invoice directly from the app to Evernote. At the moment, the Evernote app does not allow me to move the imported file to a specific notebook, so I need to manually move these out of the inbox later. I'm sure this feature will be added to the Evernote app one day, and it's only a minor irritation.

Year-End and VAT Reports. Similarly with the reports, after filing the VAT return or consolidating the profit & loss, I send the report output in HTML format from Easy Books over to Evernote using the "Send to app..." option.

 

 

 

Backups

Keeping backups is a really good idea, and it takes a digital disaster of some kind to really appreciate it.

Backup Scanned Documents. Using Evernote means I have the documents backed up all the time, but in case the service goes away, I can export all the notes and burn them onto a DVD using the Mac app, which I intend to do at the end of each tax year.

Backup the Accounts. For the accounting data, which is stored in Easy Books, I use the Online Sync service. I also make regular backups manually in the app in case I accidentally delete the business from my syncing account and lose my iPhone, iPad and Mac, all of which contain a copy of the accounts. Not likely to happen? Certainly. But I got into the habit of keeping backup files.

I have a number of options for storing backups of Easy Books data. In fact I researched cloud storage options a while ago to find a good solution that would allow Easy Books to upload backup files, and to allow me to restore the backup file easily if I ever needed to. The following apps all accept backup files from Easy Books, and allow you to restore by viewing the backup file in the app and opening in Easy Books.

Box have been around for a while and offer a free personal account along with paid accounts for business. They have a file size limit for individual files and in total storage, but when used to store Easy Books backups you're unlikely to hit it since the file sizes are small. Their iOS app is easy to use and accepts all file types from Easy Books. You can also send backup files from the Dropbox app back to Easy Books to restore your data.

Dropbox is perhaps the most popular cloud storage and backup option for most people. They also offer a free account along with paid accounts as you need more storage. Their iOS app is very easy to use and accepts all file types from Easy Books. You can also send backup files from the Dropbox app back to Easy Books to restore your data.

Evernote is good at storing documents such as PDFs and image files. But it is also capable of storing other kinds of files, including Easy Books backups. There is a free option in Evernote just like the others, but this is in the form of an upload limit per month. Anyone using Evernote already as part of a paperless office may find it useful to stick to the same app for storing all the backups as well. Their iOS app is easy to use and accepts all file types from Easy Books. You can also send backup files from the Dropbox app back to Easy Books to restore your data.