From emails to business forms, the amount of data small businesses are dealing with is piling up. Many are still relying on file cabinets, paper shredders and file folders to manage all those documents. While that may save money in the short term, digitizing all of that data will guarantee it’s preserved for years to come.

“No matter where you live in this country we are prone to some kind of disaster,” says Matt Peterson, president and CEO of eFileCabinet. “There’s a real hard cost to the business if it can’t access its data or it’s permanently lost or damaged.”

Going paperless may seem like a daunting task, and is probably why around 80% of businesses have yet to fully move away from paper. But advances in technology have reduced the costs for the little guys, making going paperless a cost effective strategy.  Whether you choose to use a cloud based service to store your data, or let it reside locally on a computer, here are steps to help get your clunky data out of the file cabinet.

Step 1:  Scan all the data.

As arcane as it may sound, in order to go paperless you need to gather all important documents and scan them. Thankfully a scanner isn’t going to break the bank, but experts say you want one with an automatic feeder and one that can handle scanning multiple documents at one time. Peterson suggests getting a scanner that can do 25 pages per minute. Stay away from the super cheap ones, or those that don’t come with a paper feeder.

How you scan in the documents can mean the difference between spending hours searching for something and easily pulling up a specific document. As you scan in the information you want to index it and organize it into specific folders on your computer. Peterson says to have key words attached to each document before you store it, similar to how Google’s search engine works.

Step 2:  Create a PDF repository for record keeping.

Since the goal of going paperless is ease of access, Brian Berson, CEO and founder of FileThis, says you want to keep your documents in one central location. That will not only help when searching for information, but make it easy to share access to a particular document.

In order to make access truly seamless and device independent, pick PDF, it is the perfect final file format,” says Berson. “It is easy to create, and is smaller in size than your typical office document.”

Step 3: Decide whether you want to store in the cloud or locally.

Cloud computing has made it easy and cheap for small business owners to store and back up data. Still many are resistant to the cloud and would rather keep all documents local. If you go the cloud route for storing your data, Peterson says to find a provider that has a track record, brand name and good reputation. After all, cloud providers pop up overnight and you don’t want all your sensitive data residing with a company that could go under. 

“You want to look for someone that’s been in the business for quite a while and has a sizeable customer base,” says Peterson. “You also want to periodically check to make sure your data is accessible to you 24 -7.”

If you decide to store the data locally, experts say you want to have a backup solution for that data and a backup for the backup. Peterson says it’s a good idea to have two backup systems, one that you store off site. It’s also important to back up your data on a daily or regular basis. All too often small business owners will put a backup solution in place, but only back up their data every few months. 

Step 4: Take baby steps in your paperless quest.                 

Digitizing your data can be a daunting and overwhelming task. If the thought of moving your data out of the file cabinet keeps you up at night, you may want to start out with a paper lite strategy.

Going paperless can be challenging – especially for small or medium business as they often struggle with the all-or-nothing syndrome: ‘If I can’t go completely paperless, why should I even bother?,’” says Berson. Instead of scanning all your old paper documents, he says to sign up for electronic statements, use digital signatures and scan or print your office documents to PDF.