No matter how big or small your small business may be, there are critical documents that all business owners need to secure. Internal documents, financial records, or any documents with personally identifiable information should be secured.
Depending on your industry, securing important documents is regulated and mandated by law.
1. Password protect important files
It amazes me how many small business owners keep important documents on their laptops, potentially exposing sensitive business data if lost or stolen. You can password protect your documents as an extra level of security. Use the password protection feature in Microsoft Word and Excel to restrict an unauthorized user from opening or making changes. In Adobe Acrobat, you can protect PDF files to prevent opening, printing, editing, and copying files. Protecting a PDF document from edits should become standard when sending out contracts.
2. Make digital copies
You need more than a locked filing cabinet to protect important documents. Paper documents, or hard copies, are great for easy access, but having a digital backup is essential. Invest in a good scanner, and scan your important documents into digital files. Scan all important documents, and save them to a cloud-based storage service like Dropbox, JustCloud, and SugarSync. Cloud-based storage enables files to be saved on remote servers accessible from the internet. You don’t have to worry about the files in the event of a natural disaster, fire, break-in, or if your computer’s hard drive crashes. Most cloud-based business storage services also allow you to track who accessed files and if the information was shared.
3. Use eSignatures
Remember when you needed to get a signature from a client and you’d have to scan, print, and email a document then they’d have to print, sign, and email? This process allowed sensitive data to be sent via email which is a security risk. Those days are gone thanks to electronic Signatures, eSignatures, that allow documents to be legally signed digitally. With tools like DocuSign and AdobeSign, your small business can have documents signed immediately without all the printing.
4. Put your smartphone to work
Get rid of the clutter of keeping paper receipts. Use your smartphone to take pictures of your business-related purchases. Services like Shoeboxed or Expensify can help make tracking expenses easier. When shopping at stores like Staples or Office Depot, get your receipts emailed to your business account. You should get an alert on your smartphone confirming that you've received your receipt.
5. Create better internal policies
Implement policies that will become best practices for your small business. Share your internal policies with your staff to make sure that everyone is well aware of the expectations.
- Don't leave sensitive data on the printer for anyone to pick up. If you print to a shared printer, immediately retrieve your document. If you scan and email sensitive documents, talk to your IT professional to ensure data is encrypted and that the printer removed archived files on a regular basis.
- Use your best judgment on what files you need to retain, and create policies for how long you should keep the documents.
- Shred unnecessary documents, like employee records from ten years ago, that may contain their social security numbers. If you need to retain a copy, for some reason, save the document in a password-protected file in your cloud-based storage.
- Invest in a good shredder. Make sure important paper documents are not tossed into the recycling bin but shredded instead. Using a cross-cut shredding instead of a strip-cut to prevent the possibility of documents being put back together.
- If an employee leaves, revoke their access to your network immediately to prevent the download of sensitive business documents.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.