Organization is a foundational element of any business. It’s so basic and essential that it should go without saying, but proper organization is all too easy to overlook. However, if you aren’t organized, it’s all but impossible to effectively run your business. If you don’t know where your client’s information is or how to find it, you may struggle to complete your work, jeopardizing your entire business.
With an increasing amount of data, organization is more important now than ever before. The digital age has also brought in new tools that, combined with tried and true techniques, simplify the process of getting and staying organized. Whether you’re just starting your business or you’ve discovered significant opportunities to improve your existing operations, here are 10 ways you can better organize your clients’ information:
1. Keep Copies of Important Documents
Keep at least one copy of all your and your clients’ important documents. You never know when you’ll need to refer back to double-check a small detail or a major point when doing work or communicating with your clients.
Documents you should hold onto include
- Your clients’ contact information;
- Your contract and/or scope of work;
- Invoices and receipts;
- Tax documents;
- Important communications, including emails or meeting minutes.
You can get rid of some of these documents once you end your professional relationship, but you’ll need to keep others for several years. You’ll have to save some documents, particularly financial and tax records, permanently.
It doesn’t matter if the copies are digital or physical; it’s more important to pick a format that works well for you. Further, you can consider which format complements your organization’s existing systems or would work better for your workflow.
2. Keep Client Information in Separate Files or Folders
Keep all of your clients’ information in their own digital files, physical folders, or other unique storage areas. These folders don’t have to be sophisticated or even detailed; they’re just a means to separate relevant client or project information.
You can use electronic files, paper files, or a combination of the two. It simply depends on how much space you can devote to file storage and what digital and physical security resources you have available. Additionally, take your personal preferences into account.
When this information is not organized, the results can be disastrous. You may send communications to the wrong person, mix up deadlines, or lose track of a project entirely. Though they may seem relatively minor, these mistakes can make you seem unprofessional, harm your relationships with your clients, and negatively impact your business. Using some kind of file system is a highly effective way to avoid those negative consequences, significantly benefiting your business instead.
3. Use a Consistent Onboarding Process
Try to use the same onboarding process for each of your clients. By onboarding as consistently as possible, you guarantee that all of your clients enter your business in the same way. Everyone provides the same information, which you can then manage appropriately within your organizational systems. If each of your clients provided different pieces of information, it would be virtually impossible for you to keep track of it or organize it in a meaningful way.
During the onboarding process, ask your clients to fill out a questionnaire going over everything related to your business and relationship, from their contact information to how they would like you to report your progress. You can ask these questions yourself, but, depending on your industry, there may be different tools available to simplify client onboarding.
If, for instance, you work in the IT industry, you likely need to take a different approach to onboarding than a freelance writer or marketer. You aren’t just responsible for getting to know a client; you also have to learn about the systems, devices, and users you’re working on. The right onboarding tool can make the process of discovering all of the information you need to know to work with a given client significantly easier and faster.
This isn’t to say that you should blindly treat all of your clients in the same way. Instead, establish your onboarding process and gather the necessary information from your clients. Then, tailor it to suit their unique needs. You don’t need to be identical to stay organized, just thorough and consistent.
4. Regularly Touch Base
You may have a busy schedule, but it’s crucial to take some time to check in with each of your clients regularly. Not only can this help with retention, but touching base also makes it significantly easier to stay organized. When you meet, you can ask clarifying questions, get and give updates, and share and receive the information you need to do your work.
Find a meeting cadence that works well for each of your clients. Some may prefer to meet weekly, while others prefer every other week or once per month. Ask if they’d like to meet in person, do a video call, or talk on the phone. For some clients, even a quick email exchange may be sufficient. If you rely on emails or other forms of digital communications, be careful about sharing sensitive information, as some significant cybersecurity risks are not present in other settings.
5. Use a Digital Calendar
Calendars are an essential organizational tool that you may already rely on, but this is one area where you should go digital if you haven’t yet. Digital calendars offer the same advantages as their physical counterparts, allowing you to put in appointments and manage your schedule, but the benefits don’t stop there. Digital calendars have additional features that almost make it difficult for you to be disorganized.
You can input information about your client into each event, so you always know exactly who you’re meeting. You can use alarms and reminders to ensure you’re on time for your meetings. Most digital calendars can repeat, duplicate, and share appointments, making it simple to convey that information to everyone who needs to attend. Essentially, the increased functionality of a digital calendar provides another layer of security and customization, so you can stay organized in a way that makes sense for you.
6. Use Existing Email Platform Features
Similarly, features are abundant in email platforms that can help you stay on top of all your client correspondence. Most platforms have filters, labels, or folders that let you categorize your emails however you like. Consider creating a unique folder for each of your clients, or grouping emails based on the status of your project.
While you can manually organize your emails, many platforms also have features that automatically send your incoming messages into the correct folder. It may seem minor, but this can save a significant amount of time and reduce the chance that an email is categorized incorrectly. With more streamlined communications, you can focus instead on the areas of your work that can’t be automated and require your full attention.
7. Store Information on a Secure Platform
Data security is a major part of organizing information. It isn’t enough to store your clients’ information in a way that improves your workflow; you also have to ensure that only the appropriate parties can access that information. The consequences of an unauthorized party accessing your clients’ information can be disastrous for both of you.
When clients work with you, they trust that the information they share with you will be secure. Failure to properly protect that data can ruin your organization’s reputation, hurting your relationship with current customers and breeding distrust among future clients.
Look for an all-encompassing security solution that simplifies this process as much as possible. Some solutions may provide additional organization features, such as automated data backup, that you can take advantage of. You can then focus on running your business and doing the work you were hired for.
8. Consider a Master Index
A master index is a centralized system or database that contains information about a given subject or entity. Though they’re often used in healthcare facilities to keep track of patient information, you can use one to do the same with your clients.
You can create either a physical or a digital master index, though a digital system will likely be easier to use and maintain. You should only input identifying, non-confidential information, such as client names and contact information, to keep it secure. That way, if someone gains unauthorized access to your index, they won’t be able to find any private or sensitive information.
If you use a digital index, following cybersecurity best practices can offer further protection to your clients and your business. If you use a physical index, you should take similar steps to keep it safe, such as storing it in a locked drawer or only giving certain people access to it.
9. Implement a Code System
To get even more use out of your index, consider creating and implementing a code system. To do so, simply think of a code that you can tie to each of your clients or projects. With a code system, everything is classified in the same format, allowing you to appropriately organize information while also making it faster for you to find what you’re looking for.
Your code doesn’t have to be complex; it could simply be the initials of your client’s names, the project start date, the name of the person responsible for that client, some combination of the above, or something different. Just make sure you and your team members can remember the code, and use that code consistently across your projects.
10. Have a System for Document Disposal
Finally, you should dispose of old files and documents periodically. Old documents take up valuable space in both physical and digital storage areas. Further, you have to protect that information as long as it is in your possession. If you truly do not need a given document or file, you shouldn’t continue to shoulder that responsibility. Your time and resources are better spent on current and prospective clients.
Continue to prioritize privacy and security when getting rid of old documents. If you have physical documents, be sure to shred or destroy them, rather than throwing them away intact. You should also “shred” or permanently delete any of your clients’ digital files. Make sure the files are truly irrelevant or outdated before you destroy them.
It may take some time and involve a few missteps, but it’s well worth your effort to develop an organizational system that works for your business. It will ensure that your clients’ work is completed punctually and appropriately and pave the way for you to continue growing your organization.