Two people look through a file in front of shelving containing lever arch files

Top tips on correctly managing archives for small businesses

Keeping records as a business can be daunting and time consuming. Regulations are complex, and without a professional archivist it can be hard to figure out what needs to be kept for how long. You’ll need to work out the physical storage arrangements. Where is the best location to keep documentation? When office rental costs are at a premium, it’s a luxury for a small business to have storage space. Then there’s ongoing management of the records. Depending on the size of your business, you may task specific departments, such as accounts and HR to manage the archiving of their own documentation. If this is the case, there should still be a central archive location and a company policy regarding the standards and processes of this archiving. 

Principles of Good Archiving

Before you even begin to put together a physical archive, it is helpful to understand the basic principles of archive management. Understanding these principles will put you in good stead for managing the archive itself, and will make it a lot less time consuming. 

Digitise your records

If records can be kept digitally, an online archive can save on physical space and increase accessibility. Be careful not to assume that digital archives are safer than physical archives, though. Digital documents can be corrupted, accidentally moved, or lost. 

Backup your records

This is why it’s important to backup your records. By having digital and physical archives existing simultaneously, you will ensure that your business is best protected against damage and loss of important documents.

Protection of Records

This is about choosing the right space for your archive. While the office may have space in a store or loft, is this the safest place to keep a business archive? Is it secure, future proof and easy to access when required? An off site storage service offers the right levels of security and safety to protect records in the long term. 

Understand Regulations

Most importantly, as a business of any size you must comply with relevant regulations regarding document archiving. 

Accounting Documents

Tax returns, financial statements and accounting records should be retained for at least six years. You should calculate the six-year period from the end of the last company financial year that the record relates to. 

Trade Records

There are specific import and export records that must be kept, if relevant for your business. While the length of time that records should be kept varies, should there be a criminal investigation, traders records for up to ten years can be requested. Therefore it can make sense to use this period as a guide.

HR Records

Excepting salary details, HR records should be kept for three years as a minimum. Payroll documentation needs to be kept for at least six years. 

Company Records

General company records may include contracts, business and trade agreements. These should be kept for a minimum of six years. As well as your current insurance policy documents and other certificates, you should store documentation from past policies for at least seven years after that policy has finished.

Limited Companies

For limited companies, there is the requirement to retain records relating to transactions, loans, registers, directors, company secretaries and shareholders.

GDPR Data 

Falling within HR records are various personnel related documents that are covered by GDPR. The length of retention ranges from six months for application records to as much as 18 years in the case of parental leave relating to a child who receives disability allowance. Other documents to include are redundancy, pension benefits, accident logs, maternity, paternity, sickness and training records

Managing your Archive

So, how do you manage a physical archive once it’s in place? While often the documents that are kept in an archive are there for regulatory reasons and rarely accessed, this doesn’t mean that they can be left in a mess. There only needs to be one occasion where your business needs to access a specific document to feel the importance of good archive management. If one document cannot easily be found, it could cause a huge headache for your organisation, and even have legal ramifications. With these basic steps you will ensure that your archive is ordered and accessible.

Create an Inventory

This is basically the map of your business archive. The inventory is more than a list. It should be a navigable document that tells you the type of record, its location, date range and any other relevant information. Ideally the inventory should be searchable so that you can quickly and easily locate a specific document when required. 

Organise Records

Document and records should be organised in a logical way. This could be by date, category or alphabetically. There should be uniformity across the organisation if different departments are in charge of maintaining their own relevant records. 

Use Proper Storage

Deciding on a storage location is about more than floor area. When documents are retained for a decade or more, it’s vital to use a space that will keep those documents preserved and legible. Make sure your storage unit is climate-controlled, dust-free and away from direct sunlight. Digital records should also have a backup system in case of technical failures or cyber attacks.

Establish Retention Schedules

Since businesses are legally required to keep certain records for a specific period of time it’s important to know how old each document is. Establishing retention schedules can help you determine which records need to be kept and for how long. In turn, this will prevent your archive from becoming unnecessarily large.

Clear Labelling

While your inventory is great to map out where documents are stored, there must be clear labels on boxes, files and folders. You may want to use colours to signify record type or department. 

Archive Reviews

As a business grows so will the requirements from an archive. It’s important to regularly review your systems and update your inventory.  


It’s worthwhile to implement basic training in archive use. This simply involves instructing employees how to use the archive and teaching the importance of the documents held. This can help to prevent accidental loss or damage of records.

It’s clear that an off site storage facility is the most appropriate location to store your business archive. With the right systems in place, using a storage unit in this way can really benefit your business. Contact us to find out more.

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