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Friday, July 31, 2015

Those of you who have your own business and use a paper planner, please read!

A friend of mine recently started his own company and was advised by his lawyer to use a paper planner for records and documentation. He knows I'm a planner person so he asked me for advice. I've never been in this situation before so I thought I'd ask experienced folks what they use.

I'm thinking for legal documentation and records purposes he'll need an archival quality book, meaning bound with acid-free pages. He is a techy guy so he probably won't use it as his actual planner, more for documenting phone calls, meetings, decisions etc. He won't want anything too complicated.

What do you use for your business/ self-owned company for documentation and records? Please post a comment with any suggestions. Thank you, your input is much appreciated!


  1. I'm a lawyer and I don't use paper for my legal work. It's all electronic because for legal stuff, back-ups are important.

    I did, however, always use a normal notebook. Honestly, though, it's not like courts expect you to archive forever, so just a normal notebook and ink pen should be fine.

  2. Given his situation, I'm wondering if he'd find this one useful. http://everpresentplanners.com

    I needed a planner that was both a planner and a notebook. I had grown tired of carrying two things into meetings (a planner and a notepad), so I designed this one. I'm still in the production process and literally just received the samples yesterday, but would be happy to share more information if you're interested.

    The back half (100+ pages) are pages for notes I use in meetings, or whatever is needed, and I snap pics to save them in Evernote once the meeting is over so everything is saved and searching for past notes is easy.

    And, of course, I would LOVE to get your feedback/thoughts!

  3. Neither our business lawyer nor our accountant would be interested in receiving anything that wasn't in digital format. Even legal documents always need to be signed and then scanned and emailed these days, with maybe the paper copy sent days later.

    As for records, I have to keep a lot of entries for health and safety purposes - recording when I did things such as checking the fire alarm system and what action I took. I used to keep all this in paper format but now just dictate into my iPhone using Siri. That not only records what I did but also when I did it.

    I use paper for jotting down phone messages and conversations but nearly everything is by email or text these days and sometimes the office phone doesn't ring all day!

  4. My first thought is this: Is he using that planner for his purposes only or is he possibly going to have to share it with other professionals, like his lawyer or accountant? A bound planner may mean turning in the entire book, while with a ring bound planner he would only have to turn in the relevant month or quarter. Will he need to make copies of the info in his planner? Easier with ring bound, not so much with bound.

  5. Thank goodness I have never had to provide any of my records as evidence for any court or tax related events, and you already have an attorney relate their opinion. I don't know if the Excompta family has something that would work for this or not, but such a book would need to meet the same criteria as a lab notebook. Bound pages, numbered pages, and naturally those types are the very highest quality. I have used the Leuchtturm 1917 A5 graph. They have 249 numbered pages and a thread sewn binding. They also make an A4 in the same manner with 233 numbered pages. Hope this helps.

  6. I've worked for many years in document management (UK) and we haven't insisted on paper copies since the courts accepted email as evidence in the mid 2000s.

    As long as everything relevant is recorded appropriately electronic is fine.

  7. Weird, I just wrote out a long comment and Blogger ate it. :( Anyway, I just last week had a tax consultation where the consultant, who used to be an IRS auditor, said a paper planner is important. You should record at least expenses and mileage and the purpose of said expenses and mileage.

    This isn't so much to submit as a court document as it is to show to an IRS auditor who comes to your house to do the audit. In his experience, the auditor will flip through your planner, see that you've been maintaining records throughout the year, and that will lower one of the red flags. I'm a novelist, and people like me and artists, musicians, etc., are at increased risk for IRS audits because of the nature of the work. So it's important to show you're pursuing the business with the intent to make money.

    My tax consultant said just to buy a cheap planner from a box store for these records.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Agree. I meet with my corporate attorney every year and he always asks me about record keeping. As he says, in an audit, "…every piece of paper is a dollar." It may well depend on the industry the person is in. Mine is foodservice and cooking for a living is still considered a "fringe" lifestyle by many. Deleted previous comment and edited to fix grammar.

    3. I'm a writer, too, looking into eventually starting my own business. One of the Nolo books recommends the same thing for that reason. The book also said it should be written in ink, presumably because you can't change ink. I've been using a simple Blue Sky monthly planner (8x10 version).

    4. I once worked for someone who was audited. My paper planner was examined by the auditor who considered it sufficient evidence to rule in my employer's favor.

  8. Interesting.. his lawyer said that... for recording purposes Him indoors uses Ray Blake's Daily dashboard in a Midori travellers notebook kind of way...He uses it to record not plan that's all computerised... he will not use anything else..
    Is it possible to know what industry this gentleman is in?

    1. My friend is a contractor for the energy industry (oil and gas). I'm assuming the need for record keeping is for liability as well as being above-board with meetings, negotiations, contracts, etc.

    2. PS Stephanie's idea is a good one too: recording mileage and expenses, and attributing them to specific jobs/ contracts.

  9. My father owns his own company and for YEARS (like, 35!) he has used the Brooks Brothers planner - it only comes in one size, one color (navy) and has the year stamped in gold on the spine for quick reference. You can also get your initials stamped in gold on the lower right of the front cover. It is set up as a week-at-a-glance, and there is ample room for appointments, notes, and calls. The paper is a light cream, archival quality and has handy references in the back. It is large (but a bit smaller than standard paper), and fits inside a briefcase easily. It is a hardbound book, so very sturdy and lays perfectly flat when opened. My dad keeps a running record of everything in that book, and was useful when he was unfortunately audited one year - IRS took his notes as proof of "things" and all was cleared up. I think the price point is 50-75 dollars (not really sure, I haven't checked out the price), and I'm not sure they're offered year round...you would have to go to www.brooksbrothers.com to verify. My dad swears by these books, and has kept every one of them. He says if they ever stop making them, he will just switch to scratch paper and a pencil because nothing else will do! By the way, each day is a vertical layout, but the columns are not narrow.

  10. I also work in technology. My challenge is that there is different client-specific information I need to access on site. My phone can't deal with a day of pulling up records, making calls, and recording new information without having to recharge. So, paper is reliable for note-taking.

    My paper calendar cannot hold all my notes. My paper calendar works as a master copy, with my digital calendar as an events reminder, or for sharing with others. I use the calendar along with separate notebooks, typically Moleskine books for work notes. Mileage tracking is different and separate.

    I tried keeping mileage on paper; but, this occasionally resulted in guesstimating and missed entries. I did the tracking by printing out worksheets every week to use each day to track miles, hours worked, and work descriptions for billing. The sheets went on a clipboard. Apparently, for mileage logs you need to record time, date, destination, purpose, and miles traveled. I normally get most of those, but not all.

    I have switched to MileIQ for mileage. This has helped tremendously because of the following:

    - automatically records mileage information
    - I know what time I arrived at a job site and what time I left, for billable hours.
    - It saves time that I used to spend recording.

    At one point, I tried outsourcing the transcription of my daily mileage and work logs; but, for the meager monthly subscription of MileIQ, I get more accurate notes, less trouble, and lower overall cost.

  11. It's really going to depend on the amount of detail he needs to carry with him. My husband has a freelance business (on top of FT work) and I handle our taxes, so we've developed a record keeping system. Freelance/contract work does have a higher risk of audit, so documentation is key, but it doesn't necessarily have to be handwritten.

    For freelance, he has settled on a Moleskine Pocket week + notes. He can record which client he did work for on the left date section, and additional notes and tasks on the right. His handwriting is small, so it works for him.

    He uses a simialr system for tracking the projects he works on for the day job. But he uses a Moleskine XL Monthly notebook. The date blocks he notes which projects uisng their official code in the system, and the interleaved notes pages have the details and step by step tasks. The reason he uses monthly for work is it sits on a desk all day and size wasn't an issue. For freelance work, he needed portability and the Pocket weekly was a better fit.

    So I would say go as small as he can to document the details he needs, and work up from there if necessary.

  12. Thank you for all your ideas everyone! Lots to think about here.

  13. I'm really surprised they recommended paper. That's almost unheard of in business these days.

    At the law office where I worked, the lawyers used a combination. They had their calendar on outlook but they both had a small paper calendar they kept with them. At the end of the year, they had printed copies of the digital calendar and their paper calendar all filed away for future reference.

    I think the best approach is a combination of paper and digital - especially if the paper backs up/supports the digital. I don't mean duplication - just paper for some things and digital for others.


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