Most of our firm’s clients probably don’t know that I have an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies and Earth Science. As part of my commitment to helping save the planet, we are a paperless, virtual office, with staff in different parts of the country (Florida, Michigan, Utah and Idaho). Since many of you who are reading this also don’t have physical offices and may have partners in other states, too, we thought you might benefit from knowing how we do it. In this first of our “Going Paperless” series, we’ll share tips on how we use Dropbox.

Dropbox is a cloud storage platform that has been around since 2008 and has more than 500 million users who rely on it to safeguard their business and personal digital files.

An essential tool for a paperless office

Dropbox is an essential part of our business. We have used it for years, and it keeps getting better. If you don’t already have a cloud storage system with shared file storage, you will need one. An important thing to know about Dropbox is that you should only “share” Dropbox folders with your immediate team members and only send Dropbox “links” to outside professionals (like us) or your investors. Links allow others only to download files from the linked folder. Shared folders allow everyone with access to add, modify, or delete files in the folder.

Another thing to know about Dropbox is that you need to keep your folder names and file names as short as possible. There is a 256-character limit in the entire string (Dropbox account/Folder name/subfolder name/filename, etc.). If the string gets too long, your files may no longer be visible.

One more thing that helps us keep things organized is the file naming convention we follow when multiple people work on the same document. Each person who works on it saves a copy with the date he or she last worked on it and that person’s initials. The next person to work on it creates a new version, replacing the date with the new date and the prior initials with his or her own initials. This has worked for us for many years, allowing us to easily identify the latest version of the document.

You can start out with a free Dropbox account or you can get a paid personal service with plenty of storage for around $99 a year per user. Every user will need a separate account. Business accounts cost significantly more, but it will likely be quite awhile before you need one. If you are using Dropbox for a shared filing system, you should put someone in charge of maintaining it so things stay organized.

There are other cloud storage systems out there, but we haven’t found any of them to be comparable with respect to updating speed, syncing and offline access.

Recommended folders for your system

If you have a real estate syndicate, I recommend you have the following folders (which can include subfolders that offer another layer of organization):

  • Syndication Offering Package
  • Investor Information (with Subscription Agreements, pre-qualification questionnaires, individual Investor communications)
  • Loan Documents
  • Investor Communications (newsletters, letters and emails sent to all Investors)

For each company, you should have:

  • Receipts separated by company and year
  • Organizational Documents (Articles of Organization; Annual Reports, Operating Agreements & Amendments, Meeting Minutes and Resolutions).
  • Accounting (bookkeeping, financial statements, bank statements and accounting records)

We highly recommend Dropbox. The company offers new users a chance to try it for free before committing to any of the various tiers of service.

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