Paper Documents Are Potential Data Breaches Too

Crucial signed documents need special consideration in your overall security program.

learn more about Cris Burnam

By Cris Burnam


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're doing it: living the dream and launching your startup. In all the excitement of new ideas, new office space, new investors and new employees, however, it's crucial you don't overlook the importance of a physical security strategy to protect your precious documentation.

Despite the move to digital, most companies still need to keep at least some documentation in physical form. Making sure that it doesn't get in the wrong hands is imperative. It begins with getting important ideas on paper, protecting them while you still need them and disposing of them carefully to ensure they stay secure from inception to destruction.

Focus on the right documentation.

For your business to be successful in the long haul, you and your co-founders must hammer out some details upfront. Getting them on paper is crucial. Though you hope you won't have to resort to litigation, you'll be glad you have everything in writing if you do.

At the very least, your documentation strategy should include three facets:

1. A voting agreement that outlines how control is parceled out and how decisions are made.

2. A vesting schedule for equity expressed in shares rather than percentage.

3. A right of refusal that gives co-founders the option to buy shares from each other before they can sell to a third party

Few people are equipped to create such documentation themselves. Hire an attorney to handle it.

Related: Putting Your Business at Risk is a Communications Channel You'd Never Guess: Paper

Protect your documents well.

As your company grows, there will be many sensitive, original documents with signature that you need to store physically. A partial list includes documents such as patents, customers' documentation, contracts with clients or vendors, loan paperwork and stocks and bonds.

Self-storage might be the best option for documents you need to hold onto but don't access frequently. That keeps them away from your business and minimizes the chance of them being stolen. Store your documents in a dry, climate-controlled area in acid-free cardboard or plastic tubs. Otherwise, they may get damaged.

Use a document management system to file, track and store documents in electronic form when you don't need to keep the original paperwork. It also provides histories of use and tracks changes by other viewers. It is a very useful, high-security way to manage documents.

Related: How to Share Documents in the Cloud, Securely

Create a system for destroying sensitive information.

As useful as off-site storage and electronic document management are, you still need a system for destroying physical documentation properly.

Whether it's your own information or your customers' information, you don't want sensitive data to fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, part of your storage strategy must include how to get rid of the documents you no longer need.

Merely recycling isn't good enough. Sometimes, even shredding is dangerous, as criminals can reassemble the material to steal identifying information such as bank accounts and Social Security numbers. Worse, throwing away material can subject you to heavy fines if you violate consumer privacy laws.

Instead, institute a system that advises you when to dispose of outdated documentation: tax returns older than three years, paperwork from customers you no longer work with, obsolete business plans, etc. Contract with a reputable document shredding company that tracks the chain of custody so your documents are always in safe hands.

Your physical security strategy ranges from creating the right documentation in the first place to ensuring that documentation never ends up in the wrong place. Doing it right can save you untold amounts of time and money by avoiding legal trouble or a security breach.

Related: How Long Do You Really Need to Keep Your Financial Documents?

Cris Burnam

President of StorageMart

Cris Burnam has been working in the self-storage industry since 1987. He has served as president of StorageMart since founding the company with his brother, Mike Burnam, in 1999. Burnam grew StorageMart from a single self-storage facility into the world’s largest privately owned self-storage company with 149 locations across the U.S. and Canada. Burnam was named a 2014 EY Entrepreneur of the Year in the Services and Real Estate category (Central Midwest region) -- one of the highest honors an American entrepreneur can receive.

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