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Filing Matters: Paperwork Businesses Must Have on Hand

: A stack of business documents clipped together on a wooden desk in an office next to a plant, pen, and laptop.

In the world of business, paperwork may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, managing the proper documents is crucial for compliance, financial management, and strategic planning. For small business owners, knowing which files to keep and how to organize them can save tremendous time and resources down the line. Explore the essential paperwork businesses must always have on hand.

1. Business Formation Documents

Your business’s foundation relies on its formation documents. These are the records that bring your business into legal existence and define its structure and governance. Depending on your business entity (e.g., LLC, corporation, partnership), this can include:

  • Articles of Incorporation/Organization: They outline the fundamentals of your company, including business name, purpose, and structure.
  • Operating Agreement/Partnership Agreement: This document details the operational and financial decision-making protocols.
  • Bylaws: For corporations, these detail the rules that govern the entity.

2. Tax Documents

Taxation is a certainty in business, and ensuring your business stays on top of compliance is non-negotiable. Key tax documents to maintain include an employer identification number (EIN), which is your business’s tax ID number used for filing taxes and opening a business bank account, and tax returns, which are crucial for future audits, loan applications, or selling your business. If you have employees, you must also maintain thorough payroll records for tax purposes.

3. Licenses and Permits

No matter where your business is located, you’ll likely need the requisite licenses and permits to operate legally. This can include a business license, a professional license if you offer certain services, health and safety permits—depending on the nature of your business—and zoning and land use permits. This last one is essential if you modify your premises or use it for specific purposes.

4. Financial Records

Accurate and comprehensive financial documentation is the bedrock of successful business management and planning. You must keep the following financial records on file:

  • Bank statements and financing documents: These are essential for tracking your business’s cash flow and financial health.
  • Invoices and receipts: Keep records of your income and expenses. They are vital for managing your accounts and preparing tax returns.
  • Annual reports and financial statements: These include balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and cash flow statements.

5. Contracts and Agreements

Contracts and legally binding agreements form the basis of your business’s relationships with vendors, clients, partners, and employees. These documents include service contracts that detail the terms of services rendered or received and lease agreements for your business’s physical location. They also include employment agreements outlining the terms of employment, including roles, responsibilities, and compensation, and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and non-compete agreements, which protect your business’s information.

Stay Compliant in Your Field

Whether you’re starting a small retail shop or thinking of becoming a federal contractor, it’s important to understand a few key things about record retention requirements. Recognizing the legal aspects of operating your business will ensure you stay compliant and competitive in your field.

Remember, keeping essential paperwork on hand protects your business and enables it to thrive. By understanding and organizing these key documents, you lay a solid foundation for your organization’s resilience and success.

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