Reader Story: Closing Deals With PDF Search

Reader Story: Closing Deals With PDF Search

This post from is part of the paperless stories feature at DocumentSnap. Some stories are from readers that have successfully gone paperless, some are still going through it. Would you like to share your story too?

Today’s featured DocumentSnap reader is John Svirsky from Florida and New York.

What problems were you trying to solve by going paperless?

I spend 6 months in the Hudson Valley of New York and 6 months of the year in Naples Florida. I needed a solution to have access my files no matter where I was.

What were the biggest stumbling blocks you faced when going paperless?

For years I used an all in one printer. HP 8500 premier. A very good printer, but a slow and bloated scanning system. Had no idea that there was something better until I got my Fujitsu ScanSanp S1500M.

Tell us about your paperless workflow

As paperwork comes in I immediately scan and save into a file. Each deal gets its own file. The biggest challenge is consistency of naming the file so I can find it later. I start each file with Deal name and then brief description and then date in this format 2011-01-20.

Tell us about your business

I am in real estate and finance. I used to do a lot of Residential Mortgages and now primarily commercial mortgages.

Anything more we should know?

By scanning each document I have been able to “make deals happen” and close deals with only my PDF documents. People are amazed how I have access to old files. Just two days ago a realtor who is showing a property I own in Greenwich Ct called and said a prospective buyer wanted the floor plans. I built this property in 2007. I said one minute, went to the file did a search and within one minute I emailed it to her. Man, that felt great to be that efficient. By the way I was in my Naples office when she called.

Thanks John, that’s a great example of how a good filing and retrieval system can have a tangible payoff. If you have questions for John about his workflow, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to get them answered for you.

UPDATE: There were some questions in the comments, so John has provided this amazingly comprehensive response. Thanks John!

First and foremost I must emphasize having multiple copies/backups of all data. My backup plan is as follows:

  • Dropbox – my primary repository all data
  • Superduper – complete bootable HD I do automatically every Saturday Morning
  • Backup (apple) – only my 2011 data files which are located within Dropbox 11 to apple idisk (really slow, but belts and suspenders)
  • Chronosync – onto FlashDrive 32 Gb – only 2011 business data (no music/ pictures etc)

At the end of each year I do a complete Superduper bootable back up onto a OWC HD (extremely reliable) which I keep offsite

I keep all my itunes library on a separate OWC 150GB hard drive

I use the Dropbox premium service so I am not limited to the 2 GB storage space.

One of the great benefits of dropbox is when I am in Naples, FL and my bookkeeper is in Garrison NY, she has almost instantaneous access to any checks I have written and when she reconciles the books, I stay off Quickbooks until she gives me permission to go back on. Since my bookkeeper is Windows only I use Quickbooks Pro windows thru Parallels. Dropbox is ambidextrous in the sense that windows and Macs can play in the same sandbox.

In terms of file structure I set up a master folder for each year called Dropbox 11 (10 & 09) within that I create the following subfolders:

  • archived calendars, contacts – I do a weekly backup from Contact and from Busy Cal and save to this folder
  • Chronosync Scripts
  • Deals 11
    • each deal has separate folder
      • each deal has subfolders like bank statement 11 or credit card 11
  • Deals Closed 11
  • Deals Dead 11
  • Excel 11
  • JDS Book (I am in process of writing a book)
  • JDS Real Estate Investment
    • each property has its own separate folder
  • Journal – I write a personal journal for 30 – 60 minutes each morning using Word Mac 2011
  • Manuals – PDF of manuals of any gadgets I have bought
  • MindNode – for any mind mapping I might do
  • OmniFocus 11 (back up files are stored here automatically)
  • OmniOutliner 11
  • PDF Docs 11 – anything that does not fit anywhere else fits here
  • Random Notes Notebook file
  • Receipts, Invoices & Serial Numbers 11 ( I scan all big ticket items and serial numbers of gadgets here and in evernote)
  • Scrivener
  • Word 11

I then have another folder called 94 -10 not stored in Dropbox but in my Documents folder with all my data from 1994 – 2010 (this is also stored on a separate Hard Drive for extra protection)

Keyword search is the vital to my system. I save everything with the deal name first for example 123 Corp Mortgage Statement 2011-02-23. I should mention that I scan all bank statements and they are saved in the same way Property Folder/Bank Statements 11/ property name Jan, Feb etc After much struggle is ended up using billing date as a constant, I welcome other viewpoints on that. Since many statements go between two months, eg Jan 15 – Feb 14. So I just use the billing date which might be 2011-02-18. I use the year -mm- date system

Although in writing this all down I am saying whoa, this is complicated. Not any more, now that I have the structure it is a so easy. Everything has a folder I use spotlight or launch bar to find the file I am searching for. The biggest problem is consistency of naming. So a year or several years from now I will be able to find a bill or an item but can’t remember how I saved it. That is why I use the folder structure, in a worst case only have to look within 1 or 2 folders rather than whole disk.

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

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[…] The example she gave was someone getting contracts signed while on the train. This reminded me of John Sivirsky’s great reader story about how he felt his access to information helps him create […]

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[…] Reader Story: Closing Deals With PDF Search Great reader story from John Svirsky. […]

@snafu77 - February 22, 2011 Reply

Great post!
What kind of directory structure does John use? Does he search for keywords he used in the filenames to retrieve docs or does he have some sort of document management system in place? Is he syncing to the cloud? What would John say his biggest problem has been with the whole paperless process?

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - February 23, 2011 Reply

    I've updated the post with John's responses. Check it out!

      @snafu77 - February 24, 2011 Reply

      Thanks very much Brooks! Excellent followup John!

      I feel much better about my setup and future plans now. I'm doing a variation on your system using JungleDisk, CrashPlan, Evernote and offsite backups too. I can't use Evernote for my important docs and although I can use Locate or Windows Search I am likely replacing all new systems with Macs to use DevonThink. I just feel better with the ability to sort files beyond the directory hierarchy and filenames. That way I can cross list things like student loans in my Education/Institution/Year/Financial section and Business/Bills, Business/Loans, etc. which comes in handy when I'm locked into thinking about something in terms of one aspect of it.

      I also use the billing date for statements. I occasionally have more than one statement in the same month too so using month names wouldn't be too hot. When I settled down and began to think about how I'd do this it helped me to use MindMeister to create a mind map and layout how this would all fit together. It's also something my wife can reference if she needs to find something on her own.
      For filenames the OneTouch software my scanner uses has a custom filenaming setting that I use with programmed buttons to scan straight to a pdf in a Processing directory where I store docs before moving them. So I have it set to Freeman_{MM}-{DD}-{YYYY}_{BatchID}_{#b} which adds up to Freeman_08-04-2010_ABCD_100F.pdf. Later on I add details to the filename, use Acrobat to add OCR to batches of files (this also decreases the file size significantly) and move them to the directory they belong in. I plan on using keywords more when I replace my main workstation with a Mac.

      Can't thank you guys enough for this info. The system works for me but knowing that someone is relying on a similar method for a thriving business makes me feel a lot better about it.

      BTW – John has supreme discipline to head back to Hudson Valley every year. Naples is absolutely beautiful.

        Brooks Duncan
        Brooks Duncan - February 25, 2011 Reply

        Great naming scheme and I am a big mindmap fan too. Not sure how I lived without them.

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