Preach What We Practice Series

This is the first installment of our new blog series, “Preach what we Practice” where we’ll give fellow small business owners a back-stage pass to how we do business. This week I’ll dig into our file management practices.

– Nate –

Confession time.

I used to HATE Google Drive. It was always missing that one feature that only Microsoft Word could handle. It also took some serious bandwidth for true real-time collaboration. And you needed a Google Account to access it.

All that’s changed now – bandwidth isn’t a problem anymore, its features cover about 90% of our requirements and who doesn’t have a Google Account anymore. So we gave it another shot last year at the insistence of one of our more tech savvy clients, and are really digging it. Here’s how we use it to make (and save) money.

What we use Google Drive for:

We use Google Docs for any document that will require internal or external collaboration. It’s especially helpful for ‘living documents’ that are designed to be updated regularly like Editorial Calendars, checklists, or documents that will go through a ton of editing (such as a press release).

Recently Google Drive has become a more practical/cheaper option for storing static files, images in particular, but also PDFs, contacts, sponsor decks and one-pagers. The ability to save a document as a PDF means we can collaborate on a document, then save a PDF copy when the final draft is locked.

Additionally, we’ll add URL’s in our INTERNAL documents and tools for staff training. The browsing of Google Drive is clunky at best in the web interface, but some deliberate insertion of links can help improve usability and continuity.

What we *DON’T* use Google Drive for:

Raw storage of files such as website backups and plugins, we rely on Dropbox (which I’ll cover tomorrow). I tried it out for awhile, but had issues when sharing docs with clients. While we may store images in Google Drive, extracting images that have been embedded in documents is a hassle, so we don’t create final drafts of blog posts in Google Drive either.

Update (5/27/15): Recent changes to Google Drive have made managing image files and other static files much more practical, so we’ve edited the above sections accordingly.

Our file structure:

I use a fairly simple file structure, mirroring the same hierarchy I use in Dropbox at the Parent > Child level. This is especially important with my CLIENT folders which I share out constantly – makes it easier to share the folder than sharing individual files one-by-one. That way when I use the “Email Collaborators” feature, any document created in that folder is automatically shared with the client.

Take a look:

Google Drive File Structure
Our Google Drive File Structure

Google Drive Folders
Our Google Drive Folder Setup

File naming:

After slinging paperwork for 5-years in the Air Force, I came up with some “when I’m king” rules for naming files.

No Numbers. No Dates. Descriptive Titles.

In the age of search, and sorting by file property (i.e. sorting files by date modified) the need for a complicated file naming system is massive overkill.  I will append the client name on files as necessary, i.e. CLIENT NAME’s – Editorial Calendar.


Several years back a client sent us over a mysterious document called a “Brand Guide”. Truthfully, the design aspects of marketing were very new to me back then. I was just learning the basics of insistence on whitespace and how to avoid going crazy with font libraries. That document was a god-send (and cost that client 5 figures), and gave me a glimpse in how the ‘big boys’ do it. Notably, injecting consistency into your documentation.

If it’s a title, use this font, and this size, and this weight, and this spacing … at first it seemed limiting, but building a good business habit of injecting consistency into your brand can only benefit.

Here’s some screenshots of the custom styles I use for our documents plus a screenshot showing how to adjust your default styles:

Style Guide for Google Drive / Docs
Style Guide for Google Drive / Docs

Adjusting Styles in Google Drive (Docs)
Adjusting Styles in Google Drive (Docs)

Uncommon Uses:

UPDATE (5/27/15): Here’s a few templates/checklists we’ve found work well with Google Drive’s collaborative abilities. Help yourself!

Managing Split Payments on Projects – Now that we’ve “gone legit”, we no longer use this template. During the years when Small Biz Triage was just a two man team with a rotating cast of freelance help, however, this document kept made tracking our income and expenses simple and let us know how much we could pay ourselves without bankrupting the company.

Editorial Calendar Template – Required resource for anyone who needs to stick to a publishing schedule, be that to promote live events, post blogs, send newsletters or manage crowdfunding campaigns. We do all of those, so we get a lot of mileage out of these. Seth likes to flip the calendar so the rows are weeks and the columns are platforms. If you want to know why, ask him.

Sales Pipeline Template – Another one from our leaner days. Not suitable for the size of our operation now, but extremely useful as a sanity aid for any lone wolf bootstrappers out there.

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2 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed this post and the companion post on drop box. I bounce between the two for my freelance business. I’m starting to work with a partner and want to create a nice system for internal organization as well as a way to share with clients. I find it interesting what you decide to use each service for. I’m a fan of Google drive for most things because of how well integrated it is with other Google services. The versioning capabilities are nice as well. I really like being able to snap pics of my receipts and upload it to a folder in drive. Close to a Google docs spreadsheet for finance.
    I see drive being better for documents like contracts etc than dropbox myself. Especially since you can use web extensions to open/sign/send contacts for example. I have had some trouble sending image files to clients in the past, but not lately. What type if issues were you having sending files to clients?
    I’m leaning towards using dropbox for our raw storage of files/photos etc and using drive for internal documents. I would like to use drive for photos and video files, but it’s a bit clunky right now on how it handles them. Although the android app is fantastic.
    Thanks for the great posts!

    1. Yeah, the trouble is always with those larger files. Certain things like themes can’t really be stored in drive anyhow (correct me if I’m wrong, Nate), so that’s the type of issues that dropbox helps solve. You already know that though.
      Thanks for reading our blog, Sean. Sounds like you know the ropes pretty well.