Get your files under control

By SignCraft Magazine

Posted on Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

How do you keep track of your past projects and the files, images and details that go with each one? Some shops have a system that works, but many don’t. Yet organizing this information makes life easy. It can take just minutes to find a customer’s logo when they call to order another sign. Staff members won’t have to interrupt you or another staff person to see if they remember what colors were used on a certain job.

Almost ten years ago, Roger Sammel, Sammel Sign Company, Essex Junction, Vermont, added a network to connect the computers in his shop. Keeping all of his work files on the server would make backups easier and sharing files between computers a breeze.

With the help of his staff, he developed a simple system for organizing his files that has proven successful and efficient. He’s continued to refine it to make it even easier to use. Here’s how it works:

Each year, a new parent folder is created and named for the year. Inside that goes a folder for each client that Sammel Sign Company works with during that year. A folder is created inside the client’s folder for each new project—no matter how small—done for that client during that year.

“Keeping the jobs together by year was more practical for us,” says Roger, “because we do so many jobs in the course of a year. We considered simply having a folder for each client, but since we do work for many of our clients year after year, the client file folders would keep growing. Soon you would have files that relate to jobs you did for them five, six or 10 years ago in there, and sorting through all of those to find something could be hassle. Likewise, a client that you did just one job for would be in that list of client folders forever.”

When he starts a job for a client that he has worked with in the past, he simply goes to their previous folders, copies the files that he needs—such as their logo or the truck lettering layout—then pastes it into the current job’s folder. By copying rather than moving the files, he doesn’t risk corrupting or changing files that relate to previous jobs.

“You put your site pictures in the Site Pics folder, your production items in the Production folder, your layout into the Layout folder,” says Roger. “Then when you go to any customer’s folder, everything will be in the same place as it is for every other customer. How you name your folders doesn’t matter as long as you’re consistent.

“Naming the files in the folders can be challenging. You try to make it fairly universal, but in a sign shop a lot of work is very custom. You just have to ask yourself, ‘How can I name this so that it will be easy to find later?’

“Client-provided files remain what the client named them and are never altered or modified. Instead, we make a copy and name the copy using our system. That way we always have the original file in case we need it.

“We use the same name for many of the files related to a job but in different formats. So in the Layout folder, I might have a file called SignCraft freestanding sign layout.AI, which would be the scalable Adobe Illustrator file of the design. Then there may be a file called SignCraft freestanding sign.PDF made from that AI file, that might be printed or emailed to the customer.

“Once approved, the .AI file of the layout would be saved in the Production folder as SignCraft freestanding sign production file.AI. It would be converted to curves and gone over carefully so that it was ready for production. From there it would be broken into the CNC files, print files and/or cut files.”

Roger also has paper forms for tasks like print, production and cutting. Any details—such as the printer setting—are noted on the forms. These go in the physical file for that client, by year.

“There are five of us here,” says Roger, “and when you have a team, a system like this becomes even more important. Otherwise you’ll be answering all the questions about where to find pertinent information. Once someone is trained on how this works they usually can find whatever they need without asking anyone.

“Of course, it all boils down to discipline and being as consistent as possible. Everyone on the team has to be on board with it.”

Roger upgraded his file server this spring. He now has a RAID array of four drives on the server so that there is a mirror copy of each drive. Should one drive fail, another drive is ready in its place.

He backs up to a local drive as well as to the cloud. All that redundancy ensures that his data won’t be affected should one drive, or one backup, fail. He likes having that peace of mind, especially since he deals with tens of thousands of files each year.

“We’re not perfect,” says Roger. “We have our omissions, especially when we’re really busy. It takes discipline to keep up the system, and sometimes you find a file or folder that needs renamed to stay consistent. But the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of keeping track of the jobs. The value of the system becomes quite apparent when you can’t find something you need!”

Download a PDF of the file organization technique outlined above