When you’re embarking on a new business venture, paperwork has a tendency to pile up quickly. Going paperless will not only keep your files organized (and even searchable, depending on what software you use), but also frees up office storage space and even saves trees. Here are a few tips to kick things off:
1. Purchase a document scanner
If you plan to be paperless from the beginning and want to keep things that way, investing in a quality scanner should be your first step. You’ll be digitizing documents every step of the way as you get your business off the ground, so this is one thing you don’t want to skimp on. Ideally your important documents will be just a click away, rather than buried under a box in the corner of your home office. Two highly reviewed options are Neat and the Fujitsu Scan Snap.
For on-the-go users, there are plenty of phone and tablet options to choose from as well. Check out highly reviewed CamScanner or Genius Scan, both available for Android and iOS. Scannable is another great option- especially for Evernote users.
2. Make the cloud work for you
If you’re scanning and tossing all your hard copies, you don’t want to make the mistake of solely trusting your computer to keep them secure. Since there’s always a risk of loss or damage to back-up drives, it might be worth looking into the cloud when it comes to your most important files. Cloud services like Dropbox and Box.com are extremely flexible and offer business plans for scalability. Another option is Evernote, which integrates note taking with file management and is very popular among paperless experts. Finally, even if you use these other cloud services, creating a second backup using a service like iDrive or Carbonite will ensure that your setup is disaster-proof.
If you’re worried about security, most cloud services offer basic encryption and/or compatibility with more sophisticated third-party options. Keep in mind that the cloud offers an added bonus of accessibility — you’ll now be able to access your documents remotely, via phone or laptop, rather than bemoaning the fact that you left a crucial document at the office.
3. Set up a virtual mailroom
This tip gives you a professional business address and also saves you hours of time spent monotonously sorting through mail. A virtual mailroom service will scan every envelope you receive at said address and then provide several options: open & scan, shred, forward, check deposit or bill-pay. Popular services include Traveling Mailbox and Earth Class Mail.
4. Hire a third party to act as your registered agent
Registered agents often overlap with virtual mailroom services, and are especially important for startups lacking a physical office. Your third-party agent is responsible for storing organizational files, as well as receiving and scanning official mail on your company’s behalf. As a result, you benefit from off-site file storage and a little help with the document digitization process.
5. Cut down on business junk mail altogether
It’s pretty safe to say that junk mail is simultaneously one of the biggest frustrations and paper-wasters of the 21st century. If you’re finally fed up, a time-saving app like PaperKarma can prove useful. Simply take a picture of the offending mail and the company will act on your behalf, requesting that the sender remove your name from their mailing list.
6. Find an online fax service that meets your needs
There’s a paperless way to complete most office tasks at this point, and faxing is now on that list. If you have clients or vendors with fax machines, there are still ways to keep those interactions paper-free. Consider a pay-as-you-go service like GreenFax to start out, or a subscription service such as eFax or Nextiva if you know you’ll be faxing frequently. As always, there are mobile options to supplement your faxing needs—take a look at Breezy Print and Fax and JotNot Fax, available for Android and iOS. If you deal with the medical industry here is a list of HIPAA compliant fax services. (Disclosure: my company owns FindAFax.com, the site on which this list resides).
7. Set up e-billing for all applicable services
In this day and age, most services offer an email-only billing option. E-billing cuts down the time spent scanning mailed documents, reduces paper waste, and simplifies the bill-pay process. Conversely, if your own company’s services include invoicing, use electronic options such as PayPal or FreshBooks rather than sending a physical slip.
8. Sign documents electronically
Gone are the days of printing a document only to sign, scan and send. The electronic signature method saves time and paper, with popular services including Adobe Sign to DocuSign. Additional features may include form templates, document archiving and integration with other cloud services.
Many established companies have their work cut out for them when it comes to making the transition (or assessing whether such an extreme change is even possible). If you’re just getting started with your business, though, you’re in luck. Choosing to go paperless now will save a lot of time, hassle, file cabinet costs, trees and even real estate in the long run.