At some point during my last office move, probably while I was trying to find a place for the 15th box of paper archive files, I decided that it was time to make the transition to the “paperless office.” To be clear, a “paperless office,” does not literally mean that I no longer use paper. In fact, I still regularly print things to read and mark up, and I currently have a stack of paper documents on my desk.
Instead, a “paperless office” is better defined as one that has a digital copy of everything and doesn’t archive paper files unless absolutely necessary. This cuts down on the need for file cabinets and the space that they require as well as making the files more accessible. The text of scanned and digital files can be easily searched and made available at a moment’s notice through any laptop or smartphone.
The biggest advantage of the “paperless office” is that it makes me nimble and flexible. If my accountant wants to see receipts from charitable contributions, I can gather and send them in less than a minute. If my bank wants to see a tax return, I can send it to them from the airport. Finally, if I decide I want to get out of the Texas heat for a couple of months in the summer, all I need to bring with me is my laptop to maintain full access to my office.
If you want to “go paperless,” a good first step is to switch to an online fax service (which this site is obviously designed to help you do). Here are some other tools/ services will also help.
- Mailbox Forwarding, Inc offers virtual mailroom services for $15-$30 month. The company assigns you a mailing address (they have them available in California, Michigan and Florida) that you can use as your business mailing address (they provide registered agent services in those states). They’ll receive and scan the envelopes and put them on a secure web portal where you can view the images and decide whether you want them to open & scan, forward or shred the mail.
- HelloSign is an eSignature service that offers free accounts for infrequent users (like me) and reasonably priced plans for people who need more than 3 signed documents per month. For people who use Gmail or Google Apps, HelloSign has a plugin that adds an option to sign documents directly in the Gmail interface. It’s very convenient.
- Fujitsu Scan Snap iX500 is the best personal document scanning hardware available, and it costs around $450 (but it includes Adobe Acrobat X Standard for Windows which normally costs $200). It scans both sides of the document, uses ultrasonic detection to identify overlapping pages, and makes typed text searchable. I’ve been using this just about every business day for 2 years, and I can’t imagine working without it.
- The Fellowes DS3 shredder is a great way to dispose of sensitive documents after you’ve scanned them. Fellowes is one of the most respected shredding brands on the market, and you can get the DS3 on Amazon for about $80.
- The Genius Scan+ smartphone app is a great tool for digitizing documents when you are away from the office. The “+” version that I use is about $7, but they also offer a free version that might be enough. Genius Scan+ does a great job of enhancing and cropping the scans and has a very easy process for storing the documents as PDF’s in Dropbox.
- Dropbox is the smoothest, most reliable cloud document service available. If you want to be able to access and share your scanned files from anywhere, I highly recommend storing your files in Dropbox. A free Dropbox account will store up to 2GB of space, but, you’ll probably get addicted to the service and chew through this limit in the first year. However, Dropbox Pro is only $10/ month and gives you up to 1TB of space (that’s 1,000 GB). Even through Dropbox keeps backup copies of your files, I also recommend using iDrive to create an additional backup of your files. It’s a nice security blanket in case something catastrophic happens. iDrive has a free plan that can handle up to 5GB of storage and their Personal account is $45/ year for 1 TB of storage.
Once you stop the flow of new paper files, you’ll eventually want to get rid of the ones you currently have. I used a local document scanning company to handle that, and I had a great experience. I’ll write more detail on how to prepare your documents for scanning and select a good service in a future post.