A few weeks ago, we discussed some digital tools to help reduce paper use within the office. But there are still more services and apps that focus on reducing your paper consumption (and subsequently your costs) when it comes to external systems, like postal mail, invoicing, and in-person networking.
To continue in this eco- and budget-friendly vein, read on for five more paper saving services.
When it comes to running a small business, it's hard to avoid that ever-growing pile of miscellaneous paper. Not only does it quickly become office clutter, but it's a good way to lose track of important items.
One solution is the digitization service ShoeBoxed. If you've collected 25 expensable receipts on your last visit to the West Coast office, stuffing them into a pre-paid envelope would likely be more efficient than manually entering the data into a spreadsheet.
ShoeBoxed will scan the papers and index them in your account. From there, you can generate highly detailed, sortable reports, and integrate them into your existing database systems, including Excel, Quicken, Outlook, Gmail, Freshbooks (see below), and many others. Essentially, the service can turn a pile of disorganized paper into an expense report or contact database without you ever touching a keyboard.
Pricing starts at $9.95 per month for up to 50 item scans, which could be a good fit for a small operation or freelancer looking to save time on bookkeeping. More comprehensive plans are available for businesses with more to keep track of.
It's time to turn that business card collection or Rolodex into a searchable database. While ShoeBoxed is focused mainly on digitizing receipts, CloudContacts is all about your business network.
Send them your pile of 2 x 3 inch card stock, and get back standardized data that you can import into nearly any contact, e-mail, or CRM system, including Outlook, Gmail, SalesForce and 37Signals' Highrise.
Another nice feature is the one-click connection to social media. When a business card cites a social profile, a link will be incorporated in your data, allowing you to easily connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.
And for those businesses located in New York City, in-person pickup is available.
Generating paper invoices can be extremely inefficient. Freshbooks not only takes the paper out of your billing system, but can give it a complete organizational overhaul.
The web-based software can be accessed from any computer with your account login and password, eliminating the need for proprietary installations. Once logged in, you'll have access to a complete online overview of your billing system, which you can use to track expenses, generate reports, and most importantly, invoice your clients.
Invoices are sent via e-mail with secure links where customers can review their bill and related information (e.g. estimates, quotes, etc.). Clients can even make direct payments from their invoice page via a number of intermediate services including PayPal, Verisign, and Authorize.net. If your clients prefer PDF invoices, you can always utilize a PDF printer driver.
Billing can be automated within Freshbooks (eliminating the need to follow-up manually with "Past Due" reminders), can be done in any currency, and there's even an iPhone app for tracking on the go.
The service is $39.95 per month, plus $10 for each additional user, for unlimited client entries and invoices.
4. Earth Class Mail
Businesses receive tons of paper mail. Much of it is junk; some of it is vital to operations. All of it is cumbersome and unsearchable.
Earth Class Mail seeks to remedy this with their snail mail digitization services. Sign up, and you'll be assigned a special code (like a suite number) to add to your business's existing street address. For example:
123 Broadway, #4567
New York, NY 10011
Then, securely re-route all the mail coming to this address via the U.S. Postal Service. Incoming paper will be scanned and stored in your Earth Class Mail account, and you'll be notified by e-mail of new arrivals.
Now your paper mail is searchable, easily archived, and won't be piling up on your desk any time soon. Digital storage of your mail is unlimited, and the paper will be kept for 30 days before it's securely shredded and recycled.
Because your new digital "suite number" is tied to the re-routing designation with the USPS, you can control what type of mail goes to ECM (lower priority items, junk mail, etc.), and what still comes to your door.
If you're aiming to go fully digital, additional features like integrated check cashing through your bank account, and package forwarding are also available, meaning that once the system is set up and in full swing, you may never need to touch a piece of paper mail again.
Currently, the service is only available in 19 U.S. cities, and it seems there's a lot to keep track of when setting up an account, especially if you plan to split your mail between two destinations. But if you're committed to a green solution, or focused on de-cluttering your office, Earth Class Mail might be a good option.
Pricing starts at $19.95 per month for scans of 100 mail items.
Zumbox is another paperless mail solution with a different approach. They've created a digital mailbox for every physical address in the U.S. Companies and other organizations that send paper materials to physical addresses can opt-in to Zumbox and send them digitally instead.
Recipients (at either personal or business addresses) can enable their Zumbox account by inputting their street address. Zumbox sends a piece of physical mail with a pin number that enables users to activate their addresses.
Essentially, the service lets businesses and individuals send digital communications to physical locations, without the need for e-mail addresses.
It may be hard to see the immediate practicality of Zumbox, as both the recipients and the senders would have to opt-in to accounts, and getting all of the people you do business with to do so is unlikely.
However, because the service is built on the massive existing infrastructure of the U.S. Postal Service, the potential here is enormous, and certainly worth exploring, even from a marketing angle.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, wragg