Even though we live in the era of electronic messaging, wireless networks and portable devices, the little white sheets of paper can still creep up on many of us. Many businesses are still tied to paper for many reasons. Sometimes, it’s the other businesses or government bodies that they interface with that demand paper forms with the stamps and signatures. In other cases, it’s just old habits or lack of knowledge of available solutions.
As a digitally focused company we are trying to do all that we can to reduce our use of paper. I have to admit it is not always possible but there are plenty of software solutions out there helping us to do this.
I would like to share with you some of the internet, computer and mobile tools that could save your business money, not to mention reducing its wasteful reliance on paper products.
Computer and Web Based Software
1. Nitro PDF
We mainly see PDF (Adobe’s Portable Document Format) files as unalterable documents. If you have the right software the PDFs are actually flexible, and can be edited, graphically manipulated, and used as ‘filable’ forms.
The standard in PDF editing software for Adobe Acrobat, will a cost few hundred dollars for an individual license. An alternative could be Nitro PDF, a really powerful editor that starts at $99. With Nitro PDF you can easily create PDF forms that clients can view and fill in with standard software, like Adobe reader and most web browsers. You can also edit existing PDF documents without resorting to printing and white-out.
PDF995 is a plain, simple and free PDF printer driver. There is no user interface or controls. After installing it the PDF option is added to the print menu of all your applications.
It can be used to digitally issue invoices, graphic mock-ups, and long text documents that you’d like clients to read, but not change.
3. Fax to E-mail Services
Fax to Email can and save piles of paper by switching your fax number over to an e-mail conversion service.
When you set up an account you will be assigned a new fax number. You will then use a web or e-mail interface to send and receive faxes as PDF files. New faxes will come directly to your inbox.
Some of the leading fax to e-mail services include:
Rates and features vary between services.
If you already host your website and/or business e-mail with GoDaddy.com, they offer an integrated fax to e-mail feature for an added monthly fee.
4. EchoSign Online Contracts
Using contract agreements to legally protect yourself from issues with clients and other businesses is really important. Usually, this means generating piles of paper and gathering a signature in ink.
Some of us still don’t know that e-signatures could be equally binding under the law. Creating and sending secure electronic agreements is also very efficient.
One of the tools available on the market is EchoSign, a flexible and user friendly service for creating and storing digital contracts you simply upload the paper version of your business agreement to EchoSign and enter the recipient’s e-mail address. They will receive a copy of the document with a link where they can e-sign. The executed contract is stored in your EchoSign account for reference.
The software is completely web-based, there is no installation, and most importantly, you can access your documents from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. It has a scalable pricing model, and is available for free up to five signatures per month.
5. Online Backup and Record Keeping
Archiving your records and files can be challenging. Often this data is incongruent, recorded between e-mails, computer files, and paper files. Being meticulous about keeping a searchable, web-based archive of the items listed above. This can save you time and money in the long run.
It may not be cost effective to digitize your older files, but you could start printing to PDF instead of paper going forward. This way you can generate your web-accessible archive with a number of services available:
Google Apps for business is also ideal for generating a cloud-based business archive.
There are also some Mobile app designs to help you to get rid of the paper. With this app you can snap up those docs and get them into the cloud where they belong.
Cam Scanner is easy to use, and has a free version available if you want to test it and costs only $4 to upgrade to a full license.
You take a snap of your document and crop it. The app will auto detect edges of the paper and with the slick drag-and-snap guide you easily will set the dimensions. The file is saved as jpg but gives you an option to convert to PDF. You can easily share your documents (the app is integrated with Google Docs, Drop Box and Box.net) or send them by e-mail.
Similar to Cam Scanner however scans to the PDF directly. The interface and cropping tools are not as user friendly as with the Cam Scanner, however they do their job. Document Scanner is integrated with Google Docs, Drop Box and Box.net. and Evernote.
It has a free 7 day trial version before you decide whether you go for the full license for $3.98
Droid Scan app has a cool edge detection, intuitive colour and contrast controls and final menu allows saving the document as either jpg or PDF (the last one is available only in the paid version). It has both a free and a paid option ($4.99)
4. Scan to PDF
Scan to PDF has a very simple and easy to use interface and gives good image processing and enhancement options. The cropping, although intuitive, can be a bit awkward – you need to pull the edges rather than dragging and snapping the corners. The excellent gallery viewer compensates for it.
It has a free version, but if you want to use all of its’ functions, it is only $0.99 to upgrade to a full version.
5. PDF Scanner
PDF Scanner is the simplest of all the android apps mentioned in this review. Scanning pages happens by hitting the scan button and the camera viewfinder helps you to set the focus. The phone’s flash is automatically used when scanning in low light.
Unfortunately, there is no cropping function so you need to frame and focus your image carefully. Also, there is no trial version, but the reviews are positive and it is worth its price ($1.99)