How to turn your business paperless

When you’re a digital nomad, running a paperless business is not really an option. You don’t have a fixed postal address where you can receive snail mail anymore, you cannot store paper, and bringing along a printer or a document scanner is kind of a bummer.

Even before I started my freelance career I was annoyed at all that paper I was receiving in the mail box and had to store. So I really started that process a long time ago. Here are the actions you can take to become paperless too:

  • Whenever possible make sure you use automatic billing or use your online banking system to schedule payments or receive electronic invoices. Most of my recurring bills are automatically charged on my Paypal account. For the others (like my credit card bills or my phone bills which sometimes have large amounts that I want to pay when it suits me) I receive electronic invoices directly in my online banking system. If your online banking system cannot do that then you should consider changing your bank. It removes the need to receive paper invoices and you get an electronic trace that you can save and easily print if needed.
  • Use a cloud accounting system such as FreshBooks and send electronic invoices to your clients. And if you have stubborn clients who really insist you should send them paper invoices then use FreshBooks’ SnailMail (and charge them for the hassle).
  • Use a service such as SwissPostBox and change your official postal address to a virtual post box. For a few bucks you get a new mailing address (SwissPostBox can offer addresses in Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy and Austria) which allows you to remotely manage your mail. They scan incoming envelopes, send you an email and then you can either ditch the crap or open it and scan the content (you then have an electronic version that you can save). In special cases you can forward it to your actual postal address anywhere in the world (just make sure you will still be there when it arrives) or to a virtual assistant. If you need an address in the US check out Earth Class Mail.
  • Hire a virtual assistant or an accountant to process and send things like administrative papers (VAT, income tax declaration, etc). Administrations rarely have online forms so it’s a good idea to have someone to help you with that in your official country of residence. I have a friend in Switzerland whom I forward my administrative papers and I e-mail her the filled-in PDF version. She just has to copy what’s in the PDF form in the physical form and put it in the mailbox.
  • Scan everything else, like restaurant bills, using you camera-phone and save the picture into FreshBooksDropBox or Evernote. And trash them as you go.
  • Save the really important stuff (the one you need to keep for awhile) into DropBox or Evernote. Or any other cloud service. That way you can retrieve them from anywhere and ask your virtual assistant to print and send them for you when needed.

Do you have other tricks or other services that you use to keep your business paperless? Share them in the comments :)

Image Credits: cactusbeetroot

7 thoughts on “How to turn your business paperless

  1. Ellen Wallace

    One of the best advantages of being self-employed over being a small company owner is you can ditch your accountant (mine was a nice guy but…). And with him and his bills, you can ditch the need to have a printed set of books, although your digital copies had better be in good shape in case they want to take a look!

    Reply
  2. Mark Sandeno

    Great summary. I was surprised at how similar my paperless routine is to yours. I guess when it comes down to it there are really are only a few “most dependable” services and practices to make this happen these day. e.g. Dropbox and Evernote, they’re just the best options for their purposes.

    In my case I was using Earth Class Mail instead of Swiss Post (but a quick query at Google shows me it’s the same underlying service) and I don’t have a virtual assistant.

    I’d add one bit of advice: I’ve found that being a bit less discriminating on how you organize when scanning receipts makes being paperless much easier. Instead of having discreet directories in DropBox for every receipt type (such as Office supplies, restaurants, etc), just scan all the receipts, invoices, checks, etc into one directory as close to the date of the actual expense as possible so it’ll be easy to find it by date (and Coverflow if you have a Mac).

    This method saves quite a bit of time in your scanning process but you’ll still be able to quickly find the challenged expense in the event you get audited or need a reference when doing your books. Less mental overhead equals an easier to manage system.

    Also, because I hate Quickbooks, I recommend the free accounting app called Wave. I feel like I’ve tested all the alternatives and the combination of the built-in invoicing (which is getting close to as good as Freshbooks – even though I still use them for time tracking and invoicing) and the auto-import of banking transactions makes them a tough-to-ignore contender for business books.

    My system:
    – Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M
    – Dropbox for all scans
    – Evernote for note taking and as my daily note brain
    – Wave for books and some invoicing
    – Freshbooks for company time tracking and some invoicing

    Wow, this comment went on a bit.

    Reply
    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      It’s ok, I like long comments, it’s like a blog post in a blog post, we just need to make sure the top stops spinning ;)

      I didn’t know Earth Class Mail, I will add it up there, thanks for your tips.

      Reply
  3. Alexandra Rider

    Hi, what are you recommending to store business contacts? I would like to scan business cards and have the information stored on line or in a way tan can be accessed from anywhere. Thank you so much!
    Alex

    Reply

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