The original facsimile machine, patented in 1843 by Scottish inventor Alexander Bain, was originally considered an "image telegraph" since telephones wouldn't be invented for another 29 years. Today, most businesses still use these ancient artifacts because for years, faxing was the only way to exchange documents that needed signing or reading. But no longer.
"In this day and age, small businesses no longer have to say, 'I'm out of the office right now, I didn't get your fax,'" says Ramon Ray, author and editor at Smallbiztechnology.com. "That excuse is irrelevant—you can get a fax anywhere."
With the ability to share information instantaneously from the Web or the cloud onto computers, phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, the fax machine is quickly going the way of the beeper. Eventually, we may never have to deal with missed faxes, busy signals, and paper jams again.
Internet and app services provide fantastic green alternatives to faxing by maximizing efficiency, minimizing cost, and most importantly, saving trees. According to the EPA, the U.S. population consumes more than 4 million tons of paper each year, with the average U.S. office worker using about 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year. The United States is the biggest paper consumer in the world, but paperless faxing solutions can help us protect our precious natural resources, all while saving money and time for businesses.
Since we're still not rid of the fax machine yet, these flexible systems are compatible with the new and old faxing infrastructures alike. Here we look at how new faxing services are saving money on phone lines and paper costs, and how to boot that old cantankerous fax machine once and for all.
How To Fax Without Paper: Subscription Services
Businesses that regularly fax—particularly in the construction and real estate industries—need a flexible and reliable faxing service. Whether the company sends 10 to 20 faxes a month, or if the company needs to "blast fax" 100 pages at a time to groups of people, subscription services offer faxing solutions at a low monthly price.
"We're trying to make it painless for people who want to maintain a paperless office," says Joseph Walla, co-founder and CEO of HelloFax, a Y-Combinator start-up faxing service based in San Francisco. "We make it so you don't have to deal with paper ever, and we make it so your digital office can interact with an analog world and it not be a hassle."
The median cost for fax subscription services such as eFax, MetroFax, and PopFax hovers around $10 a month. For those seeking an all-purpose office communications solution, RingCentral offers its office package—including phone, voicemail, and fax solutions—starting at just $20 a month for 20 or more users. Solo RingCentral Fax accounts cost as low as $8 a month.
For the total paperless experience, HelloFax is one of the cheapest and most comprehensive services available today, negating the need for a fax machine, fax software, printer, or scanner. With no setup fees, contracts, or commitment, and with its basic subscription plan starting at $5 a month, HelloFax works for heavy and infrequent fax users alike. HelloFax has already signed up more than 10,000 users in its first two months of operation.
"Usually when people have to fax something, they really have to sign something—faxing is just a transmission," Walla says. "We're the only service that'll let you fill out and sign your document in the browser, rather than print it out, fill it out by hand, sign it, then scan it."
Some Internet-only faxing solutions like RapidFax and sFax use Internet connections and the cloud, thereby eliminating the need for installation and reducing the risk of losing the document locally. But having a service completely dependent on a working Internet connection is risky, so if your Internet connection is spotty (or even if it's not), have a Plan B ready.
Dig Deeper: How to Switch to a Paperless Office
How To Fax Without Paper: Pay-per-fax Services
Need to fax on the fly, but don't want to commit to a monthly or annual service? For those sending less than five or ten faxes a month, pay-per-fax solutions might be best.
"If there is a clipping or document that you want to get, and somebody doesn't happen to have an e-mail, that's what it comes in handy for," Ray says. "Especially if they're older."
Services like FaxFresh, Innoport Express, and PayPerFax provide a simple, no nonsense faxing experience. No registration or user name required; just upload the document, input the receiver fields, pay, and fax away. PayPerFax charges 75 cents for the first fax, and 40 cents for each additional page; FaxFresh charges less—25 cents per page—but requires a $2.00 minimum for faxing.
While these services eliminate monthly fees, they only save money if the user is faxing a few sheets a month. Otherwise, businesses should opt for one of the many cheaper and more efficient subscription services.
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How To Fax Without Paper: Smartphone Fax Apps
"Mobile faxing is great for anyone working away from the office setting, such as engineers, salespersons, work at home employees, and small business owners who don't want the expense of putting in an extra fax phone line," says Titus Hoskins, a fax expert who runs several fax service comparison sites.
For mobile businesses faxing on the go, iFax Pro and Qipit are two equally solid app solutions for sending and receiving documents over an iPhone. After taking a picture of the document with a phone or camera, Qipit converts the photo into a PDF and magically renders the picture into a crisp and clear digital copy. Most receivers won't guess these documents were taken with a camera phone.
While a number of faxing apps like Qipit and iFax Pro are free, some services charge by the page and are only advisable for small faxing jobs; otherwise, uploading and sending faxes is redundant and time consuming.
Dig Deeper: Just the Fax: Service Goes Online
How To Fax Without Paper: Electronic Signature Apps
Now that electronic signatures are recognized by law, signing or filling out an important fax couldn't be easier. With apps like EasySign and Zosh for iPhone, and Sign My Pad for iPad, there's no need to print out faxes to sign them—sign directly into the mobile device with your finger. Returning the finished documents is easy too, as both Zosh and Sign My Pad will send clean-looking PDF files back to the original sender.
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How To Fax Without Paper: File Sharing Options
Assuming both users have computers—pretty common nowadays—it might be easiest to exchange the files directly over e-mail. File-sharing services like Dropbox, YouSendIt, and zShare make it easy to upload and download files without ever needing to use a sheet of paper. Most of these services can be accessed by both computer and smartphone, making sending and receiving documents a breeze. Plug in a signature app, send it back, and you've just sent a fax without paper.
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