23 Feb 2011

Paperless Private Investigator

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Our office has been paperless now for over five years. “Going green” was around but no one was taking it seriously. But we did not go paperless because we wanted to save the environment; we did it more out of the increase in available technology and services that made it easier to go paperless. Oh and one other factor played into this, I hate and I mean hate printers and their cousins scanners. These things never seem to work right. It doesn’t matter how much you spend, the cheap ones and the expensive ones all suck the life right out of you. You know what I am talking about, you are in a hurry and just need to print something real quick, like directions, and all of a sudden the printer is out of ink, out of paper, needs the driver reinstalled, or various other mysterious problems printers have. Below are some of the resources and services we use every day in our quest to go paperless:

1. Of course email is a mainstay of our business; it’s easy to go paperless if your clients will accept reports as attachments through email. Our choice for email is Google Apps http://www.google.com/a because it allows you to use your own custom domain i.e. chris@newportpi.com comand it gives you almost unlimited storage and ties in nicely with Google’s other features like Google Docs which is where this article was written and all of our reports and video are stored. This service is free; however a professional version is also available which most don’t need.

2. I recently received a great gift from my wife for my birthday, an iPad. This hybrid between an iPhone and a computer is an unbelievable tool. My favorite feature is it now allows me to read my Magazines paperless. If you think you will miss holding the newspaper or a magazine, give it a week and you will not turn back – trust me. So now that I no longer need to receive magazines in the mail this service that scans your old fashion snail mail and emails you the contents makes allot more sense. Earth Class Mail www.earthclassmail.com  offers PO Boxes and Street addresses all over the country in major cities just like Mail Boxes Etc. used to. However, instead of going to pick up your mail they will notify you by email with a picture of the envelope and give you the option to open the document (fee applies), shred it, or recycle it at no charge. This is a great tool since most of the mail we receive is junk mail anyway. For those of you who still receive payments by check from your clients; Earth Class Mail offers an optional deposit feature where they deposit the check in your bank for you. Our bank now accepts a scanned copy of a check for deposit (similar to the iPhone app that allows you to take pictures of checks for deposit) so we just upload the PDF version of the check that Earth Class Mail provides.

3. This service is our newest edition and might be one of my favorites. Now that you are receiving all of your invoices by email or scanned email you can forward these invoices to a special email address or fax number provided to you by Bill.com  www.bill.com  For a small fee they will enter the vendor’s information into your account and automatically pay the bill for you through a method of your choice such as debiting your bank account or PayPal service. This service is similar to your banks Bill Pay service however there is no data entry. For a dollar per invoice they will enter all of your vendor and invoice details into the service for you. You can set it up to approve the payment or automatically pay it for you. This may sound like allot but if you consider how long it takes you or your employees to enter bills into QuickBooks and print out a check, plus the cost of a stamp and compare this with your hourly rate you are in good shape. The service also syncs your payments with QuickBooks.

4. While we are talking about invoices, which is one of the ways most of you have started going paperless is because of QuickBooks great feature of emailing invoices to your clients. Most clients love this because they can forward to their accounting department. If you have clients that still need to be mailed an invoice check out Freshbooks www.freshbooks.com which has most of the features that QuickBooks has in relation to invoices and offers a few extras like printing and mailing an invoice to a client for you. They also have great mobile apps for iPhone and Blackberry to access invoices and add entries for those of you who are out in the field and need to record billable hours.

5. One other long time obstacle for truly going paperless was the need for clients to sign contracts. For the longest time we would just email clients our contract and they would fax it back to our virtual fax number that emailed us the fax but now we have a little bit more advanced and professional service called Echosign www.echosign.com  Echosign is a digital signature service that is recognized by banks, courts, and corporations through a federal law that basically says a digital signature is as good as an in person signature. We have all clicked on “Agree” to terms of services for almost every web service out there. Echosign takes it a bit further where the client can type in their name and an identifying number (like a driver’s license number) or sign using their finger on an iPhone or using their mouse. It’s not pretty, but it works and has many more features that will help you go paperless similar to a PDF.

Other services that can help on this quest to go paperless are of course a PDF converter and consider the new Adobe Acrobat www . acrobat . com. It has some features that will blow your mind like inserting video into your reports. A service to keep track of leads, phone calls, and cases is Salesforce www.salesforce.com which is expensive but is highly customizable.

For those of you still worried about security and having so much information about you and your clients up on the web (or in the “cloud”) you should relax. Yes data breaches are possible but the risk is the same as accessing your financial information through your banks website. The skip tracing databases that allot of us use every day has everyone’s Social Security Number listed in their databases with the same level of security as the ones mentioned above.

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