It’s the start of a fresh year, and for many that means setting some new goals for themselves and their businesses. Is one of yours to increase productivity?
Going paperless may be the answer. If you have stacks of paper and filing cabinets full of documents that sit idle in your office, and fax machines, photocopiers, scanners and printers that take up space, the user-friendliness of apps and other digital tools is making going paperless a smart and viable option for every small business.
“As with any kind of dramatic change, getting used to being paperless will take time,” says Brian Moran, small business expert and founder and CEO of Brian Moran & Assoc.  “But as the owner of a business, you can be more efficient and productive than ever before.”
In AT&T’s 2013 Small Business Technology Poll , 31 percent of the 1,000 small businesses reported using mobile apps to conduct business, with the top three reasons being to save time, increase productivity and reduce costs. More poignantly, nearly half (47 percent) of those small businesses using mobile apps say they could not survive — or it would be a major challenge to survive — without them.
Also, of the small businesses using mobile apps, 35 percent use them for document management; 32 percent use them for social media marketing; and 30 percent use them for mobile payments in the field.
“With the technology we have today, there’s no reason we should still be printing documents and handing them to employees,” says Susan Payton, small business expert and President of Egg Marketing & Communications . “With cloud-based apps and software, your team can have access to the same tools no matter where they’re located.”
Apps available today can streamline just about any task you’d need to complete at your business: scanning and filing important documents, signing paperwork, creating schedules, payroll, and even making and receiving mobile payments. (See below for a few handy apps for going paperless).
So what’s the best way to get started? If you want to go cold turkey, Moran says, unplug your printers and put them in a closet. “If you aren’t as brave, write down a list (using the notepad on your smartphone), of any time during the month when you will need to use a printer and you will find that, in most cases, you can send documents electronically — be it invoices, proposals, presentations, etc.”
Also be sure that you take the time to learn how to use the apps that will help you go paperless. “If you don’t learn how to properly use them, then you limit the upside potential of going paperless and make yourself less efficient and productive” Moran says.
Payton suggests starting with a singe tool, like Google Docs. “Once everyone is comfortable with it, gradually add in a few more.” Also, make sure you encourage adoption and use the tools yourself. Consider offering training for platforms that are more sophisticated to use.
“I can’t think of any businesses that couldn’t benefit from going paperless,” Payton says. “From retail to business services, it works across the board.”
Helpful Apps to Get You Started Going Paperless:
Evernote : Free for basic version. Take notes, sync files across your devices, save web pages, capture inspiration, and share your ideas with friends and colleagues.
Google Docs and Google Drive: Free. Create, share your work online and access your documents from anywhere. Manage documents, spreadsheets, presentations, surveys and more all in one place.
Hellosign : Free for basic version. Share templates and signed documents with your team, other internal departments and even outside partners so everyone is on the same paperless ”page.”
Scanner Pro : $6.99. Scan any document, receipt, whiteboard or paper note with your iPad or iPhone, then upload your scans, saved as PDF files, to Dropbox and Google Docs or e-mail them.
Square : Free. Accept credit cards and run your business on the go and in store. Process Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express, paying 2.75 percent per swipe.