How to make a business completely paperless and save the world

Why does it say “paper jam” when there is no paper jam?

An exasperated entrepreneur recently told me how she needed to drive 40 minutes to her office, on a weekend, to check her files to see if she’d already paid a contractor who was now asking her for payment.

Many businesses — even tech startups — still run largely on paper. The costs of paper are enormous when you factor in the extra rent for the larger office you need to fit dozens of filing cabinets, salaries of admins to do filing, slowness to find documents needed for due diligence in deals and wasted productivity searching for documents.

I was shocked by how much paper my company was generating early on: over 50 pages for each employee onboarding, 7 pages for each contractor agreement, 5 pages for each NDA; as well as countless invoices, 1099s, check stubs, bank statements, healthcare enrollment forms, etc. We could have had more filing cabinets than employees if we continued at that rate.

Consider the environmental impact: Companies put a tremendous amount of effort into encouraging paper recycling, yet paper recycling has a huge negative environment impact. Think of the plastic bags that line your recycling bins, the gas that recycling trucks consume as they pick up your paper, and the electricity (likely from coal power plants) that recycling centers use to turn your TPS reports into low grade recycled paper. If you really love Earth and don’t want to have to colonize Mars anytime soon, don’t hit the print button in the first place!

A few years ago Muck Rack and the Shorty Awards went completely paperless and it’s been tremendously liberating. When my accountant called me requesting an essential document for an urgent tax issue while I was on a vacation in Montauk, instead of having to ride the Long Island Rail Road for 3 hours to retrieve a file, I simply pulled up my Dropbox app on my phone and emailed him the document minutes later.

Here’s how to take your business completely paperless:

Use a high powered scanner and shredder to eliminate all your existing files

Large filing cabinets filled to the brim can be intimidating. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. The lousy scanner that came with your $100 printer is simply too slow and unreliable. Invest in a Fujitsu ScanSnap. It’s over $400, but a great investment when you consider all the space and time you’ll save. It’s so fast, I found it took me longer to shred paper than to scan it.

There are few things in this world I find more satisfying then shredding paper. While we hid our printer in an obscure location, we display our Fellowes 99Ci shredder in a prominent spot in our office to encourage the destruction of paper rather than the creation of it.

Never meet your bookkeeper

I went over a year before I met our bookkeeper in person, and when I finally did it was a purely social occasion with no paper exchanged. By having a remote bookkeeper, we’re forced to digitize all files.

Never write a check

Sans wedding gifts, I haven’t written a check in years. Most banks now offer free bill payment systems (we use Chase Billpay) in which the bank mails your vendor a check on your behalf. It also saves on you needing envelopes and stamps. Better yet, set your repeat vendors up for payment by ACH, wire or even PayPal so they don’t receive paper either and get their money faster.

I’d like to assume you’re using a fully digital payroll system that works by ACH, but I’ve met entrepreneurs who are still writing their employees checks by hand which is a bad idea for innumerable reasons.

Esign all documents

If coffee is for closers, you’ll be much better caffeinated by using a good esignature platform (we use HelloSign). Not only do deals close faster because you don’t have to wait for the other party to find a printer and scanner, but it will eliminate the need to a document to ever be printed.

Scan and shred all mail immediately upon arrival

I’ve called and begged our insurance company to not sent us paper invoices. They still insist on mailing invoices to us. While most vendors and even banks offer a paperless option, some still don’t. Don’t let the mail pile up. Scan and shred it the moment it arrives.

Don’t give anyone at your company a filing cabinet

Our team wanted draws to store their stuff so we caved and bought Poppin File Cabinets, but we didn’t buy them any filing folders! No one actually uses it as a filing cabinet. I wish Poppin would change the name.

If you give a person a functional filing cabinet, they’ll feel the expectation to fill it with paper. Don’t do it.

Destroy your printer

We haven’t gone this far yet. A printer’s still needed occasionally to print out a ticket or sign. But do everything you can to discourage its use. Put it as far away from where everyone sits so they need to go on a long walk and think about what they’ve done to retrieve their paper. A printer walk of shame.

Join the paperless movement

Save money, the environment and your sanity with some simple decision: Commit to going paperless.

ps: Want to work at a paperless company? We’re hiring!