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Throw Away The Fax Machine ? A Guide To Online Fax

Have you ever felt like throwing the fax machine out the window? Well you may not know it but you can, but not literally please.

There have been services available for some time which allow you to take your fax needs online and save yourself the hassle of wrestling with the fax machine.

Any provider should be able to supply you with a basic fax-to-email service. You are usually assigned your own fax number and any faxes sent to this number are then attached as an image file to an email. That is then delivered to your email account. You will need to keep your fax machine for sending faxes but you can set it to not answer the phone and keep it on your main business line.

Most but not all fax services also provide a facility to send faxes by email, web or straight from the desktop. This feature can be utilised to send invoices or forms to customers without first needing print and then fax the document. Fax-to-email allows you to compose an email to and attach each document you want to be faxed. You are then notified by email when your fax is complete.

Traditionally to enable your business to fax has meant ordering a separate phone line and number and purchasing a fax machine or fax software for each user. Which is an expensive proposition for a communications channel that is still essential but often rarely used these days. With online fax services these costs are all rolled in to a single monthly fee which is paid to your fax provider. Often this fee is just a fraction of the cost of phone line rental alone. Add the savings in paper and ink and using an online fax service starts to make a lot of sense.

If your customers fax through a lot of forms that you need to process and archive you'll know how tedious it can be to flick through a whole binder just to find a specific fax. With an online fax service your fax correspondence can be filed along with all your electronic correspondence.

Points to consider when choosing a provider:

  • Do you receive your own dedicated number? Some virtual office providers for example will place you on a shared number and your faxes may be seen by anyone.
  • File formats: Make sure the provider can email you in a format that suits you. Most will send in a common format like PDF but others may use obscure formats that require special software to read.
  • Do they have a method of sending faxes that suits you? Some will offer you a choice of methods; ranging from basic email-to-fax through to desktop clients which will allow you to "print" directly to a fax.
  • Is there an area code that will be local for your customers? Even if you are a regional business you may want to consider a metropolitan fax number if your customers are located there. Remember, you now have the choice.

There are some things to be aware of when switching over to online fax:

The first is that a fax machine makes a copy of a piece of paper and that online faxing makes a copy of an electronic document. You'll no longer be able to rapidly scribble out a note and fax it anymore. However, you can just as rapidly send a quick memo by email-to-fax or through a fax printer. Filling out a form that has been faxed to you is no longer simple but it can be done by opening the fax in an image editing program and typing with the text tool.

The second caveat is that you may be used to signing almost every fax you send, this is no longer possible as there is no paper stage. The author recommends that if you have access to a scanner you can scan your signature and save it as a black and white image ready to be inserted at the footer of every document you type up.

All in all if you or your staff don't use the fax machine much, or use it for a lot of repetitive work, then faxing online can save you a lot of money in ink, paper, communications costs and most importantly - productivity. If you can't give up the routine of walking up to the fax machine with a piece of paper then you might still consider online faxing; but only to receive your faxes. Remember to turn off the auto answer feature of your fax machine.

Kimble Young is the product development manager for Fax Online an Australian online fax services provider. He has many years experience in the communications and Internet industries.

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