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Life without a Fax Machine

faxIt's hard to believe, but the concept of the fax machine is more than 150 years old. Scottish inventor Alexander Bain received a patent for the process of electronically copying and transmitting images between distant locations from both Great Britain and Ireland in 1843 and five years later from the US Patent Office.

In the 1930s through World War II, the facsimile technology was embraced by the news media and the military. First, newspapers used them to send photographs remotely—and later, our armed services sent weather maps and reconnaissance photographs via fax.

But in the 1970s and 80s, fax machines became ubiquitous in the business world. There were just 25,000 fax machines in the US in 1970, and there were a quarter of a million machines by 1980, but then the technology exploded. By 1990, the US had five million fax machines. Since the 2000s, with the emergence of the internet, email, and smartphone apps, the use of fax machines has all but vanished at most businesses.

However, as an agent, how can you run your business today without a fax machine? Many vendors whom you work with may still require a fax.

And when you make the switch to ditching the fax machine, you have to be careful the kind of documents you email. You also should educate your customers about safe email practices. Let them know the type of information that's okay to include documents that are sent by email, as well as what kind of information contained in documents should be uploaded to secure storage on the cloud (i.e., Dropbox, Google Docs or OneDrive).

The PDF helps replace the fax

The good news is sending and receiving documents today has never been easier. Adobe's creation of the Portable Document Format, or PDF, has driven the replacement of the facsimile machine. Just about any document you can view on your computer today, you can turn into a PDF. Many programs — such as Microsoft Word — also allow you to create a secure PDF, adding one crucial additional feature: password protection.

Still, the best practice is not to send confidential information through email, even though a PDF may have password protection. That's the job of secure systems like DocuSign or data storage systems like Dropbox or Transaction Management systems like Forms Simplicity. But for general information, being able to send and receive PDFs can be a godsend.

Because once you have a document in PDF format, it can be delivered fast and easy as an email attachment. This allows you to send documents to your customers or your customers to send general documents to you. But how do you fax a copy of a document not created in a program, like a letter from an employer?

Fax in the palm of your hand

Today, there are dozens of smartphone apps, both for Apple and Android phones, that essentially put the power of a fax machine in the palm of your hand. It uses the camera on your smartphone to turn it into a scanner. It then takes a photo of a document you would usually fax, and converts it to a black and white document. It saves your document as a PDF ready to be emailed or texted or stored securely in the cloud. You can even connect to a real fax service to send to a standard fax machine!

For example, in Genius Scan, available for both Apple and Android phone, you open the app and take a photo of a document. An orange frame appears to crop and automatically straighten your document perfectly. You then select the black and white mode, and your document looks like a black and white fax. You save it as a PDF or JPG image and send it by email or text, or save it to your OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box or other cloud storage service.

What if you need to send an old-fashioned fax?

Some businesses still need to receive a fax. Or you may want to send a fax to get someone's attention because faxes are used so infrequently. How can you do that if you don't have a fax machine?

There are several options. You can send a fax from your computer without a machine, even for free, using a service called FaxZero. The first three pages are free. If you need to send more pages, you can pay $1.99 for a Premium Fax. A Premium Fax is up to 25 pages. You can learn more here. A step-by-step tutorial of how it works is located at WikiHow, here.

Another alternative is to use a smartphone app that connects to your scanning app. For example, Genius Scan connects to Genius Fax. Genius Fax can send the documents you create in Genius Scan for as little as 25 cents a page. If you need to receive faxes on a regular basis, Genius Fax offers you the option of your own fax phone number for a monthly fee.
In effect, you not only have a computer in your pocket or purse these days, but you also are carrying around a fax machine.

Tricia Stamper is Director of Technology at Florida Realtors®, which owns both Tech Helpline and Form Simplicity.

 

 

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