As most real estate agents know, document handling is tedious and can be extremely time consuming. On top of that you have this computer storing a lot of important information and the worst thing that can happen is that it crashes. So you set yourself up with expensive backup hard drives that don’t ever seem to work correctly and are constantly lugging around this heavy laptop.
The challenge I took on was to create efficient document handling and reducing the reliance on any one single computer bundled in such a way that it was easy to use and flexible for change. The solution . . . the cloud. The cloud, simply put, is storing things online for easy and secure access from any internet connected computer. For agents who are constantly mobile and needing access to information and files, it just makes perfect sense. Sounds expensive right? It’s actually very inexpensive to set up and can reduce other costs such as supplies.
Here’s an example of how it’s done:
1. Email Hosting through Google Apps for Business
Email is extremely important and you need a professional-looking email address that is under a system that’s easy to manage right? Google Apps for Business allows to use your domain name for a branded email address under a platform that looks and functions like a regular Gmail account for email handling, contacts, calendars, and more. The price . . . free for a 10-user account (i.e. add an assistant or team members for collboration under one system). Plus you get all the great features of a single sign-on to other great Google products just like a regular Google account (i.e. YouTube channel, Picasa, Google+, etc.).
You’re probably asking, “But what about my Outlook?” When you get down to it, how much of Outlook does the average user actually use? You store contacts, calendar appointments, and email. The problem is that all of that becomes tied to that single computer. You can use Google Apps with Outlook, but we actually dropped it all together as it was unnecessary and upgrades were costly. Since Google Apps is accessible through any browser, you have reduced your reliance on that computer. There is a Chrome app that allows you to use your email offline as well if you are concerned about no internet connection.
2. Document Handling With Dropbox
Dropbox is an online document storage and backup system that provides users with 2GB for free and reasonable pricing for storage amounts above that. With a simple software install and designating what folders you want in your ‘Dropbox’, you get an extremely powerful backup and document access system.
What I really like about this system is the top-notch security and that the backup runs in the background without ever thinking about it and no performance issues. You get easy access to your files simply by visiting Dropbox.com on any internet-connected computer or on your smartphone or tablet with their mobile app. If I add a document to my Dropbox on my computer, it’s accessible on my mobile device. Likewise, if I add a document to my Dropbox on my mobile device, it’s updated and accessible on my computer. No messy wire connections.
3. Android or iOS Smartphone and/or Tablet
I personally prefer Android because it ties in seamlessly with the Google Apps system. I like iPhones too and can make the Google Apps system work with that device as well, but I find Android to be far simpler to use. The goal at this point is enter (or save) once and have the information updated and accessible everywhere. When you are set up “in the cloud” that is exactly how things function. So if I update a contact or add a calendar appointment on my phone the information is automatically updated on my computer and vice versa. If I add a document to my Dropbox on my computer the document is accessible and usable on my mobile device.
Tablets such as iPads and Android tablets are perfect for this industry. They actually can be used for access to all of your information as well as document signing through a number of PDF annotation apps. This way you can actually move more towards truly being paperless. I’ll walk you through this process at the end.
4. eFax Through RingCentral
This interestingly enough was the last piece we added. Why? Well, it was just something I didn’t want to pay for even though it’s very inexpensive. The optimal thing is PDF document exchange through email, but not everyone does this. I personally despise faxing but it is still used quite a bit in the industry. There are plenty of efax services, but I found RingCentral to be the easiest to use, most affordable, and with best allowance for monthly fax loads.
What’s the benefit? The fax is converted to PDF and emailed right to you. No scanning necessary and you can easily drop the document in your Dropbox for backup and access whether on your computer on phone. Likewise, think of all the paper and toner costs you can save!
So what’s this look like in the real world setting? Let’s take a look at a contract signing:
- You’ve filled out the documents online and saved them as a PDF in your Dropbox customer folder
- You meet the customer, pull up the documents on your tablet, and have the customer sign right on screen (preferrably with a stylus and not a finger).
- You save the file with their signature back into their Dropbox folder
- Attach the PDF signed file to an email to all necessary parties
- The offer is accepted and the other party faxes it back to your efax number. You are alerted on your phone the email with the signed PDF has arrived.
- You’re in the field and want to get this over to your customer right away. You simply save the attached file into their Dropbox folder through your mobile app, attach the file to an email and send it to your customer.
That’s it. You’re done. You’ve never had to print. You’ve never had to scan. And you weren’t tied to any one single computer. Speaking of which, if you get a new computer all you have to do is download the Dropbox application and sign into your account to be back in business. If you’ve abandoned Outlook, you simply start up the browser and log into your email and you are good to go. No importing, exporting, installing, so forth and dreaded so on.
What do you think?