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Kill Your Fax Machine.

I had a somewhat emotional episode a while back that I thought I'd share with you today. I know you've gone through something like this -- almost everyone has -- and sometimes, it helps to work through these issues by talking about it. So here it goes:

I killed my fax machine. Dragged her out on to the back porch and shot her.

Hey, it was the only humane thing to do. I mean, I loved her. She had been with me for years, and except for whining for an occasional new roll of curly paper, she was never any trouble. I paid about $2,000 for her in 1987 (pedigrees are always more expensive). But the fact is that she had long outlived her usefulness. She hadn't eaten a new transmission in years; hadn't grunted anything out at 9600 baud for months.

It was time. Besides, to be honest, I'd been involved with a sexy little fax/modem for years.

Now why is this important enough to write about? Well, a number of things enter into your daily decision about how you configure your technology, all of which affect the cost of operating your business, whatever that business may be. Lower the cost, increase your profits. That's the name of the game. Chances are that if you're reading this column, your business has integrated technology to the point that it depends fairly heavily on its optimization. And while everyone seems obsessed with power issues like upgrading software and swapping out hardware, hardly anyone pays attention to functionality issues.

And one of the most often overlooked and underused functional technologies is fax.

Don't get me wrong here -- fax is a great technology. But I'm willing to bet an entire box of light-sensitive sticky stuff that it's the one technology you still don't employ as efficiently as you should. It's a technology who's utility -- at least in my opinion -- has shifted from a primary means of communication to a medium that can streamline any operation into a quicker and much more profitable business.

So here's why you should dump your old paper fax machine and load up a fax/modem card now:

1. E-MAIL STILL DOESN'T CUT IT. E-mail is growing rapidly, but it still is far from hitting the installed user base that faxes have. Plain numbers reveal that businesses have tons more faxes than they do e-mail capability, and even those who do have e-mail systems aren't necessarily all that adept at using them.

2. PEOPLE WANT PAPER: You and I know that the transmission of ideas and facts are all that matters, but most people behind the curve still want to hold a document -- preferably on your letterhead -- that they can file and photocopy. It fits into their reality, and if you want to fit into that reality, you've gotta give them what they want.

3. COURTS WANT SIGNATURES: If you ever get into a dispute that lands you court, the judge almost always wants to see the kind of proof he/she learned about back in law school -- before e-mail existed. That means a signed piece of paper, dated and unable to be altered. E-mail doesn't give that choice, but a faxed document does. And while UPS employs a swift signature tracking system, you and I don't. So until we can pick one up from, fax is still the medium of choice.

(Incidentally, not all states recognize the validity of faxed contracts unless the document specifically states that both parties agree to it. At Frankel & Anderson, we include a "Fax Authorization" checkbox on every binding document we transmit.)

4. INCREASE YOUR SPEED BY A ZILLION PER CENT: It takes time to print out a document. Then address it. Then stamp it. Then mail it. Then wait for the post office to deliver it. Even if you figure your time involved in all that at just $10 an hour, a 32¢ stamp actually ends up costing you more in time, paper, resources that could better be employed elsewhere. Add to the fact that your client would rather see it now rather than in a week, it's worth pushing a button on your keyboard and zapping that sucker to your buddy, even if the call costs you $2.00 or more.

5. AUTOMATIC ARCHIVING: Out of all of them, this has to be my favorite. All the really good faxing programs provide you with options to log, save and file every single transmission going in and coming out from your fax modem. And man, you can't believe how wonderful that can be.

First, you never lose another fax again, because everything is stored as a digital file. So instead of relying on a fading, curling fax paper, you just print out as many copies as you need, when you need them. Second, you can archive the faxes by client, which makes paper trails easy to maintain. My last little flirtation with this facet involved a printer who printed 4.5 million pieces for us -- on the wrong paper stock. When the printer asked us to produce our paperwork, it took us about ten minutes to fax him everything we had ever sent -- and that he had ever signed -- complete with a log of dates, time and phone numbers. He reprinted the entire job at his expense.

That's funcitionality. And that's the kind of money that simply adding RAM won't do.

Rob Frankel

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