For many vacation home owners, the movement towards a paperless office isn’t just the environmentally friendly solution – it’s the solution that makes the most sense.
How much information do you already email back-and-forth between yourself and your renters, property manager, or accountant?
Calling it “paperless” can be a bit misleading; more often than not, the reality is simply “less paper” – potentially significantly less paper. However, committing to a paperless office is increasingly affordable, and it’s only going to get easier.
Adopting a paperless philosophy for your vacation rental has two benefits:
- Cutting your need for paper helps eliminate waste and scale back printing costs.
- Incorporating digital solutions can help streamline standard processes.
Every vacation rental has forms, payments, invoices and other information that needs to be processed or presented on a regular basis. How much can you eliminate on your end?
Your statements and invoices
Many banks and utilities have promoted electronic statements and billing, so if you still receiving these by mail it should be an easy switch. Other service providers may also have electronic billing available.
How often has your wall calendar become more whiteout than paper as you try to keep up with changes? Simplify things by incorporating an online calendar – which you can also share the calendar with service providers. Use a service like Google Calendar to reflect new bookings, layout the cleaning and maintenance schedule, and mark any other key dates or black-out periods.
While you should double-check your regional regulations, electronic signatures have long been legally acceptable for decades. You don’t really need to change your contracts, either, although you should save any contracts as a locked PDF to prevent editing. There’s a bit of e-signature setup so you can sign documents electronically. For your guests, use a service like Echosign; all your renters need to do is type in their name or add their own e-signature to confirm acceptance.
Rent and deposit payments
There are numerous solutions like HomeAway’s ReservationManager or Point & Pay that make it easy for you to email the bill, and easy for your renters to pay with just a few clicks. You can also accept payment via PayPal, a secure and increasingly common way for people to exchange money online.
General information about your rental property
You may want to keep the stack of travel brochures on the coffee table just in case, but with just a bit of research you can make it easier for your visitors to plan and enjoy their stay – especially if you live in an Internet-happy area. Check online for any relevant smartphone apps, like local tourist information. Link to relevant information (like transit, attractions, maps and upcoming events) from your website so your renters can find it easily ahead of time, or during their stay.
Guests, service providers, related businesses – there are a lot of contacts to keep track of, and juggling notebooks, emails and business cards just isn’t very efficient. Contact management solutions like Highrise CRM and Capsule CRM give you one location to manage it all.
If you work with an accountant or bookkeeper, check in to see what they suggest; many have preferred programs that they work with.
However, there are many different programs available to keep your bookkeeping paperless, from professional programs like Simply Accounting or QuickBooks to more targeted small business solutions like Wave, or just a standard spreadsheet.
Eliminating the paper piles
To truly go paperless, you’ll also want to digitize any incoming hard copy bills or receipts. The good news is that this, too, is increasingly easy; buying a scanner lets you take control of the situation on your own, but if you’re really bogged down Shoeboxed and Receipt Bank will take those piles off your hands and do the digitizing for you. If you’re using an iPhone, try Scanner Pro to scan documents with your phone’s camera.
Before you make the jump to paperless
You may find that your operations are already more digitized than you think, but there are a few other points to consider:
- What’s your niche market? If your key customers are wary of online transactions or don’t have ready access to computers or high-speed Internet, use more traditional processes to meet their comfort level.
- How wired is your rental property? If you don’t provide Internet access, or if you have a property in an area that still relies on dial-up service, ensure any important or relevant information is still available in hard copy.
Before you go nutty with the shredder, you’ll also want to make sure you have your bases covered:
- Have a backup. External hard drives are a very affordable way to backup your information, but cloud storage solutions like Dropbox are gaining steam; they automate backups, and files are accessible from anywhere in the world – and easy to share as needed.
- Ensure your backup is secure. Check with your tax authority to see what guidelines they might have for digital storage. In the U.S., for example, you still need to follow the same control and retention guidelines as your hardcopy books, and your storage system must be in compliance with IRS requirementsHave a good filing system. The details may vary, but you need to be able to find your files when you need them. You may want to save files by year and month, or you may prefer to file by type. However, you arrange your filing structure, use file names that will tell you at a glance what a particular file is; this also helps is, down the road, you need to turn to a keyword search!
- Consider easy access. Digitizing all your files will only truly work if you can produce the paperwork you need when and where you need it. Consider adding a tablet or laptop to your office equipment as you move forward with the paperless process, otherwise you’ll still need printed copies to carry around.