Could you even imagine running a business today without e-mail or voicemail? Those technologies brought a semblance of order and immediacy to managing everyday communications. Physical mail, however, is a trickier proposition, but Earth Class Mail, a company based in Seattle, Wash., has tamed the beast and offers an online service that lets you securely access, manage and dispose of your mail from any computer.
The company's customers range from individuals all the way up to Fortune 50 companies, according to Natalee Roan, chief marketing officer at Earth Class Mail. "Fifty percent of our customers have fewer than 500 employees," she said. "We serve small companies and home-based businesses such as eBay resellers. Why use your home address on packages you're shipping to strangers?"
Earth Class Mail has mail-receiving remote addresses in 19 major cities in the United States. When you sign up, you select an address, or addresses, where you want your mail to be sent, and then you decide who gets that address.
"It's not an all-or-nothing proposition," said Roan. "You can choose to have all your mail sent to Earth Class Mail or just some of it." Roan also pointed out that you could have different types of mail go to different Earth Class Mail addresses, one address for invoices and another for correspondence, for example.
The remote addresses are P.O. box numbers, so if you need to receive packages (FedEx and other shipping companies will not deliver to P.O. boxes), Earth Class mail has two street addresses, one in Seattle, the other in Beaverton, Ore.
You then receive a secure online mailbox. When your mail arrives at the Earth Class Mail facility, each piece of unopened mail gets bar-coded and scanned, and the electronic images are delivered to your mailbox. You look at each piece of mail and, using your mouse, determine what action you want Earth Class Mail to take for each piece of mail. You can have them do any of the following:
- Recycle unwanted mail with a mouse click
- Scan the contents so you can read it online
- Shred sensitive information
- Forward the original to you or to someone else
- Forward the electronic document to whomever you choose
- Archive the originals at the Earth Class Mail facility
The bar coding lets Earth Class Mail track every individual piece of mail through out the system. "That's not the case with the U.S. Postal Service or Iron Mountain," Roan said.
Where's the Small Business Benefit?
Does the idea of handing over all or part of your business mail to another company leave you feeling, well, insecure? Roan said there are four good reasons to do just that: privacy, growth, mobility and disaster recovery.
Lots of companies have sensitive documents law firms, financial companies, doctors' offices, for example. "Security is a big issues for many small businesses," Roan said. "They have sensitive documents, but their own office security is not good enough. Plus, receptionists, temps and other employees typically don't go through background checks."
According to Roan, Earth Class Mail opens and scans all its mail in a clean-room environment. "No one wears pockets, no recording equipment, no cell phones. They can't even take a pencil into that room, and they're videotaped while they're opening mail," she said.
The Earth Class Mail mailbox lets you view scanned images of sealed mail and determine what action you want taken next.
(Click for larger image).
In addition, Roan said that the people Earth Class Mail hires to open and scan the mail have to meet two levels of security. First, they have to be retired military veterans who had security clearance when they were on active duty. Second, they must also pass Earth Class Mail's background check.
"Our security is much tougher than what even Fortune 50 companies can provide on site," said Roan. "We hire the cream of the crop. The mail we process includes bank statements, credit card statements, medical claims, and people are placing their trust in us."
Growth is another reason small businesses might consider outsourcing their mail. "It's not unusual for a growing small business to move into larger space Earth Class Mail outgrew two of its offices," said Roan. "Using our service means that small businesses don't have to keep changing their mailing address." She also said that companies that hire home workers don't have to worry about losing track of mail if an employee leaves the company.
Lots of small business owners spend a lot of time traveling away from the office. Being able to access their mail from anywhere helps them to stay on top of issues and pay bills in a timely manner.
Roan also said that the capability to access mail from anywhere helps companies in the event of a disaster. "Hurricane Katrina wiped out 800,000 addresses," she said. "People couldn't get their mail. With a virtual address, you can pick up your mail wherever you are, and you don't have to contact people to give them a new address."
Earth Class Mail pricing varies depending on the package you select. You can check out pricing plans specifically for small businesses.
Reliabid: Realizing the Benefits
Mohamed Ramzi Ismail is the president of Reliabid.com, a Web service company with 20 employees that helps online auction sellers deter nonpaying bidders. It's also an Earth Class Mail customer. Ismail first became aware of the company when it approached him to explore possible cross-promotional opportunities given that both companies serve similar audiences.
"I was about to leave on a three-week trip to China and Europe," Ismail said. "I took a look at the site, and decided to sign up for the service and try it while I traveled. It was so convenient that I decided to keep on using it when I got back."
Ismail likes the anywhere-access and having electronic copies of his mail. "I can forward bills to accounting or e-mail it to the three people who need to see it. I don't have to make any calls, I just e-mail it and get their opinion on it," he said.
He also said he appreciates managing his mail. "It's simple to manage my mail in a paperless way. As soon as I'm done looking at it, I can easily archive it or delete it."
Currently, four Reliabid employees use Earth Class Mail Ismail, his CEO and two senior account managers. "We're the people who interact the most with clients and receive the most mail," he said. The service saves them considerable time, which Ismail said makes the $30 - $40 per month they pay quite reasonable.
"We've got four people interacting, picking up mail, sorting through it, deciding who needs to look at what. That's so time-consuming," Ismail said. "With physical mail it could take up to three days for me to get it. Now I get an e-mail alert every time I get a piece of mail. It really helps me stay on top of it."
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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