The Cloud Office Part 2: First Tier Tactics for any Small Business

In the previous post in this series, we introduced the concept of the Cloud Office as a whole-systems approach to controlling soft costs. We also discussed conducting an operations review, streamlining payroll/invoicing, consulting with IT experts, and investing in training. In this post, we are going to dive right in and review a few simple and low/no cost tactics that one can implement right away to digitize an office and save time and money.

Stop Faxing

Consider emailing your document, sharing information using a secure document service, or, if you really absolutely must send a fax, switching to a service like eFax. Remember, though, to never send sensitive information like social security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card information or other personal data over email unless your send the information over an encrypted channel. If you do not know how to encrypt email, stick to eFax or consult with an IT professional on how to best shuffle sensitive customer information digitally. Have your staff in charge of purchasing ensure that vendors send price lists via email and not fax. Many trade supply houses fax by default and only email by request, so you pro-active action might be necessary. Perhaps the most critical reason to stop faxing now is that a fax is a one-time hard copy of a document that can easily be lost and that will degrade when copied each additional time. Digital documents are easier to file, track, sort, share, find, attach to a customer’s record and they never degrade. Plus, consider the cost savings on not having that extra telephone line!

Choose Email Over Printing and Posting

Any time you can, consider exporting the document you want to share from the native application to Portable Document Format (PDF) and emailing instead. Windows users can download Adobe Acrobat Reader (no cost) and Apple users can rely on the native application Preview. Sharing via Google Documents is another powerful way to move information around, minus the headache of wondering if the attached document is too large to email. We’ll cover more about Google Applications in the next post.

Create or Use a Database of Permit Information

This step could not be more timely, especially after SunRun just released the findings of their whitepaper about the impact of permitting costs on the total cost of a residential solar installation. As a former permit filer on behalf of a solar installer, I can tell you from experience that they are spot-on with their report. Aside from negotiating all the different fees, I spent a lot of time educating building departments about what solar energy was and the difference between PV and solar thermal. Depending on your geographic area, especially in areas where solar energy is less familiar, take some time to introduce yourself and what you do to local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). In fact, before you start, take a look at VoteSolar’s permitting toolkit to help you get your AHJ on board. Then, keep track of critical design requirements and AHJ information in an in-house spreadsheet or database... or participate in one of the publicly available ones.

Pre-Fill Common Forms

This might seem like a no-brainer, but I am still surprised by how my installers fill out the same information about their company and licenses every time on forms they commonly use. Take the permit application, interconnection, rebate, and project closing forms and pre-fill them with information that does not change like your company’s name, address, and relevant license information. Then, you can have these ready on-demand requiring project-specific information or signatures only.

Create Welcome and Closing Packets for Customers

The contents of these packets will vary based on your region and company style, but having clear information presented to your customer upon contact signing including what to expect and clearly marked forms that need signatures will go a long way to ensuring minimization of time-consuming paperwork hounding. Your welcome packet could be emailed to a customer after signing, could be part of a saleperson’s closing visit, or a separate mailer depending on what human resources you have available to manage paperwork.