Fax Machine: Old Tech or Valuable Legacy?
Okay… when I say “fax machine” do you roll your eyes and think “That’s so 1980s.” Yeah, I do too. When I see a fax number on a business card, I wonder if its the expression of an HR department that “always did it that way”? Is it a touch of nostalgia in ink? Could be. Or it could be a business essential. How do you know?
I confess I have a fax number. I use it just enough to keep it whenever I think that maybe I should shut it down. I’ve found that in my business, it still has some utility. Who do I send or receive faxes from or to? They tend to fall into two categories:
- The state. In my state and many others, client contracts need to be registered with the appropriate state agency. Some states don’t take emails of pdf format documents. They want either postal mail or fax.
- My smaller clients. Yes, believe it or not, some clients, especially small, technologically challenged nonprofits, are more likely to have a donated fax machine than a scanner. It was a nice find, I’m sure, but my guess is that the donation didn’t come covering the expense of the dedicated telephone line.
Their lack of technology need not push you away from your own technological savvy. While you, too, can buy a fax machine and dedicate a line to a device that’s used bimonthly at best (not to mention the one or two square foot of table space) you have other options.
The combo. Printer/scanner/fax combinations are a popular choice. The “triple threat” gives you nice flexibility. However, unless you pay for a dedicated line, whenever someone wants to send you a fax, you need to go through some “telephony gymnastics” while you make sure the line is clear – typically your primary line. In short, it’s a pain, and the machines are a bit more expensive (although not that much) than a regular printer.
The “virtual fax.” This is what I use. For very little per month you can subscribe to a service that provides you with a phone number, even a toll-free phone number, that looks every bit like a fax machine to the outside world. The difference is that it creates a pdf that it sends directly to your email, or it can store the document in the service’s cloud-based server. You can download (and store in a computer directory) and/or print the document at your leisure. To use it for outgoing material you have two options. Most allow you to create a fax out of a common format document type, like a pdf or word processing document on your computer. You can also get a scanner that supplements the system at a minor cost in desk space. Know if you go the “virtual fax” route, subscription fees add up over time.
All of the above said you could go without. I know folks who do, and they seem perfectly happy and well-adjusted individuals. On the other hand, if you’re forced to fax, consider your alternatives to this once, cool and exciting technology that’s well past its prime.