What is a Virtual Mailbox? (and How to Choose One)

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By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail

Updated June 19, 2020

Managing your postal mail doesn’t have to involve sorting through a giant pile of envelopes on the kitchen counter. Fortunately, virtual mailboxes are the go-to solution for modernizing your postal mail. Making the switch to a virtual mailbox means you’ll get to enjoy less paper clutter, the freedom to move or travel freely as you wish, and the confidence that important mail won’t fall through the cracks.

At Earth Class Mail, we’ve scanned over 10 million pieces of mail to give our customers the flexibility to travel the world or work from anywhere without hesitation. 

If you haven’t already taken the leap, let us walk you through what a virtual mailbox is, who it’s for, and what questions you should ask before you choose a provider. 

What is a virtual mailbox?

A virtual mailbox is a digital mailbox service that contains scanned copies of your postal mail, which you can access from your computer, tablet, or phone. 

Wondering how you can access your postal mail virtually? 

Here’s how it works

  1. You pick a physical address from a provider’s list of available addresses. That becomes your virtual mailing address. 
  1. Your mail is received by the virtual mailbox provider, where it’s scanned and uploaded so that you can view it. Some virtual mail providers will accept packages and forward them to the address of your choice.
  1. Decide what you want to do with your mail. Some companies provide the option to store your mail, share it, shred it, or connect with other apps—like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Quickbooks Online. 

Who should get a virtual mailbox?

A virtual mailbox can be particularly useful for people who work remotely, who value location independence, travel extensively, or live abroad. 

  • Freelancers. If you’re a home-based freelancer, you may not want to put your home address on your website or invoices. A virtual mailbox allows you to keep your home address private while sharing a professional address with clients. 
  • Expats. Managing your mail while in another country can be a hassle. Just because you’re living abroad doesn’t mean people (and businesses, the government, your student loan servicer, etc.) stop sending you mail. The last thing you want is to miss an important bill, check, or notification because you’re not in the country. In the past, you may have listed your address as your parents’ or a friend’s house and asked them to let you know if something important arrived. With a virtual mailbox, you have access to all of your mail, 24/7, wherever you are.
  • Digital nomads. If you chose a location independent lifestyle, the need to continue managing postal mail shouldn’t hold you back or create unnecessary anxiety. Using a virtual mail solution means you know you’re up to date on your postal mail and that important communications won’t fall through the cracks.
  • RVers. Living as an RV nomad is becoming increasingly popular. RVer Michelle Schroeder-Gardner shared with Business Insider that one of the most common questions she gets about her lifestyle is “how do you receive mail?” If you’re choosing an RVer lifestyle, you may have seen people talking about forwarding mail to friends or to specific RV parks that you intend to visit. With a virtual mailbox, you don’t have to rely on friends or wait until you get to a specific location to open a letter. Your mail will be available on your computer, phone, or tablet whenever you need it. 

A virtual mailbox may be a good fit for you if…

  • You want a better solution for managing your postal mail. If you have a giant stack of unsorted mail right now, then a virtual mailbox might be a good choice for you. A virtual mailbox will not only reduce your paper clutter, but also turn your mail into searchable PDFs so you can always find what you need. 
  • You want to keep digital records of important documents. You can avoid the time-consuming process of scanning in documents that may not be the best quality. With a virtual mailbox, you’ll get every document as a high-resolution, searchable PDF. And if you want any original pieces of mail, you can just request they be forwarded to you or physically stored.
  • You travel frequently. If you travel a lot, for work or pleasure, you might get tired of asking your neighbor to pick up your mail or putting it on hold at the post office. Especially if you receive packages regularly, having a virtual mail solution with the ability to accept packages can be useful. Once you know you’ll be home for a bit, you can request the packages be sent to your home address.

Questions to ask when choosing a virtual mailbox provider

Now that you’ve decided that you’re interested in a virtual mailbox, here are some questions to ask: 

  1. What addresses do they have? One of your first considerations will be the virtual address that you choose. If you’re a freelancer, you may want a street address that you can also use to register your business. If you’re an expat or an RVer, you might be happy with a P.O. box. Maybe you want to have a virtual address in the city you consider “home,” or maybe you like the idea of having a virtual address in a place you’ve never lived but have always loved—the options are plenty.
  1. What actions can you take on your mail? To get the most value out of your virtual mailbox, ask whether you can see a demonstration of the product to understand the scope of functionalities available to you. If that’s not possible, be sure to find out: 
    • In what format will you receive your mail?
    • How does the service provider treat packages and checks? 
    • Can you easily export your information to other applications?
    • What are your options for organizing your information?
    • Can you have multiple users on your account?
    • Can you search for documents within the platform?
  1. What network and physical security measures do they take? Ask service providers what they do to safeguard their customers’ private information. Find out: 
    • Do they rely on local partners (like local businesses or postal shops) for mail intake or they have independent operations? While local partnerships might increase the number of addresses available to you, they may reduce the security of your mail. 
    • Are the people handling the mail items trained to handle confidential health and financial information?
    • Are there security systems in place at the facilities that receive and store mail items?
    • Do they have back-end security measures in place to keep your data safe?
  1. How quickly can you access your information? One of the major benefits of using digital mail and document solutions is accessing information quickly, in useful formats. Find out: 
    • How long will it take to see your mail contents from the moment you request an item to be scanned?
    • Is there an option to automatically scan all content?
    • How long does mail forwarding take? 
    • Can you access your mail on a mobile device?
  1. What is included in the plan? Of course, you want to find out the price of a plan, but you also want to understand exactly what’s included for that price. Price comparison of different services isn’t always apples to apples. Think about what features you will need (mail scanning, mail forwarding, storage, shredding etc.) and make sure you understand the pricing structures associated with those plans and features. 
  1. Do they provide other services you need? For instance, some virtual mail services also offer the ability to automatically deposit checks or pay bills received in the mail. These additional services can help you get money faster and reduce the possibility of late payments.  

A virtual mailbox can help create flexibility and efficiency in your life, but only if the service you use prioritizes those values. Think about how you want a virtual mailbox provider to improve your experience managing your postal mail, and use these questions to find a solution that can meet your needs. 

Connecting Tools for Efficiency: 3 Things You Need to Do Now

Guest post by Tara Witterholt, Chief of Staff at Elevation Solutions.  

Email, chats, video conferences, document sharing, CRMs, phone bridges—we have no shortage of tools to power our businesses. We have unlimited options for tracking work, collaborating on documents, and managing our workload. The difficulty starts when all these items are kept in disparate places, usually the place most convenient for the person who started the communications, document, or activity. The risk is people giving up on broken systems, starting yet another system for tracking or collaborating, and the time-sucking cycle repeating all over.

Our management and technology consulting firm is engaged regularly to implement software that solves productivity problems. It’s our bread and butter. However, we prefer to come in before you implement the next great productivity tool. We work to understand operational pain points and the humans around the table before we move into the cloud.

Below are some key steps you can take to figure out what productivity tools you actually need and how to maximize the ones you keep. 

1. Inventory all the tools you’re using now, including anything used for document creation and storage, workflow and project management, scheduling and invoicing, etc. Then, get real… 

Organizations large and small are lured in by tools that look fun, shiny and new. They promise to increase our productivity, make us more effective, do our laundry, and cook us dinner. And they rarely deliver. You need to examine the tools you are using and ask yourself if they’re solving the problem that drove you to adoption.

I once had a client ask me to implement a productivity tool that had a Google Drive connector, a calendar (separate from their Outlook or Google calendar), and a task assignment feature. It could be branded to their company, shared easily with their teams, and adopted at a low cost. They were beaming at the possibility of having more time for strategic work. 

They wanted to tackle the fact that projects weren’t getting done on time and they didn’t have visibility into what work people were doing. It turns out they didn’t have standard expectations for project delivery and relatively few consequences when deadlines came and went with no results. The cloud-based solution had rave reviews, but it didn’t solve their root problem: accountability. In the end, I helped them create a better system of accountability rather than throwing new software at the problem. This included agreements on deadlines, progress updates, and what happens when people don’t get their work done. The executives were happy with the increased insight and their teams were more willing to communicate progress with the new, clearer expectations.  

2. Agree as a team what you will use for project management, internal and client-facing communications, and document creation and storage, then get rid of everything else.

And stick to it! No going rogue. Agree that you won’t suggest a new or replacement tool until you all have had a chance to talk about these key things: who will use it, what the benefits are, and what problem you are trying to solve.

We recently did this with our project management tools. We had 3 different ways to track projects and what we used differed by the client. At a strategy session (in the mountains, because, hey, it’s Colorado) we committed to using Trello to track progress on our implementation projects. We can assign tasks and provide access to internal and external users. Clients can see exactly what work is happening in real-time, as well as where we need their input.  Now, when we have questions about status and progress, we have one source of truth. It’s been a game-changer.

3. When you figure out which tools to keep, make sure they talk to each other.

Just like you encourage your team to collaborate, ensure your productivity tools are talking to each other! Our team has recently implemented an email connector that works with our Salesforce instance. We can set up meetings easily by sending suggested appointment times from our Google calendar, and the recipient can choose what works for them. We have also connected our project management tool to Google Drive, Slack, and our billing and project time-tracking software. When needed, our productivity tools enter information automatically into Salesforce. No more searching and wondering—it’s all in one place.

The above suggestions take time to work through. You have to get the team together, ask tough questions, and find out what people are really using and how it’s working, including what’s most effective for your clients. But rest assured, the amount of time you will get back when you finish these steps is worth it. And if you do decide to try something new, we can help you implement what you truly need with style!

— 

Tara Witterholt is Chief of Staff with Elevation Solutions, a rapidly growing management and IT consulting firm with clients and employees in every time zone. With over 15 years of project management experience, Tara works tirelessly to streamline processes and help people focus and be productive. She lives in Denver, Colorado, has a college-aged daughter, a cyclist husband and a very lazy but adorable cat. 

Check out their Business Impact Story to learn how Elevation Solutions leverages Earth Class Mail to streamline their back office.