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Neil Mammen knows firsthand the benefits of digital record keeping, especially while he's on the road. In late 2006, the founder of San Jose, California, engineering design firm Tentmaker Systems received a letter from the IRS requesting itemized proof for nearly $30,000 in past business expenses. His accountant had worse news: Mammen's credit card statements would not suffice; he needed individual receipts.
So Mammen, 45, spent close to two months retracing his spending steps from almost two years earlier, collecting receipts and invoices from his own files and contacting his vendors for copies. Frustrated by the hours he wasted, Mammen made what he considers a worthwhile investment: a portable document scanner from technology company Neat Receipts.
Neat Receipts has two primary products. Neat Receipts, which costs $229, weighs 10.6 ounces and measures 10.8 by 1.6 by 1.3 inches. It can handle receipts, business cards and documents up to 8.5 by 14 inches. Neat Business Cards, a product introduced a few months ago, weighs less than 4 ounces and measures approximately 4.4 by 2.1 by 1.1 inches. It's priced at about $200. Both scanners process about four items per minute, according to the company, and both come with software for cataloging the digital images.
Now whenever Mammen makes a purchase or meets a new professional contact, he scans the paper receipt or business card as soon as possible and files it away with some contextual notes. He also stores one-page documents, such as contracts or nondisclosure agreements.
Mammen says scanning the business cards helps him keep closer tabs on contacts. Neat Business Cards, for example, can be set to scan cards directly into contact files in Microsoft Outlook. Mammen also finds it easier to answer unexpected questions while on the road for projects.
"I realized that the easiest way to keep track of this stuff was to scan it all into one place and invest in the software to organize the documents," says Mammen, whose 2007 sales were $1.6 million. "When I finally gave my accountant all the receipts to fulfill the IRS request, she said she had never seen anyone so organized."
A recent update to the NeatReceipts scanning software now lets you scan several cards at once and process the images all in one batch. Previously, the scanner could only handle one card at a time. "Little ideas like this make a big difference," says Mammen, who notes that Neat Receipts has been responsive to his recommendations to include certain features.
Other companies known for mobile scanners include CardScan, I.R.I.S. Group, and Visioneer. I.R.I.S is notable for its support of Macs and its penlike handheld scanner format. Visioneer's numerous offerings for mobile entrepreneurs include the RoadWarrior, priced at $200, and the CardReader 100, which retails for $99.99.
CardScan's basic business card scanner, CardScan Personal, has a price tag of $160. CardScan Executive, which comes with a contact manager, goes for $260. The company touts support for PDAs, and it sells a $29.99 connector for direct synchronization with BlackBerrys.
According to Xavier Lanier, publisher of Notebooks.com, entrepreneurs have no reason to waste time manually entering business card data. Last year, he started using a business card scanner after realizing just how little contact information he had available on the road. Lanier says using the scanner helps him retain more information about people he meets on business trips, making the investment more worthwhile. He picked CardScan Personal because it runs off a USB connector and doesn't require a separate power supply.