Put business forms to work for you
Having the right tools is key to the success of any project. Running a business efficiently and effectively requires equipment that is available, organized, maintained and appropriate for the job at hand.
When organizing your company's "tool box," don't overlook the importance of the "paper tools" of the trade-business forms. You can simplify your business and keep it in order if efficient systems are in place and paperwork is up-to-date. Business forms, standardized and customized, go a long way toward establishing and maintaining those systems. Invoices, work orders, proposals, specification forms, estimate and quotation forms, change orders, letters of transmittal, checks, reports and pricing sheets are just some of the forms that managers routinely use to keep work flowing and organized.
Using inappropriate or inadequate business forms is wasteful and inefficient. Do you often find yourself duplicating paperwork? Are you constantly modifying your forms by crossing out or adding to what's been printed? Do you have to call your customers for key information that you or your employees forgot to ask? Customized business forms will help solve these and other problems.
First impressions Customized business forms can also send subtle yet powerful messages to your customers and clients. The right forms communicate professionalism, expertise, efficiency and accomplishment.
Remember the adage: "You only have one chance to make a first impression-and first impressions are usually lasting."
Door hangers, leave-behind pieces and similar literature are not the place to skimp. Take the time to create professional, attractive pieces that make potential customers want to call you (see sample forms, page Contractor 12). Be sure to make it easy for them to do so by printing all contact information clearly.
A printed three-part (triplicate) proposal, estimate or quotation form will help send the message that you are organized and professional. Having a multi-part form will save you from scrambling for photocopies and will add a touch of professionalism. You also will also be assured that you and your customer have the same information so that misunderstandings can be avoided.
Adding company information-name, address, phone number, fax number, email and internet address, company logo and company slogan-will help to position your company as established, expert and professional and will leave a lasting and positive impression. Your printed forms should be easy for customers to understand. Make sure that the forms include all important information. There should be room to list important details. When you include your company's complete contact information, a customer is more likely to call or email you, or visit your web site. Your printed logo also will serve to reinforce your "brand" in the customer's memory.
In addition, you can add sections on the form to capture relevant information about your customers. This will provide you with vital information for later initiatives such as prospecting for new customers or following up with existing customers for a clean-up, pruning or other service.
Clients prefer forms that are easy to understand. Customers can become frustrated and unhappy when presented with an invoice, job estimate or other business form that is sloppy and hard to read.
Customized details count If you use "one-size-fits-all" forms for your business, you are missing a major marketing and efficiency tool. Customized forms are usually slightly more expensive than standardized forms and take time to design, but are well worth the investment.
When ordering custom business forms, don't skimp on the time you spend designing them. Make sure that every piece of important information is recorded on the form. Design your forms to reflect the workflow of your business, and be sure to ask colleagues and co-workers for their input. The advice of field crews is invaluable. Often, they will have a different perspective on what is important on a form. A few changes can turn a standard form into a great business tool-one that will save time and money, and increase efficiency.
When designing a custom form, remember that you can include preprinted information such as specific duties and areas, and frequency of tasks performed. For example, a lawn-maintenance invoice can include preprinted areas for recording mowing, edging, weed control, pruning, fertilizing and spring or fall clean-up. These detailed forms will make the field worker's job faster and easier to complete. Office personnel also will benefit from standardized information. They will not have to decipher handwriting and guess at tasks completed or products used-and perhaps underestimate the job.
Here are some features that make business forms more useful:
* Consecutive numbers on each business form allow for quick, easy reference and make office operations easier to handle.
* Color-coding highlights key areas and increases the speed at which the form is filled out while improving overall readability.
* Perforations create a "tear-out" portion of the form, which you can use to mark merchandise and eliminate mistakes.
Customized business forms can help keep your record-keeping secure. When choosing business forms, be aware that checks and other forms with a "cash value" that are cut on plain paper can make easy work for forgers. Security features should be standard on checks, gift certificates and redeemable coupons. By adding your company logo, unique colors, coding or typeface to these sensitive business forms, you can help avoid costly incidents.
When you take the time to plan and design your business forms properly, you can effectively streamline your operations, increase your productivity and improve your image with customers. All for a minor additional investment in time and effort.
Patty Kane is a communications consultant for NEBS, Inc. (Groton, Mass.). NEBS manufactures and supplies custom and standard forms, checks, labels, related products and software to small businesses in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and France. For a free NEBS catalog, call (888) 228-6327 or access the NEBS online catalog at www.nebs.com.
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