Paperwork is a necessary evil when you’re starting a new company. You need legal documents to file incorporation papers, to sign the lease on your first office space, to hire your first employee… the list goes on.
It’s almost painful to think about the degree to which documents can obstruct your productivity – especially as your startup scales and paperwork compounds, requiring more of the precious time that should instead be focused on your core business. And just as important as preserving precious time is saving money. Dollars spent on printer ink, equipment maintenance, reams of paper and physical storage add up quickly – and anyway, what innovative company wants to process paperwork like they’re living in the 90’s?
That’s where smart documents come in. At Nitro, we define a smart document as one that is intended to be shared. One with built-in collaboration, workflow and security features that can be turned on or off on demand, and with tracking for everything – including views, annotations and version histories. If you’re already working on a disruptive business idea, why not turn that same lens towards ways you can disrupt inefficient document processes inside your startup?
Smart documents not only elevate the sharing of content to 2015 standards, they make some of the most critical startup tasks – like selling and recruiting – significantly more efficient. No longer will you have to wait around until a job candidate finds a scanner before she can officially accept your offer letter; she can apply her e-signature and return the document in seconds. Once your startup adopts smart documents, you’ll close deals faster, improve candidate and customer experience, enable collaboration from anywhere and know your information is being shared more securely.
Relying on smart documents has helped us scale Nitro much more smoothly than traditional paperwork methods would have allowed for. From that experience, I’d like to offer some tips for founders on how to leverage smart documents in order to speed up sales from day one.
Step 1: Don’t email PDF proposals
When you email a PDF to a potential customer for review, you have zero visibility into what happens after the document leaves your outbox. But smart documents can provide end-to-end intelligence that helps you sell more effectively by following up at just the right time, so you can move deals through the sales cycle faster. This is key not only with your first few accounts, but also as you grow and need to scale the business with a lean sales team.
For example, a smart document can alert you when your customer is looking at the proposal, so you can proactively call him to answer any questions he has right at that crucial moment. And with insight into how long he spends viewing the document, and whether he subsequently shares it with others, you can get a pretty good sense of how interested he is. That way, you can stop the guessing game and prioritize how to divide your limited time across those early prospects.
Step 2: Make contract markup easy
This might seem counter-intuitive, but you will rarely get an agreement approved on your first pass, so you may as well make it simple to update. It’s quite common to inadvertently send a proposal with an incorrect address or the wrong company legal name, which can prolong the review process.
With a smart document, your customer can easily mark up anything that is incorrect or requires negotiation (i.e. if he wants a 12-month contract term, not a 24-month term) directly on the proposal, without downloading or installing any software. And if he notices that you’re online, he can message you right then, which gives you a great way to demonstrate how amazing your customer service is by answering questions in real-time. Every deal is crucial in your early stages, so you should be equipped to treat them that way.
Step 3: Use e-signing to get the all-important “yes!”
Once you’ve made any necessary edits to the proposal and have your customer’s consent to proceed, you are ready to execute the sales contract. But you still need an official signature. Even at this stage, many contracts still take hours or days to finalize. However, with the smart document alternative to paperwork, securing authorization, including approvals or e-signatures, can take as little as a few minutes. At Nitro, for example, sales contracts that used to take days to get a signature, now take hours. Imagine the difference this time saved could make to your revenue number each month.
Smart documents also give you the intelligence you need to seize the window of opportunity for real-time engagement with your customer. For example, if you see that he has viewed the document but not signed it immediately, you might want to jump on the phone to ask if he has any outstanding questions.
Step 4: Use a solution that allows you to connect the dots later
A good smart document solution will allow you, your CFO, your attorneys, your sales team – or whomever you choose – to view a contract’s entire version and comment history later. This may not seem important during your first year or two, but easy accessibility and document audit trails can save you tremendous time hunting down sales contracts and other agreements, and preparing amendments or renewals down the road when your company is a lot bigger.
Get your startup working smarter
To take advantage of today’s smarter documents and achieve new levels of productivity, you have a couple of options. You can combine several online services – such as cloud storage, online collaboration solutions, and e-signing tools – and create your own smart documents platform with some clever engineering to stitch everything together. But if you’re running fast and staying focused as many startups are, you probably don’t have time for that. Your best option is to find an affordable solution that brings together document sharing, collaboration, signing and workflow capabilities in a single service.
That second option is what we are trying to achieve at Nitro. We’ve been helping companies be more productive with documents for over 9 years, first with Nitro Pro, which is used by over 500,000 businesses worldwide and over half the Fortune 500, and now with Nitro Cloud. If PDF has been the de facto standard for electronic document exchange for the past 20 years, we believe that smart documents will become the next standard.
Startups who leverage smart documents effectively will get a jump on their competitors. Faster businesses beat slower businesses every time. You’ll impress your customers, partners and employees with a better document experience, while gaining insight into key document sharing workflows. You’ll get contracts signed more quickly, your document workflows will accelerate, and without paperwork slowing you down, your business will scale faster than you thought possible.
Nitro makes it easy to create, edit, share, sign, and collaborate with documents – online or offline. Our award-winning products are used by millions of people worldwide every month, and through our new Smart Documents for Startups program, we’re helping innovative companies scale their business with free e-signing and more via Nitro Cloud. It’s completely free, until you raise your Series A. Learn more at gonitro.com/startups, and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.