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How businesses can use templates

So I’ve posted about poor template use and given some tips on maximising your use of templates.

But maybe you’re wondering what sorts of templates you could use in the first place. Or whether it is worth the effort to prepare a template.

What are templates for?

Advanatges of using templates - and diadvnaatges of not using templates

Templates have so much to offer a business…

Templates are great for

  1. saving time as you don’t have to start a document from scratch each time you use it. This applies to commonly used documents (so you save time regularly) and infrequently used documents (so you don’t have to search for the ‘last time you did something like this’ to find the details).
  2. ensuring consistency over time and between staff members. A template means everyone says the same thing so there is no confusion.
  3. building your brand through consistency in style as well as consistency in the actual message. Imagine one staff member writes formal letters while another writes casual letters in the same circumstances – a template means both use the same style.
  4. ensuring all important details are included. In the rush of everyday, it is easy to write something and forget a particular detail; a carefully prepared template will have those details (either in full or as a field for you to enter the correct information)

So, what templates can we use?

Ok, that’s as easy as answering ‘what letters can we use in our business?’

There are many different things that can be put into a template for improved efficiency and branding. So this list is a sample to get you thinking of what can be changed in your business.

  1. one-off use of major business document templates like a style guide, marketing plan, business plan and personnel manuals. (Note by one-off I mean the template is generally used once but the document itself is updated periodically).
  2. regularly used documents such as sales letters, enquiry letters/emails, welcome letters, overdue accounts notices
  3. briefs for suppliers such as writers, designers, programmers
  4. an outline template for items such as blog posts, management reports and media releases
  5. general stationery can be set up as templates – for example, a letterhead can have the date/name/address/greeting fields prepared and a prepared minutes format can make reporting on meetings much easier
  6. technical and/or legal documents such as terms and conditions for competitions, customer contracts and instruction manuals/guides.

What other templates have you used that have made your business life a bit simpler and easier?

Making templates earn their keep – not as hard as you may think

Using a template can be a great tool – it saves time, ensures important details are included and builds consistency.

Maximising your templates

But for best results, each use of a template needs to be tailored to the purpose. Just copying it as is looks lazy and can lead to embarrassing mistakes.

That means, if you use a template…

  1. change all the variable fields (business name, dates, prize value and so on)
  2. check the text surrounding the variable fields to ensure things make sense (for instance, a template may use singular verbs but you need plural verbs)
  3. read the entire document from start to finish looking for
    1. irrelevant points
    2. contradictions and inconsistencies
    3. deviations from your style guide

Template tips

My advice for templates is to always start with the base document.

Samples of templates to show variabel text can be presented in different ways

There are various ways to indicate variable text in a template – colour, xxx, brackets, choices…

So if you have a template for competition terms, always use the original template rather than taking last month’s terms and updating them.

It is so easy to miss one field if you update an existing document, leaving a mistake that at best makes you look silly and at worst could have legal or customer service issues for you.

If you find that you are adjusting a lot of the common text, create a new version of the base template to use.

If you find you are often changing text around certain fields, make some of that text variable, too. It doesn’t have to be a blank space, you can provide two alternative sets of words (eg ‘All winners are’ or ‘the winner is’) as part of the template.

A template should be a ‘living document’ in that it is regularly reviewed and adjusted for each use. The first version can be useful but by using it, improvements often become apparent as it is used in different situations.

For documents with very sensitive content (such as legal implications) or to be used by many people of varying skills, consider setting up the document so non-variable text can’t be edited.

Do you have any other suggestions for maximising the use of templates in business?

Winning despite poor template use

I may soon be $5,000 richer.

Australian money falling into email

Money pouring into my email – a lovely idea!

Then again, I may not be as I know my chances of winning a competition are somewhat less than 100%!

Reading the competition terms…

I just entered a competition, after looking through the terms. I don’t read the terms in full but I always check if there are unexpected uses of my email address before I give it to someone.

In this case, adding me to a single mailing list was acceptable so I entered.

However, I also noted a few things in the terms that were silly.

I think they have used a generic set of competition terms, adding in a few specific details but leaving everything else as it was in the template. To me, this looks like they were too lazy to bother writing or editing their terms.

Let’s assume they had permission to use that template rather than breaching copyright by copying someone else’s terms. They could still face legal issues if something in the template doesn’t apply to their current situation – like how winners are notified.

Dubious terms

To enter, I gave my name and email address – no postal address or phone number.

According to the terms, if I win, I will be ‘contacted by phone and email’. Interesting idea given they don’t have my phone number…

A single prize of $5,000 is on offer to the winner. Yet, ‘the prize… is not transferable as cash.’

This competition is ‘only open to everyone worldwide…’ The use of only and everyone doesn’t quite work  – presumably it makes more sense for competitions where ‘only open to customers’ or ‘only open to Australian residents’. A quick read of the completed sentence could have shown the wisdom of deleting ‘only’.

Have you ever seen someone use a template without thinking to update all the relevant details in it?

Was the result funny or did it damage the business’ reputation (or both!)?

No to under construction sites

Red cross through a roadworks sign stating 'under construction'I honestly thought most people online know that an ‘under construction’ website is not a good move. Search engines don’t give any credibility to sites with nothing more than a ‘coming soon’ message and people don’t like wasting their time on such sites.

As I posted about in my ‘starting a website’ series, it is very easy to put a simple web page as a temporary site while a full site is being developed. This way you can get onto search engine lists, provide some interest and begin marketing efforts.

So I was very surprised this morning to visit a site I had received an email about.

The homepage has a nice background but twice stated ‘under construction’ as well as ‘temporarily unavailable’ and ‘coming soon’ – that’s a lot of repetition in eight short sentences (one of which was ‘please be patient!”) Other than the business name as a heading, there was no information about what the business does and no real content.

Given I was making a decision about the company, this wasn’t good marketing for them. They didn’t include contact details but at least there were links to their twitter account and email.

Oh, there was no twitter user name or email address attached to the links, so their credibility fell further.

However, the biggest shock was when I clicked on the link in the footer which I assumed was their designer but thought may give me some information. It wasn’t their designer but a site selling ‘under construction’ themes for blogs! People are spending money on pretty backgrounds to put up words that may hurt (and certainly won’t help) their online reputation.

If you’ve been online for a while, does this shock you as much as it does me?

If you are looking at getting your business online, please don’t waste your money on a template or designer offering under construction pages. A plain page with an introduction and contact details will work much, much better.

What did you do while your site was being developed?