How to send a document for electronic signature

how to esign

Whether you’re generating a marketing proposal or a sales contract, getting someone to sign on the dotted line is almost always the end goal.

But creating, designing, and writing any document is only half the battle when you need someone to sign it.  If you want the signature fields in your document to carry any kind of legal weight, you need a process that is safe, secure, and traceable.

The additional elements mean that adding an e-signature to a PDF may not be as simple as having your customers upload a handwritten signature and sending the document back.

Let’s take a closer look at how the signing process works and how signers need to interact with your documents in order to keep everything above board.

Ready? Let’s go.

Electronic signature legality

Though electronic signature law varies by country, the basics in the US and EU are governed by two very important documents: The Federal ESIGN Act of 2000 and the eIDAS Regulation.

These documents point out that an electronic signature is considered to be data in an electronic format that is used by the signatory to sign documents.

What isn’t immediately obvious from those definitions is that, legally, you can make your signing process more secure by adding validations and safeguards against repudiation — the ability for the signing party to deny the authenticity of the document.

Especially for business transactions, like contracts and sales proposals, it’s important to ensure that any signed document is legal and valid before moving forward with a project.

In short, to protect your financial interests, ensuring that the signature on your contracts is authentic and traceable is a critical step in this process.

Here are a few ways to ensure that the signatures you capture during the signing process are legal and valid.

Digital signatures vs signature images

At a fundamental level, there are two types of electronic signatures that a signer can generate when e-signing your documents.

These are true digital signatures and images of a signature that have been uploaded and attached to a PDF file.  While they may look the same on paper, they are different because of how they are produced and what information they carry with them.

Signature images

This type of signature is typically created in a drawing platform like Google Draw (inside Google Drive) or through an onboard PDF editing tool like the Preview app on an Apple Mac.

Using these tools, the signer draws a digital version of their signature, then adds it to the PDF or Word document using a drag and drop method.

It’s a fast and easy way to sign a document, especially if there is no established system in place.  Unfortunately, this method lacks authenticity because the e-signature needs to be acquired in a way that is difficult to trace.

In many cases, you may be able to prove authenticity based on where and how you send a document for electronic signature, but trusting customers to add signatures in this way comes with additional risk.

Digital signatures

For critical documents, like contracts and signing agreements, where you need to reduce risk and ensure total authenticity, digital signatures are the best solution available.

Digital signatures enable signers to easily sign from any location and device, but they require an e-signature solution like PandaDoc in order to create a secure signing environment.

Signing with digital signatures is more secure because everything necessary to prove the authenticity of the signature is built into the process.

Plus, the process is even easier than creating and placing a signature image. Most e-signature software tools provide a secure environment and a “sign” button so that users can easily review a document and add their signature.

At the end of the day, this is the best type of signature solution for documents that need more than a handshake agreement.

Audit trails

Regardless of whether you choose to implement digital signatures or you trust your signers to operate above board, one of the most important aspects when signing documents is to create an audit trail.

The ultimate goal with an audit trail is to establish that the document was sent to the intended recipient, who then signed and returned the document as requested.

For example, you can start to establish this trail by emailing your document via an email message to the intended signer, rather than to a generic address. Logically, the only one with access to that document would be the individual who opened that email.

The problem is that, without a signing solution, the proverbial “chain of custody” stops there.  It’s impossible to know what happens after the document is downloaded — and that opens a path for repudiation and a protracted legal battle.

Compare that with PandaDoc, where the use of our site as a signing platform allows us to track any activity within your online documents. With PandaDoc, you’ll always know when signers access your documents, how often they view it, and when they finally sign.

In the next section, we’ll talk about a few ways that you can notify others when it’s time to sign PDFs and guide them through the signing process.

How to send a document for electronic signature

There are a handful of ways that you can send a document to signers.  Keep in mind that, in the age of mobile devices, your documents might be opened from a Gmail inbox into the browser on a mobile device like an iPhone or an iPad.

On top of that, if you send something editable, like a Microsoft Word document, you may open your document up to editing by the signing party while they fill out the form fields and finalize the document.

An e-signature solution like PandaDoc solves these problems but, if you plan to send documents on your own, please keep those potential hazards in mind.

Email

One of the easiest and most straightforward ways to send documents for signing, email can be used to send content directly to the intended recipient and create a minor audit trail in the process.

When using an e-signing solution like PandaDoc, our system will notify signers via email and include a secure link to a controlled environment where signers can review and sign your document.

How to send a document for electronic signature_google_drawing

Text & SMS

Sending documents via text also establishes an audit trail as long as you can prove that the document was delivered to the right individual.

While we don’t recommend sending documents via SMS on a smartphone, it’s technically possible to deliver documents in this way. Your signers will need to find a way to open the document, sign it on their device, and return it to you.

Link

If you’re trying to maintain some sense of authenticity to your signing process, links are a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, links make it easy to send signers to an environment where they can easily access your content.  You can send a link to a PDF in a cloud storage account like Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive and have signers download a document from there.

On the other hand, it’s very easy for links to end up in the wrong hands.  This can damage your audit trail and make the defense against repudiation more difficult.

At PandaDoc, we allow users to generate links in order to send documents, but we caution users to ensure that the individual using the link is the intended recipient.

Mobile App

Many e-signature solutions have mobile apps that you can use to send and sign documents. The PandaDoc app is a great example.

Signers who have the PandaDoc app can access any document for quick and easy signing while managing other contracts they control.

How to send a document for electronic signature_google

Your signers may also be able to find “fill & sign” apps that can help them quickly fill out form fields and return documents to you, but these apps may vary in terms of security and functionality.

Digitally sign your PDF documents with PandaDoc

No matter the documents or the platform, PandaDoc is the best way to securely send, sign, and receive important documents.  Our onboard editor makes it easier than ever to create documents from scratch.

On top of that, our secure environment can be accessed from any iOS, Android, PC, or macOS device, so you never have to worry about compatibility issues. We’re also HIPAA and GDPR compliant, and we take security very seriously.

Click here to begin your signing process with PandaDoc!