Whether it’s proposals, contracts, or spreadsheets, document creation is a key business function.
But recreating these documents for each and every client or project is time-consuming and costly, not to mention error-prone and inconsistent.
In this post, we show you why it makes sense to create document templates, which you can use over and over with just a little customization.
Let’s get started!
What are templates?
Templates are ready-made, reusable files that give you a starting point for a new document.
They’ve already been formatted to meet your organization’s standard requirements for each type of document, such as a legal contract or sales proposal.
The idea is that you don’t have to start from scratch every time you need to write a consulting proposal or service contract.
You can base your work on the standardized layout already in place, customizing the template where appropriate but retaining the essential information and overall theme.
Templates contain either pre-written text that applies to every use case, placeholder text, or blank fields that indicate where certain information is to be entered.
Some templates will only require minor changes, such as adding an individual’s name and contact details to a company business card.
On the other hand, if you’re producing a new product brochure, you might change every element except the general style.
Most well-known document creation software includes pre-designed templates, as well as enabling you to set up your own versions.
Whether it’s Word documents, Google Sheets, or PandaDoc files, you’re able to create and store a set of templates for future use.
Why use templates?
If your company regularly produces documents for internal or external use, it’s worth using templates. Here are some of the main reasons why:
1. Saves time
One advantage of templates is that they save you time. Instead of starting over with a blank document and having to type out the same information every time, you can open a pre-crafted template and quickly update it with the necessary adjustments.
It’s even possible to use automated templates, where personalized information is pulled in automatically from your CRM or other systems.
Faster document creation speeds up the process of signing off on contracts or getting approval for a business plan.
Plus, templates help employees to be more productive and efficient.
By reducing the time spent on endlessly replicating documents, they can focus on other more beneficial tasks.
2. Reduces costs
The time savings that come with a more streamlined workflow also translate into cost savings for your business.
Using templates, employees can get more done in less time, and you might even get by with fewer staff during quiet periods.
Since templates help reduce errors, it’s less likely your documents will have to go back and forth before being signed off—either by a client or an internal department.
The faster you send out an invoice or complete a lucrative deal, the sooner the money will be in your account.
3. Get ahead of competitors
Although templates bring many benefits, not all companies use them.
By doing so, you’re immediately gaining an advantage over competitors who are creating documents from scratch.
For one thing, the time and cost savings mean you can spend more on marketing and product development.
Your proposal will be the first one that arrives in a potential client’s inbox, and it’ll contain all the information they need.
It’ll also look great, ensuring your business appears professional and stands out from the crowd.
That’s because, with the basic format already in place, you can focus more on the content.
4. Consistent branding
Brand identity is super-important for your company, and templates help you achieve consistency.
By standardizing your documents, you can make sure all the contracts, invoices, and proposals you produce have a similar look—one that’s immediately associated with your brand.
You can set up templates to match existing material, add your logo, and use your corporate color scheme and typeface.
There’s no risk of someone using an old version of the logo or choosing a font that doesn’t fit with your brand character.
5. Enhance customer relations
As well as standardizing how you communicate with customers, carefully produced documents give a great impression of your company.
Poor design and missing information can lead to confusion, delays, and lost deals, but templates solve these potential issues.
The speed of using templates means clients don’t have to wait around for important documents either, and the information is easy to digest.
If you offer electronic signatures, the process is smoother still.
Customers will appreciate the professional service and be happy to work with you again, as well as recommend you to others.
6. Boost employee engagement
As we mentioned, it’s much less tedious for employees to use a ready-made template than to type the same information in each new document.
They’ll be confident that all the right information is included rather than worrying about making mistakes.
Templates enable people with limited design skills to create attractive documents, which is rewarding.
The boost in productivity helps employees meet their goals, leading to increased motivation and engagement.
7. Reduce errors
With no need for retyping information or cutting and pasting between documents, there’s less risk of errors or crucial information being missed out.
This is especially important for certain file types, such as the legal documents needed to start a business.
For these templates, you can use text that’s already been checked by legal experts.
It’s the same for the terms and conditions in a proposal or payment information on an invoice—you can leave those in place for all documents, only modifying the personal information for each client.
This minimizes the need for error checks.
8. Increase flexibility
While templates contain a lot of standard information that won’t change from document to document, they also offer plenty of opportunity for customization.
Most document creation software allows you to customize its collection of templates, as well as create new custom templates.
For example, you can add visual elements from a built-in content library or use your own resources.
You’ll have more time to play around with visuals because the main document structure is already in place.
Examples of documents that need templates
There are all kinds of use cases for templates, but they’re especially helpful for certain types of documents.
Here are some must-have templates for specific aspects of business:
1. Legal documents
When you’re producing legal documentation, it’s vital there are no errors or loopholes that could end up damaging your company.
- Terms and conditions
- Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)
- Articles of incorporation
- Company bylaws.
These documents typically contain a lot of complex information and legal jargon, so it makes sense to use a template with elements that have already been approved for accuracy and compliance.
For example, the clauses in a service contract.
2. Administration documents
Admin documents are used for both internal and external communication, with both types requiring the same standards and professionalism.
Pre-formatted templates make them consistent and easy to understand, leading to increased efficiency. Documents include:
- Minutes of meetings
- Internal memos
- Company profiles
- Mission statements
- Inter-departmental documents.
3. HR documents
HR documents cover all aspects of employee welfare and employment, such as:
- Job adverts and descriptions
- Offer letters
- Terms of employment
- Onboarding protocols
- Employee handbooks
- Company policies.
In large companies, these documents are used on a regular basis, with much of the information remaining constant.
Templates mean you don’t have to type out the terms of employment for every new hire and that each job ad features the company branding.
4. Finance documents
Financial documents are used internally for setting budgets and tracking cash flow, but they may also be sent to clients, presented to stakeholders, or used during an audit.
It’s important these documents have a standard structure to avoid errors and display the figures in an accessible way.
Common examples include:
- Income statements
- Balance sheets
- Payroll reports
- Bank statements
- Requisition and purchase orders
5. Marketing documents
While some of the above documents are internal, your external marketing material has to have consistent branding, so templates are essential.
For example, proposal templates for marketing agencies ensure the same information is presented to all clients. Other examples include:
- Marketing plans
- Customer profiles
- Introduction letters.
Principles of document design
Modern software makes it easy for non-designers to create attractive documents, but it’s worth studying some basic design principles to help you set up your templates.
The first four on our list—contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity, known by the acronym CRAP)—were popularized by Robin Williams in The Non-Designers Design Book in 1993 but remain highly relevant today.
We’ve added a few guidelines of our own, too.
Contrast helps break up the information on a page, as well as highlight the differences between elements.
You might use different fonts or typefaces, colors, and text or image placement to define certain sections of information.
For example, some typefaces have several variations (such as Arial, Arial Black, and Arial Narrow), and within those, you have the choice of bold, italic, or underlined text.
Along with different colors, these help you contrast headings and subheadings.
On the flip side, repetition is necessary for providing visual consistency across documents.
To make the information easy to understand, you should use similar formats for similar elements.
For instance, all level three headers should share the same typeface and size, and all numbered lists should use the same style.
You can use repetition in your color scheme, too, such as picking up a color from your logo or a photograph and using it for all your headings.
Using your logo on each page of the document also helps with brand recognition.
Alignment is all about how you place the information on the page, providing structure and readability.
It helps to communicate the hierarchy of your content.
For instance, having the main information aligned to the left and extra details (charts, images, did-you-knows) to the right.
You might centralize the main heading and the introductory section and then align the body text to the left.
The key is to keep pages visually unified by aligning text and so on with at least one other element. Otherwise, your content will look messy and difficult to read.
Proximity covers how close the various elements are to one another.
This includes the use of white space to separate different sections (more on that later) but also placing related sections near each other so the reader doesn’t have to search the rest of the content for them.
An obvious example for marketing documents would be to position a product description next to a photo of the item being described.
You can also make blocks of text easier to digest by keeping headings close to the paragraphs they precede.
This principle is about choosing design elements that complement each other so the composition of the page looks harmonious.
This way, you can present the content in a logical way and capture the reader’s attention.
Play around with colors and shapes, positive and negative space, but make sure each element is based on a key theme and unifies your overall design.
For example, stick to a consistent color palette but include a little contrast.
Emphasis aims to draw the reader’s eye to the main elements of your design, telling them where they should look first and what the most important parts of the document are.
This is important if someone is going to be skim-reading.
It’s like looking at a movie poster—the title is always the largest element, so you see it first even though the actors’ names or the reviews are at the top of the billboard.
You can use other visual tricks like bold or italicized type or putting one word/sentence on a single line to make it stand out.
Following on from this is the principle of proportion (or scale), which refers to the relative size of all the components, including text and graphics.
The size of the different elements can designate which of them is the most important.
Proportion is also about balancing the page so larger elements don’t unintentionally overshadow smaller ones.
On a similar theme, hierarchy is about the relationship between elements.
It communicates the relative importance of information, like how a newspaper front page has a huge headline, a smaller subheading or first paragraph, and still smaller text for the rest of the article.
This visual flow helps readers understand what’s important even at first glance.
For example, in a legal agreement, the most critical contract elements should be obvious from the way they’re arranged.
Balance is about creating a design that’s pleasing to the eye, with all the elements working together rather than competing for attention.
Ideally, you need a focal point to anchor the whole layout, but no single element should overpower the design.
The layout might be symmetrical for more formal documents or asymmetrical for something like a creative marketing proposal.
You should avoid haphazard alignment and using too many colors, as they’ll make the page look cluttered.
Elements of a great document template design
No matter what information your document contains, clients won’t take your company seriously if the design is a mess.
The design principles listed in the previous section are useful guidelines, but you should also pay attention to the following:
Text & typeface
The typeface or font you use says a lot about your business.
Decide whether you’re going to use a serif or sans serif style (the clean lines of sans serif fonts often look better if the document’s being viewed on a screen).
You can use more than one typeface for contrast but more than two in a document tends to be confusing.
Avoid informal or “display fonts” such as pretend handwriting and childlike styles (we’re looking at you, Pacifico and Comic Sans).
Some fonts only have capital letters, which is okay for headings but not body text. Don’t be tempted to overuse bolding, italics, and underlining.
If there’s a lot of information, you can break up large blocks of text with subheadings. It’s best to use uniform sizes for all the headings and subheadings in a section.
Some formal documents, such as a business contract, won’t need visual elements.
But for proposals, brochures, and reports, images and graphics are a great way to keep the reader’s attention and make the whole document look more attractive.
Remember, though, too many will appear cluttered.
Make sure all the images look professional.
You could use your own from a product photoshoot or download generic pictures from a stock image site.
Document creation software typically has a library of visuals to pull into your templates.
This is an example of where the principle of proximity can come in handy: Make sure images are placed close to where they’re mentioned in the text so they’re easy to find.
This includes graphs and charts to explain concepts.
Even for documents without images, you can use color creatively.
You’ll have more scope to do this in a marketing plan than in a legal or financial document like a sponsorship proposal, for example.
Consider developing a corporate color scheme that matches your brand logo, as using a signature color can increase consumer recognition of your brand by 80%.
Colored headings and colored backgrounds provide contrast, but take care as certain colors don’t show up well on certain backgrounds.
For example, black on white isn’t always easy to read on a screen, so a pale yellow background may work better.
Avoid contrasting shades of red and green to accommodate people with red/green color blindness and avoid color clashes in general.
Remember, your recipients might be printing the document off in black and white, so use bold type rather than colors to highlight keywords.
If you’re creating a template, you need to consider your use of white space (also called negative space). This isn’t necessarily white in color—it just means the spaces between various elements on the page.
White space is important for making information easy to read, so make sure there are gaps between different sections and images rather than having everything crammed together.
This concept plays into the principles of balance and unity, and shows the reader you’ve put some thought into the design.
White space also includes things like line spacing, gaps between paragraphs, and using space to emphasize certain elements.
How to create your own template
Now we’ve discussed the main principles of successful document design, let’s find out how to create a working document template using some of the most popular software programs:
It couldn’t be easier to make a template in PandaDoc, which also has an extensive library of customizable templates for multiple document types:
1. Open the Dashboard or your document list, and click New Document > Create.
2. Select Blank Template. This allows you to start from scratch in the PandaDoc editor. (You can also select one of your pre-made templates.)
3. Alternatively, select Local File under Upload to upload your own file or convert a .docx file into an editable PandaDoc. Supported file types for upload include .pdf, .png, .jpg, .jpeg, and .docx. Files must be under 50MB.
4. If you upload your own file, it won’t be editable, but you can add more information to it using content blocks.
5. Mix and match new templates and uploaded files inside the document.
6. Create your template, add recipients, name your document, and send it.
2. Microsoft Word
1. Start by creating a new document: File > New > Blank Document.
2. Create your design, adding all the required elements such as text boxes, picture boxes, and font styles.
3. Click Save As > Save As Type, choose Word Template [*.dotx] from the list, and save the template with a unique title.
4. Once you’ve created some custom templates in your Custom Office Templates folder, you’ll see a new category, Personal, on the backstage menu when you open Word and select New. This is where you can view and open saved templates.
3. Apple Pages
1. Click New Document, then Blank > Choose to open a blank page.
2. Click the Text Box option, place the box in the desired location, and type or paste in the required information.
3. Select the content and click Fonts to adjust the typeface and size. Click Inspector > Text to access the menus for color, alignment, and margins.
4. Click Insert > Choose to select a picture file from your computer, click Media > Photos, or just drag and drop your graphic into the document.
5. Click File > Save As Template to name your template and save it to your My Templates folder. Click Save to finish.
6. To create a new document from your template, select your file under My Templates in the Template Chooser.
4. Google Docs
1. On the Google Docs home page, choose Start a New Document > Blank. (If you want to turn an existing document into a template, copy and paste it into a new doc, and save it under a unique title.)
2. Create your new template and save the document with a unique title.
3. From the home screen, select Template Gallery > your organization’s name > Submit Template. (You can only do this if you have permission from your organization to modify the sharing settings.)
4. The Submit a Template window will appear. Click Select a Document, choose the desired template, and click Open.
5. In the Submit a Template window, select a category for your file and click Submit.
6. To find your new template, go to Template Gallery > your organization’s name.
5. Microsoft PowerPoint
1. Start by clicking File > New > Blank Presentation.
2. Click the Design tab, and under Customize, choose Slide Size. From the drop-down menu, select Customize Slide Size, and adjust settings in the dialog box.
3. Access PowerPoint’s Slide Master by clicking View > Master Views > Slide Master. Here, you can select your preferred themes and backgrounds, and insert placeholders. Edits you make to the Slide Master will affect each slide layout.
4. To save the presentation (.pptx) as a template (.potx), click File > Save As > Other Locations > Browse. In the Save As dialog box, choose PowerPoint Template from the options under Save as Type.
5. PowerPoint redirects you to the Custom Office Templates folder. Click Save.
6. To find your template next time, click File > New > Custom > Custom Office Templates.
6. Google Slides
1. First, switch to the master slide view, open a new presentation, and click View > Master in the menu bar.
2. Select an existing template from the Themes menu on the right, and select one of the available options to apply to it.
3. Make sure the master slide is selected in the left-hand panel. Click the Rename button above it in the slide editing menu.
4. In the Rename master box, type a new name for your template and click OK.
5. Make changes to the background and the position, font, and color of your text boxes. Any changes made on the master slide will be applied to each slide layout below it.
6. Save the template to your Google Drive storage by typing a file name in the box in the top-left corner of the Google Slides window. You can import this template into another Google Slides presentation by pressing View > Master in it.
7. Microsoft Excel
1. Create a new workbook and save it as a .xltx or .xlt file (depending on your Excel version) instead of the usual .xlsx or .xls.
2. Click File > Save As and type a template name.
3. Under Save as Type, select Excel Template (*.xltx). In Excel 2003 and earlier versions, select Excel 97-2003 Template (*.xlt). If your workbook contains a macro, then choose Excel Macro-Enabled Template (*.xltm).
4. If you save your workbook as *.xltx, Excel automatically changes the destination folder to the default templates folder (usually C:/Users/<UserName>/AppData/Roaming/Microsoft/Templates). To save the template to another folder, change the location after selecting the document type.
5. Click the Save button.
6. In Excel 2010 and earlier versions, you can select previously used templates from File > New > My Templates. Excel 2013 (and later) doesn’t show these by default—click here for a solution.
8. Google Sheets
1. From the File tab, open a new blank spreadsheet, a previously-created spreadsheet, or one of Google’s templates.
2. Click the filename and rename it to something including the word “Template.” Press Enter to save your changes.
3. Click the folder icon next to the filename, and select New Folder. Type a name and click the check mark.
4. Click Move Here to save the template in this new template folder. (This folder is where you’ll store any future templates. When you need to access them, go to Google Drive, find this folder, and double-click it.)
5. Before you start editing, right-click your template and select Make a Copy. This saves to the current folder with the prefix “Copy Of”. Double-click the file to open it, rename it, or move it elsewhere.
6. If you open the document in the future, click File > Make a Copy to copy it to your Drive. Name the file, choose a location in your Drive, and click OK to save it.
Best practices for creating document templates
So, now you know how to design an attractive document, and you want to put those principles into practice by making a set of templates for your business.
Here’s our checklist of best practices for document template creation:
1. Be user-friendly
Although your team members should know how to write a proposal or contract from scratch if required, templates provide them with ready-made building blocks to make the process as simple as possible.
The idea is to save time and money as well as keep employees happy and motivated.
Even people without any design experience should be able to use a pre-formatted template and customize it, then learn to create their own.
But if the software is difficult to use and the templates overly complex, your staff will become frustrated.
They might even be tempted to make their own workaround version, which wouldn’t be on-brand.
For this reason, make sure you choose user-friendly software with drag-and-drop editing and enable staff to pull in approved elements such as images and pre-written clauses.
It should be fast and easy to save and share documents and send them from within the program instead of attaching them to a regular email.
2. Make them accessible
In this era of remote and hybrid work, with teams distributed across different offices, regions, and countries, your templates need to be accessible for everyone from any device and at any time.
Click the link to see the document templates every remote business needs.
If your templates are hard to find, there’s a risk that employees will use outdated or inaccurate versions of these documents in their haste to send them out to an impatient client.
Ergo, it’s crucial to have one centralized location or workspace where all your templates can be safely stored and accessed.
Be sure to choose a cloud-based software provider that offers both document creation and storage.
This way, you can create all templates with the same tools for consistency, and keep them in the same place.
3. Allow customization
Yes, the benefit of using templates is that the information and layout are standardized across documents.
But every client and project is different, so you’ll need to customize templates, even if it’s just inserting the client’s name and contact details.
Employees with a flair for design will want some scope for creativity, but you need to avoid too much variation between documents.
It’s best to provide a small selection of formatting options, color palettes, and images to choose from, all of which adhere to brand guidelines and house style.
You’ll also need to make it clear which areas of the document require customization. For example: “Dear [client name],” “Work to be completed by [date],” or “Payment of [$$$] is due 14 days from the date of this invoice”.
4. Satisfy different needs
Even a small company produces a variety of document types, from official letters to reports to invoices.
Make the effort to create templates for all the documents you might need, as it’ll save you time in the future.
You may also need different versions of the templates (or advanced customization options) to suit different situations.
For instance, a basic quote might be suitable for an existing client who already knows your business well, but your sales reps must be able to send an extended version to a new customer.
Once you start using these templates, you can monitor performance to make sure they’re achieving the desired results.
If you find they’re not suiting the needs of your staff or clients, make some changes.
5. Be comprehensive
It’s better for templates to be fully comprehensive than light on information.
If something is missing from the template, you can easily forget to add it when you’re customizing the document.
But, if you include every section and clause that might be required, users can always delete the bits they don’t need for a particular document.
If you want your proposals to have a table of contents, or formal letters to include a personal note for well-known clients, highlight this on the template.
6. Have a uniform naming system
This tip is all about staying organized. We’ve mentioned the importance of keeping templates in a central location, but you also need to decide on a standard naming convention.
If every employee names their templates in a different style, it will be difficult to find the one you’re looking for, especially if those names are similar.
Apart from adding the word “template” to the file name, it’s a good idea to include the date it was created, such as “Service-Contract-Template-11.1.23”.
This avoids any confusion and enables you to save later versions under different dates.
Create effective document templates with ease
Whatever the type of business document, it makes sense to use a template.
Templates speed up the document creation process, which not only makes your employees more productive but reduces costs, too.
Plus, with pre-designed formatting and the ability to pull in approved text, there’s less risk of errors.
The other big advantage of using templates is the consistency they bring.
For example, once you’ve decided on the best proposal format for your company, you can make sure all subsequent proposals follow this pattern.
Your documents will always look professional and boost your brand recognition.
Even those with no design training can easily create and customize templates, especially if you use software like PandaDoc with its simple drag-and-drop editing tools and content blocks.
PandaDoc also includes built-in eSignatures and native CRM integrations to make life easier.