Why your business documents matter!

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This post is a shout out to all of the incredible business owners running a service-based online business - yep, you know who you are! If that sounds like you, and you don't have your business documents lined up, this blog is just for you!

Look, I get it. Starting an online service business comes with a truckload of things to think about. There's your business name, domain, social media accounts, deciding on services, putting your name out there. Then there's finding clients, winning work, getting insurance, getting your legals lined up....the list goes on (and on!).

And it can really feel like that list will never, ever end. 

So putting together clear, concise and on-brand documents probably isn't at the top of your list. You just want to get in front of those target clients, have a call with them to win them over, and get started. Sound about right?

But what if that rush was part of the problem?

I want to talk to you about something I've learned, from working with VAs, and chatting with even more.

Rushing in to working with clients could be doing you harm, or at least putting you (and your business) at risk.

Say what now? Hear me out.

It's all a bit overwhelming, I know.

When I started Thrive, there were so many different experts telling me that I had to get in there. I had to get in front of potential clients, because I had invested all this time and money into getting started.

And that's true - you do have to actually secure clients and build your network to win work and pay the bills.

But it's just as important that you have all of your ducks in a row behind the scenes too. 

For any business owner, that means having a set of business documents that will cover the client journey, in a way that protects you and them. Good business documentation also reassures your client that you are a true professional (which is the best kind of marketing!).

What kind of documents are we talking about?

For service based businesses, there are some specific business documents that you should have in place, right from the start. By getting these right, you not only protect yourself, but you set the standard for yourself and your business. Build brand recognition by making the most of every opportunity to reinforce your business' brand elements, so that clients recognise your work on sight, and know that it means quality.

Quality attracts quality.

Let's quickly cover the basic business documents every Australian service based business should have in place.

To my mind, there are 5 business documents that you need in order to service a client properly. They are:

A professional profile.

The freelancer version of a resume, it is vital for demonstrating your skills and experience to a potential client. A professional profile should look and feel like you, highlighting your services, skillset and any qualifications or experience that will make you the best choice.

A proposal.

Now, this can be a part of a system you use (like an accounting package, or CRM software), or it can be a separate document - there are lots of ways to do these. Every time you 'pitch' to a potential client, you should send through a proposal that outlines the scope of work, timeframe and fee.

For Thrive, I send through a proposal after I've had a chat with the client, so that they have a written confirmation of what we discussed, and they can put it down and come back to it without having to remember everything from our call.

A Service Agreement.

This is a super important document, and there are lots of templates around. I use a slightly modified template I purchased from The Remote Expert. My Service Agreement is broken down into three main sections:

  • Schedule: outlines the details from the proposal that the client has agreed to (the parties, scope, fee, timeframe, any specific content or requirements for the work);
  • Terms and Conditions: the legal section that protects me in the event that something goes wrong - from either end; and
  • Signatures: signed by both parties, to form a legally binding contract.

If you don't have a Service Agreement, you put yourself and your business at risk. As I said, there are lots of templates available to purchase for this document. Do your research, and make sure that the document is suitable for your business structure and offerings.

Microsoft365 for Business

An onboarding document / checklist

This can be an internal document (just for you) or you can share it with your client. It can be an email, a formal document or a link to a client portal with all the information they need. There are so many ways to do this, but it's an incredibly important tool for your business.

Documenting your onboarding process is an easy way for you to ensure you have what you need to do the work, and the client has received clear instructions on how to work with you.

Your Invoice

If you are using an accounting or bookkeeping software program, there will be an invoice template in the program. You should absolutely add your logo, and make sure that you have set it up properly, but you don't need to create one from scratch.

For lots of VAs, particularly when starting out, paying a subscription for an accounting system is not in the budget. So a manual system is the go. And I'm the last to knock it - I had one when I started out too! It worked perfectly for what I needed at the time. I used a spreadsheet to track my invoices (number, date sent, date paid, who it went to, the fee, GST, etc). I also had a Microsoft Word document for the actual invoice.

Remember that all invoices need to comply with Australian taxation requirements. You can get more details about what your invoice must include, in this handy fact sheet.

Do you have these business documents in place?

Are you using them to their full potential?

Every document you produce is a part of your marketing, or brand strategy - presenting your business to a client (or potential client)! 

What do your business documents say about you? 

Great business documents say that you are a professional, with the skills and experience to support a client. They demonstrate attention to detail, and reassure the reader that you care about quality, because you are doing it for your own business already.

Whether you provide document support or not, having polished and professional documentation should be a part of your business. And it doesn't have to be complicated, I promise! 

There are three simple steps you can implement now to make your documents more professional:

  1.  Use your logo on every single page
  2. Use consistent fonts throughout every document - that are clear on the screen and in print.
  3. Use your brand colours in your documents to subtly reinforce your branding at every touchpoint - build that connection to your website and social media with a consistent palette.

A couple of final tips

  • If you haven't already got your Service Agreement terms and conditions (or any other legal bits and pieces) sorted, then I highly recommend Emma from The Remote Expert. If you use the code TA10 at checkout, you will get 10% of your shop purchases too*
  • Never send any business documentation to a client (or potential client) in Microsoft Word form (.doc). Always convert it to a PDF before sending (to compress the file slightly, and to protect you from someone 'accidentally' making any changes to your terms, invoice amount or other documentation!).
  • If in doubt, keep it simple - start with just putting your logo in the header of each page, and using 1 colour from your logo as the heading. It shouldn't cost you a cent to be able to present yourself and your business as a professional who knows what they are doing!

Want to know more about what you can do with Microsoft 365?

Spoiler alert - you should! You are already paying for your Microsoft 365 subscription - let Thrive help you actually use the tools you already have access to, in a way that makes your workload lighter, so you have time to focus on what you do best! Here's how I can help:

Become a Microsoft Dynamo

Working smarter doesn't have to mean doing it alone! For a fun and engaged learning experience, join Thrive's free Facebook group, Microsoft Dynamos. There are monthly live training sessions where we cover topics like this in real time. You can also connect with me (and the Dynamos) directly to help solve your document dilemmas. I'd love to have you join us! You can find the group here

Get a Microsoft 365 expert in your pocket (or wherever you keep your phone!) with Thriving with 365

Thriving with 365 is a monthly membership, offering you direct access to me, Thrive's Microsoft Magician, to give you tailored support for what you need, when you need it. Members have access to a private Facebook group, all of Thrive's tools and resources, and regular exclusive content via the member portal. It's the way to to help you make the best use of the 14+ apps included in your Microsoft 365 Business subscription, in a way that suits you and your business! 

Become a member today, and start getting more bang for your buck from Microsoft 365!

Become a member of Thriving with 365 today!

**Disclaimer - Thrive is a Microsoft Affiliate, and if you choose to purchase via the above link, I may receive a small commission. You can read Thrive's full affiliate disclosure policy here). 

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About the Author

Marianne is your long-lunch loving Microsoft 365 Online Business Manager (OBM). Based in Hervey Bay, QLD, with her husband and their two dogs (Eli and Skye), Marianne loves working with women in business who want to work smarter using the tools available to them in their Microsoft 365 subscription. Through education and training, she works with them at achieve their business objectives in a way that is practical and sensible, so they can continue to grow and evolve their business using the skills they have learned.

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