By Marti Linder
An important and complex factor in any business is the daily paperwork required to function properly.
A couple of years ago I decided to bring all the paperwork, forms and filing practices for our business up to legal speed, so I enrolled in a class on Mechanic’s Lien laws and processes. The class was run by a law firm, and the first thing they said was that everyone is intimidated by forms and make it all too complicated.
They advised us to obtain standard forms (rather than the expensive specialty forms you can get at a stationery store) and use them as templates, letting us know that this would be satisfactory as long as the forms we created contained all the necessary information. This put me on a search for templates all over the Internet. Each of the sites listed below gave me the sort of models I needed at no cost.
My find of the year is www.about.com – it’s about everything! The different buttons are called “Channels,” and the topics range from Automotive and Electronics to Health & Fitness. (You’ll want to dodge the advertisements that are plastered on every page, but at least there aren’t any pop-ups.)
The best of the channels for business purposes is labeled, appropriately enough, “Business.” It’s divided into sections on “Business Practices,” “General Business,” “Industry” and “Small Business.” Under the Business Practices heading is a section on “Graphic Design,” where I found a sub-category on “Sample Contracts.” There I found four different approaches to general contracts for designers. The layout and language differ from form to form, but each is good.
Also under the Business Practices channel, I found a button for “Human Resources” that proved invaluable. There is a “Policies and Samples” section stuffed with guidelines and forms, and everything is divided into sub-sections arranged in alphabetical order. I could’ve spent days on this site, but I needed to research other sites to see what else was available. Among the highlights:
[ ] The wonderfully quirky legal site hosted by Stephan J. Thomas, a Napa Valley, Calif., lawyer with an interesting point of view. Interspersed with his thoughts on wine and spiced by clever bits of satire, I found forms to download and print. These included 20-Day Preliminary Notices, Stop Notices, Notices of Completion and releases. Go to www.napalaw.com and enjoy yourself.
[ ] Another great site is www.legaldocs.com. The top link is labeled “Free Docs” and offers some forms at no cost along with a large variety for sale. The two forms that are the most pertinent are the General Contract and the Demand for Payment. The neat thing about this site is how you retrieve the forms: They ask you to supply general information about your business, and then the system fills in all the blanks for you. The result is a fully completed document you can print and save.
[ ] The California Contractors State License Board site (www.cslb.ca.gov) is one I visit weekly for a variety of reasons. As far as business forms are concerned, I’ve found sample Conditional and Unconditional Lien Release forms – just click on the “Consumer” button and scroll down to the section labeled “Preventing Liens.” I would imagine there are similarly helpful sites in many other states.
It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by all the forms that seem to be required for a business to operate and be successful. I’m hoping these sites can save you a little time while they relieve a little anguish.