Every service and repair business needs forms for doing business. These include flat rate invoices, employment forms, vehicle reports, lien notices, credit applications, service agreements and all sorts of contracts. How can you best create all the ones you need?

What I often see new contractors do is simply copy other business’ forms. This practice usually results in a poor, third-generation copy of an old form — one that may or may not meet the needs of the new business owner.

Besides the unprofessional look, copying other’s forms is usually illegal because those forms were probably originally commercially produced forms, most of which are copyrighted.

Even if you buy forms, do you know if they are the best ones for your business? It’s important to know what the forms say and hold you responsible for. Although it’s expensive to get a lawyer to draft all the forms you’ll need, it’s probably a good idea to have your legal counsel look at the agreements you and your technicians are signing every day.

New Way: Computer publishing programs today have become more powerful and easy to use. Now you can purchase ready-made forms that incorporate the latest management techniques and legal standards without having to write and design them from scratch. Not only do they save time and money but you can change them, update them or customize them in any way right on your computer. You own them and you have instant access to them.

Naturally, you still have to take masters to the printer if you want them professionally printed, especially if you use some color forms. However, you can economically print many common forms in black and white on your office laser printer. And you can change those forms anytime at minimal expense.

Some forms are just nice to have, while others you can’t do without. For example, you can’t complete a job without an invoice form for your customers. Other forms, such as vehicle preventative maintenance reports, may not be as critical to your business. Nonetheless, they are handy when you are trying to minimize your vehicle maintenance expenses. Still other forms are required by law, such as those informing employees of their rights to transfer their medical coverage.

Here are several forms to keep in mind:

  • Personnel Forms — Although you may think you are unlikely to be sued by a former employee, why take a chance? Why not be cautious and reduce your liability for making improper personnel decisions or inadequately documenting your actions as a manager? I’m talking about wrongful termination actions and allegations over pay and benefits.

    One form I have found helpful is the counseling statement. It’s used when you want to document the fact that you spoke to an employee about his/her performance. For more severe infractions or performance problems, we have a reprimand form. These forms may later show that there were problems with an employee’s performance, which will avoid claims of unfairness against you as an employer.

    Another form we use relates to job performance. We call it the employee performance appraisal form. It shows how well (or poorly) the employee performed in more than a dozen different performance criteria — everything from knowledge to alertness. We even have an exit interview form. It tells us what the employee who is leaving didn’t like or what he would change.

    To make hiring decisions easier, we have a pre-employment exam. It helps us screen applicants, based on their knowledge of regulations and familiarity with the industry’s standards and practices. We combine that form with a detailed pre-employment application.

    Our absence report makes it easy to document an employee’s absence, including the reason and any explanation. Those details are difficult to recall later, should there be some dispute over whether the employee met performance guidelines.

  • Yellow Pages — You may not think any forms are required for Yellow Pages ads but there are several helpful ones. For example, what would you do if your printed ad had errors or was inaccurate? To avoid problems we have an advertising checklist form. If problems occur, we document them on an ad discrepancy report form. That form makes it easier to show any errors made by the publishing company; it also helps us keep track of how the oversight is handled — credit given and when, person contacted, etc. There’s even a contract addendum to record contract changes, in case the Yellow Pages company’s agreement is modified.
  • Vehicles — We keep track of what happens to our motor vehicles. Some of the forms we use include a preventive maintenance report and motor vehicle accident report. Better records mean better maintenance, which, of course, lowers our operating costs. You may be surprised how much you can save if you keep a close eye on maintenance intervals and expenses.

Using the right forms — ones that look professional and are up to date and accurate — are part of an effective management process. You need to know what’s out there to select the ones that are best for your business. These days generating forms should simply be a matter of going to your computer and then locating or updating the exact form you need. No longer do you need to choose from custom and expensive or copied, unprofessional and economical.