From the January 1997 issue of Startups

For anyone running a small business and trying to do it all, using the predesigned templates that are bundled with popular computer programs--particularly office suites, such as Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite, and Corel WordPerfect Suite--can save both time and effort. You can use templates, which are designed by graphics and business experts, to help create documents of all types: letters, memos, newsletters, spreadsheets, databases, presentations, and even World Wide Web pages.

You can use templates without worrying about page layout, design, or color combinations. And you don't have to think about setting margins, selecting fonts, or choosing point sizes for headings and body text.

Templates are not just for layout and design--sometimes, they provide part of the content. For example, many letter and fax templates automatically enter names and addresses that you have previously typed as part of program installation or when filling in a wizard. A wizard is a type of template that guides you, one step at a time, through the early steps of document creation. For example, a letter or fax wizard prompts you, through a series of dialog boxes, to choose a style or type, or to verify names, addresses and telephone numbers. A newsletter wizard enables you to choose the style and number of columns, the newsletter name, and the number of pages. After completing the wizard's dialog boxes, your document is onscreen but still incomplete; you will have to type in the body of the letter, or articles in a newsletter. You may also have to insert graphics into some types of documents, such as newsletters. In presentation templates, which are sets of slides or computer-screen displays, the background design and color are usually in place; all you have to do is type bulleted items and page titles.

Some programs provide templates that help you with the content of each page. Imagine having sales experts such as Zig Ziglar and Ken Wax by your side as you write a sales presentation. With Lotus Freelance Graphics, a presentation program, you can rely on tips from these and other experts to help you construct an effective presentation.

How to Use Templates

You can create a template-based document in almost the same way that you would produce a document from scratch. To use a template, select New from the File menu (in Windows-based programs). Next, double-click on the icon representing the template or on the name of the template that you want to use. With the template onscreen, fill in the missing pieces. Finally, make the document your own by changing formats, colors, and so on. However, unless you are a graphic artist, be very careful that you don't move too far away from the built-in look of the document. Be sure to save the document, giving it a unique name.

Customizing Templates

A major advantage to using templates is that you have the starting point of a design and layout. Then, you can customize until the document is exactly right. Pat Coleman, a Houston-based freelance editor and writer who was the deputy editor of The World Almanac, says, "We converted all our files from a proprietary mainframe platform to Microsoft Word version 6. We used a single custom template to create each of the almost one thousand pages, which included hundreds of tables. It really worked like a charm. The most useful word-processing templates are for publications. Brochure templates are usually both useful and attractive; brochures are always difficult to create if you aren't a graphics designer."

A Template for All Uses

The typical small-business owner uses templates for day-to-day word processing. For example, Gretchen Beck, a tax service enrolled agent in San Francisco, says, "Using Microsoft Works templates and wizards for fax sheets, newsletters, and letterheads has saved me a lot of time."

Others use a wider variety of templates. For example, Gwendolyn D. Moran, who owns the Moran Marketing Associates agency in Farmingdale, New Jersey, uses templates from Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, and Lotus Ami Pro (the predecessor of Lotus Word Pro). "Because I am not a graphic designer, my attempts at design can look amateurish," says Moran. "However, I used a word-processing template to create a quick `down and dirty' newsletter for a client who needed one as soon as possible. The newsletter was tremendously well-received by the client's customer base; we created the newsletter with the template for six issues before we handed it over to our designer for revamping.

"I have also created presentations--including a sales kit for our firm--using PowerPoint. Again, we could easily customize the presentations. However, we are not spending hours of valuable time on creating presentation graphics; the templates are so attractive and professional that we can create a great image in minutes. Of course, some clients need customized presentations, and we never sacrifice quality for convenience. We evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis and use the resources that are warranted. If we can save our clients money by using templates that look like a million bucks, and it makes sense for the client, then we consider using templates."

Whats Available?

Here's a rundown of some of the templates available in today's programs:


  • Word-Processing Templates. The most popular and probably most commonly used word-processing templates help in creating letters, fax sheets and memos. For example, Microsoft Word provides three designs each for letters, fax sheets, and memos. These designs enable you to standardize one look for your documents. Microsoft Word also provides templates for reports, brochures, press releases, directories, manuals, newsletters, resumes, calendars, meeting agendas, awards, invoices, purchase orders, and weekly time sheets. Along with the standard letter, fax sheet, and memo templates, Lotus Word Pro provides templates for business cards, business plans, newsletters, mailing labels, calendars, invoices, indexes, and tables of contents. WordPerfect's templates include invoices, resumes and much more. In addition, with the growing popularity of the Internet, you'll find Web-page templates in all three word processors.


  • Spreadsheet Templates. You'll find invoice templates in all types of programs, including spreadsheets. Other common spreadsheet templates are for purchase orders, time sheets and expense reports. In fact, the popular programs provide templates for both business and home. For example, Lotus 1-2-3 furnishes templates for amortizing loans, calculating loan payments, and creating territory sales plans. Microsoft Excel's templates include a business planner, car-lease manager, loan manager, personal budgeter, and a sales pricing and tracking system.


  • Database Templates. Database programs are equipped with templates for almost every imaginable use. For example, Lotus Approach's many templates range from a survey builder to a meeting-room scheduler. Using Approach templates, you can track expenses, invoices, orders, shipping, fixed assets, and inventory; maintain your daily schedule; and keep lists of employees and events.


  • Presentation Templates. To create and give an outstanding presentation from scratch, you have to be an expert in graphics, layout and content. With a presentation template, you don't have to worry about the look of the presentation; all you have to do is provide the content. Some presentation templates also allow you to select a graphical background, the length of the presentation, and the type of output: overheads, computer screens, slides or handouts. The most common presentation templates cover meetings, marketing, business plans, sales and training. Microsoft PowerPoint includes templates for recommending a strategy; creating a business plan; selling a product, service, or idea; training new employees and others; tracking a project; and reporting on business finances. Freelance Graphics provides templates for a business review, corporate overview, industry analysis, information technology strategy, new market entry and positioning, product launch, status report, and quality improvement.

Each new version of these programs seems to provide more templates as well as more innovation. You can find a template for almost any imaginable purpose to help you manage your small business more smoothly and efficiently.

Software Support Pages

Most computer companies offer online support and other useful resources on the World Wide Web. Some even have pages of free demonstration software. The following lists each company's home page and main support page.

Apple Computer

Home page: (http://www.apple.com/)

Support: (http://www.info.apple.com/)

IBM

Home page: (http://www.ibm.com/)

Services and support: (http://www.ibm.com/services)

Microsoft

Home page: (http://www.microsoft.com/)

Support: (http://www.microsoft.com/support/)

Claris

Home page: (http://www.claris.com/)

Support and Training: (http://www.claris.com/support/support.html)

Corel

Home page: (http://www.corel.com/)

Support: (http://206.116.221.5/support/)

Lotus

Home page: (http://www.lotus.com/)

Support: (http://www.support.lotus.com/)

Symantec

Home page: (http://www.symantec.com/)

Support: (http://www.symantec.com/servsupp.html)

Sandra E. Eddy is the author of Mastering Lotus SmartSuite 97 for Windows 95 (SYBEX), for which she experimented with templates of every description. She lives in upstate New York.

Contact Sources

Gretchen Beck, E.A., (415) 695-1819.

Moran Marketing Associates, 5005 Hwy. 33 & 34, Farmingdale, NJ 07727, (908) 919-7040.

Pat Coleman, 22235 Cimarron Pkwy., Katy, TX 77450, (713) 395-8738.