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The only thing as certain as death and taxes is that a form will have to be completed for each. Despite predictions about the "paperless office," paper-based forms are still the primary means of transmitting and storing information. As a business owner, you'll need dozens of forms, including invoices, purchase orders and more.
If your forms requirements are simple, check your existing software first. Most word processing and spreadsheet programs come with templates for the basic forms you need.
But developing anything but the simplest forms with these programs is difficult. If your business needs something more complex, consider forms software, which lets you create and fill out forms electronically. Depending on your needs, you'll want to ask some or all of the following questions before settling on a forms software product:
- Forms library: How many ready-to-use forms come with the program? Do they look professional?
- Design capabilities: Can you drag and drop fields and boxes from one location to another? Are there ruler and grid functions to help you line up items? Can you import graphics such as your company's logo?
- Editing capabilities: Can you change font attributes such as size and typeface? Does the text stay attached to a field when you move it? Can you spell-check the form?
- Data entry: Is the form static, like a piece of paper, or does it serve as a data entry window? Can you add fields that calculate values based on other fields? Can you secure the form so that only you can modify it?
- Database capabilities: Is the database format proprietary, or can you link the form to any standard database? What reports can you print from the database? Can you output mailing labels?
IMSI Corp. markets a family of forms software for business use. Its entry-level program, FormTool Express ($39.95, 800-833-8082, http://www.imsisoft.com), comes with 250 ready-made forms, easy editing tools, a spelling checker and a complete database.
For advanced needs, IMSI offers FormTool 97 ($69.95). This software adds more forms, a label creator and electronic routing via a network or e-mail. IMSI's FormTool Scan & OCR ($99.95) lets you scan paper forms into electronic forms that you can customize, fill out and route.
Similar to FormTool but simpler is Forms Unlimited 2.0 from Parsons Technology ($29, 800-973-5111, http://www.parsonstech.com). Forms Unlimited comes with 155 customizable forms for business and home, lots of editing tools, and forms management functions such as password protection.
On the more sophisticated end is OmniForm ($149, 800-654-1187, http://www.caere.com) from Caere, a maker of scanning and OCR software. Among its features are a Form Assistant to guide you through the scanning process and Logical Forms Recognition technology to scan forms accurately. OmniForm automatically turns form elements into fillable fields and creates a database for each form.
Whichever product you choose, look for demo versions or 30-day money-back guarantees that let you try before you buy.
Robert Schmidt (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a computer and business writer in Culver City, California.
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