You’ll almost certainly have an approval process if you work in business. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a global multi-billion-dollar enterprise or you’re a solo freelancer. Odds are that you need to create, approve and send business documents like invoices, receipts, proposals, and more on a daily basis.
Document approval software dramatically speeds up this process. Modern apps provide a suite of tools for automating substantial parts of a typical workflow.
This post explains exactly what an approval process is, how software can be helpful, and also provides tips for picking an app that meets the needs of your business.
Sounds good? Let’s dive in.
What Does a Typical Document Approval Process Look Like?
Most document approval workflows will involve the following stages:
- Document creation: During the creation phase, you generate the first draft of a document. This includes all legal sections, pricing information, and graphics and rich media. Often, reusable templates are employed at this stage.
- Collaboration: Collaboration can occur either alongside or after the document creation phase. Other team members, particularly those with specialist expertise (like legal experts), will make further edits to the initial draft.
- Internal approval: Once you’ve generated the first draft of a document, it will usually need to be sent to other individuals in an organization for their approval. Depending on the size of the organization, this may be one person or several.
- Editing: Managers and other approvers will often send feedback before granting approval. There may be several rounds of editing and feedback before a document is finally ready for sending.
- Client approval: Once a document has been completed, it is sent to the client for final approval. The client may require further edits to be made before signing. Sometimes multiple recipients will need to sign the document.
What is Workflow Approval Software?
Workflow approval applications streamline and automate an organization’s internal approval processes, particularly as they relate to document management.
Here is an overview of the main features of approval automation applications:
- Collaborative document editing: Most applications include an editor where multiple individuals can make changes to a single document. Standard features include notes, joint editing, and chat functionality.
- Automated approval notifications: Once a document is ready for internal approval, it is possible to send email notifications to pre-set groups. Editors will then receive updates when a document is approved or if further changes are required.
- Client behavior tracking: Analytics tools allow you to track recipient behavior after a document has been sent. This makes it easy to manage approved documents and send follow-up correspondence to prompt unresponsive clients to action.
- Online storage: Most software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers offer secure online storage where documents can be accessed easily. Once approved, signed documents are often automatically added to the cloud.
- Integrations: One of the significant benefits of modern document approval apps is that they integrate with other platforms, allowing for the seamless transfer of data. This saves many hours of employee time that would otherwise be spent on manual data entry.
How to Pick Document Approval Software: 3 Tips
When choosing approval process software, keep the following tips in mind to help you find a solution that fits your business needs:
- Evaluate different providers: Features, pricing, and support packages vary significantly between different applications. It’s important to evaluate a range of providers and take advantage of free trials and demos. If you work for a large organization, it may also be worthwhile asking employees to provide feedback on an application’s ease of use.
- Ensure integration with your tech stack: Automating the transfer of data between your document workflow solution and other platforms in your tech stack (accounting, customer management, project management, etc.) can save hours every week. Ensure that your chosen app integrates with your existing solutions. Sometimes a Zapier integration will suffice, but native apps are optimal.
- Look for additional support (if necessary): Compare support packages to ensure that customer service teams are available in your time zone and via your preferred method of communication (email, live chat, or phone). If you require additional onboarding help, pick a package with an onboarding specialist. You may even require a dedicated account manager to help you maximize the application’s efficiency.
Case Study: PandaDoc
PandaDoc is a leading document management application. Let’s take a quick look at its feature set to learn how document approval software works in practice.
Here is an overview of its specific features:
- Document editing: The PandaDoc document editor is designed for ease and speed. It makes use of an intuitive drag-and-drop editor and enables editors to see exactly how a document will appear to a client.
- Reusable content and templates: The document generation process is streamlined significantly by allowing users to access reusable content (such as legal terms) and an extensive library of pre-written templates.
- Automated notifications: Once a document has been sent for approval, the process becomes largely automated. Document creators can save approval groups to ensure that all relevant parties are involved in the future. They will also receive notifications when a document has been approved or sent back for further editing.
- Collaborative editing: If changes are required, notifications will appear in the document editor. It is also possible for approvers to conditionally approve a document, in which case it will be ready for sending as soon as the required changes have been made.
- Client tracking: The PandaDoc analytics dashboard provides client data across a range of metrics, including read, open, and approval rates. This makes it easy to send follow-up correspondence when necessary.
- Electronic signatures and payment buttons: Electronic signature fields and payment buttons take the friction out of the client-facing side of the approval process. These can both be added easily to documents using the PandaDoc editor.
- Integrations: PandaDoc offers many integrations with major CRMs, accounting platforms, payment providers, and more.
- Secure online storage: Documents can be stored securely online, alongside auto-generated signature certificates. They are easily accessible from the PandaDoc dashboard.
- Full compliance with data laws: PandaDoc is compliant with all major data regulations, including GDPR and HIPAA.