Creating professional business documents in 11 quick steps

Here's how to punch above your weight with your printed documents.

Unless your small business’ charm lies in its tiny size and locality, you’ll undoubtedly wish to exude the impression that while operations may be small, your ideas and professionalism certainly are not. Professional business documents, reports and invoices can immediately create the impression that the firm is a time-served, efficient and trustworthy enterprise. And these 11 quick steps can help you achieve exactly that.

Standardise fonts

Although creating a brand guideline is not something usually associated with small businesses (usually reserved until the firm can afford to chuck money around), it is advisable to standardise the fonts used across all printed and digital medias. Try to stick to a maximum of three different fonts, so there is continuity throughout all business documents.

Create a colour scheme

Similar to the first point, make sure you remember the CMYK code for any graphics and branding used. The last thing you want to present is an inconsistent document with a different shade of blue on every other page. Record these CMYK codes for any colours and tones, so everyone in the business follows this very basic guideline. This tool from Sessions College can help you identify a colour, and store it for later.

Be consistent with formatting

Helping to make the documentation easier to read and digest, formatting should be consistent throughout. Spacing, bullet pointing and title should remain consistent and be closely followed in all future documents.

Create crisp prints

A blurred and faded document is hardly going to project your desired image – meaning it’s vital that all print outs are crisp and clear.

Printer specialists Printerland, suggest that an outdated printer could negatively affect the impression you’re creating with physical documentation: ‘A sharp, clear document with no evidence of bleeding, printed on crisp, high GSM paper can immediately add authenticity to the words and information printed upon it. The appearance of the printed document is the first thing a recipient will judge it upon.’ 

Avoid excessive chart changes

While your school teacher may have applauded a piece of homework incorporating all the different charts provided by Microsoft Word, chart consistency is preferable when creating professional documents. This will make it easier for the recipients to cross reference the charts, and draw accurate conclusions from the data provided.

Employ a meritorious hierarchy

Utilise the inverted pyramid, and tell a story in your documentation. Pitch the most important (impressive) subject matter at the start of the document and then continue with every subject in order of descending importance. 

Italicise, don’t underline

If you are really trying to emphasise a point, resist the urge to underline, embolden or capitalise. This can appear petulant and aggressive. Italicising the sentiment will allow it to stand out without compromising the professionalism of the document.

Align quotes centrally

This is not a novel, all quotes should be given the gravitas they deserve by being aligned centrally on their own line. Pick quotes and pull-out excerpts carefully when employing this technique as they will immediately draw the reader’s eye and attention.

Use the Harvard reference system

Harvard referencing is perhaps the world’s most widely accepted form of sourcing and attribution. Instantly recognisable for all university graduates, the Harvard system will give your documentation a sense of academic authority.

Don’t mix landscapes and portraits

Being forced to switch between landscape and portrait when reading a document can be hugely frustrating, and it hints that the reader entered the project without sufficient planning. Determine whether landscape or portrait best suits the content and information which is being presented and select the format accordingly.

And always sub-edit

Mistakes and oversights could be costly, especially in sensitive and important documents such as business pitches. Make sure you are sending off your best, most accurate, work as a representation of your business, by asking a colleague to spell and fact check the documentation. Naturally, select the colleague with the best eye for detail and brain for grammar; they can help ensure the document will be sent to recipients looking its most professional and impressive.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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  1. My Vision2Learn online course referred me to your article, and it was one of the most helpful links so far.

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