How to Create an Electronic Signature

Electronic signatures save businesses time and money by allowing people to sign documents digitally. This guide will explain how to create electronic signatures in your documents.

Updated July 30, 2020

Everyone hates signing paperwork. Printing documents, digging through stacks of paper, making sure you've signed and dated every field, and then scanning it all to send it back is an enormous, time-consuming hassle.

That's why electronic signatures have been a godsend for small businesses. They make it easy to sign a document and return it to the requester within seconds so you can get back to the work that will move your business forward.

If you want to increase the work you get done in a day by cutting down on paperwork, learning how to create your own electronic signatures and adding them to documents is a good place to start because it's so easy.

It’s also good business document management because it creates a streamlined and consistent process for handling documentation that doesn’t involve passing around hard copies.

But how do you do it? This simple guide will help you create your own electronic signatures.

Overview: What is an electronic signature?

An electronic signature or e-signature lets you sign documents virtually without using pen and ink on physical paper, and then either scanning, mailing, or faxing it back to the recipient. Essentially, it makes signing official documents easier and quicker.

An online signature may take the form of an actual handwritten signature (done with a mouse, usually) or simply typing your name or initials in a designated area. Either way, as long as you can demonstrate the recipient had the intent to agree to the document, it will hold up in court as legally binding.

An electronic signature differs from a digital signature in that the form is an actual signature meant to approve documents, while a digital signature refers to the encryption process used to verify that documents are original and have not been altered by unauthorized users.

So, which should you choose — digital or electronic?

  • Choose an electronic signature if you are only concerned with getting a legally binding signature on a digital document and don’t need to go through the extra steps of encrypting the document itself. Making electronic signature documents requires a software or service that allows you to create them. Some are free; some require subscriptions. Once you sign up, you'll be able to add signature fields into a document and then send it to a recipient.
  • Choose a digital signature if you want to place a digital "fingerprint" within the document. The digital signature will add an extra layer of security for important documents so you can ensure no one intercepted the document and tampered with it. A digital signature certificate is tougher to create, but software platforms can help you with this. You will need digital certificates from the certification authority, as well as public and private keys.

Is an electronic signature legal?

Many business owners worry that electronic signatures don’t carry the same legal force as a handwritten signature on a paper document, but this isn’t the case.

Because of the ENSIGN Act, electronic signatures carry the same weight as handwritten signatures in the United States, which allows corporations to shift to this form of signing with confidence that it will not create legal problems.

It is only necessary to create e-signature docs if you want to ensure the document is legally binding.

The ENSIGN Act defines an electronic signature as "an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record," a definition that gives companies flexibility in terms of what kind of signature they want to use beyond the standard signature, since all they have to show is intent to sign.

That may include using the mouse to sign one's name, or merely clicking the Accept button.

How to create an electronic signature

Creating an electronic signature is straightforward, but varies depending on the software you use. Whether you want to sign PDF documents or other docs electronically, a few major platforms are your best options.

Here are five of the most common electronic signature software platforms and how to create a signature in each of them.

Creating an electronic signature with Adobe Acrobat

As one of the biggest names in digital documents, it's not surprising Adobe has electronic signature capabilities. The Fill & Sign tool in Adobe Acrobat will help you create signature fields in the document.

Follow these steps:

  • Click Fill & Sign to the right.
  • Enter the email address of the recipient and a message, and then click Next.
  • Create the form and signature fields.
  • Click Send.

Creating an electronic signature with Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word has e-signature capabilities if you know where to look among their extensive feature list.

Follow these steps:

  • Click where you want the signature.
  • Click on the Insert tab, then click Signature Line at the far right.
  • Enter the requested details, like signer and instructions.
  • The signature line is now set up. Either you or another signer can double-click on it to enter the signature.

Creating an electronic signature with DocuSign

DocuSign has become one of the biggest names in e-signatures. Unlike other platforms that offer many business services, DocuSign is focused almost exclusively on electronic signatures and document management.

Follow these steps:

  • Click NEW and then Send an Envelope.
  • Click UPLOAD and then choose the document you want signed.
  • Enter the recipient details.
  • Create an email subject and message.
  • Drag and drop signature fields from the left pane onto the document where you want the recipient to sign.
  • Click SEND.

Creating an electronic signature with PandaDoc

Electronic signatures are one of several services offered by PandaDoc, which is geared toward sales teams. Using any device, you can create documents and request signatures quickly.

Follow these steps:

  • Upload your document.
  • Drag and drop a signature field into the document where you want you or the recipient to sign.
  • Sign the document, choose a recipient to sign the document, or both.

Creating an electronic signature with HelloSign

HelloSign is an online free electronic signature service that makes it easy to create a doc and fire it off to a recipient immediately. It’s best for those who need a simple and free solution without a lot of bells and whistles.

Follow these steps:

  • Upload your document.
  • Choose who needs to sign, and provide their email addresses. Click Add Signer if you want to add more.
  • Click Prepare doc for signing.
  • Choose the type of signature field you want to create from the toolbar, and then click on the spot in the document where you want to add the signature.
  • Click Continue.
  • Enter a title and message to the signers, and then click Request signature.

Find software that fits your business

Using electronic signatures is one of several best practices for document management. It's one of several reasons you should be using the latest in business software to manage your operations, especially documentation, since paperwork can clutter up the desk of any manager.

Document management software will make your business more organized, which is a must when dealing with legal documents.

You can also check out software reviews at The Blueprint in your industry and look for software options with document management capabilities. Then try a few of them out to see if they make sense for your business. It may revolutionize how you run your business.

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