Are You Overutilizing or Underutilizing Online Templates?
By Larry Alton

Starting and managing a business is easier today than it’s ever been before, thanks to the resources available to aspiring entrepreneurs. Even if you’re new to the realm of entrepreneurship, you can find countless articles, how-to guides, and perhaps most importantly, templates to help you create your business from scratch. Business plan templates can help you iron out the details of your business idea, contract templates can help you define things like employment agreements and terms of service, and invoice templates can help you invoice your customers consistently.

All of these templates are helpful, so if you’re not using them consistently, it could compromise your business’s potential. But if you over-rely on templates, it could also be problematic. How can you find the balance?

The Advantages of Templates

Templates are important for nearly any business because they offer the following advantages:

  • Time savings. It takes a long time to start a business, and when managing that business, you’ll be stuck investing many hours every week. Templates are useful because they have the potential to save you dozens of hours over the course of your tenure as an entrepreneur. Making a few tweaks to an existing document is way faster than crafting a new one from scratch.
  • Insights and direction. No matter how much experience you have, there are some aspects you’re likely to miss if you’re drafting documents from scratch. For example, you might neglect a key section of a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy for your employees, or not understand how to approach terms for your invoices. Templates provide the foundation for all your work, giving you direction and/or insights you need to be comprehensive.
  • Accessibility. Templates are also very accessible. You don’t need to hire someone to draft them, nor do you need to do exhaustive research to find them. They’re either cheap or free, are available from multiple sources, and are very easy to find, making them very attractive for any entrepreneur.

The Weaknesses of Templates

That said, there are some weaknesses to relying on templates as well.

  • Generic layouts. Every business is unique, but templates are, by definition, designed to be applied to many types of businesses, if not all businesses. Accordingly, they’re rarely a perfect fit for your business, specifically. For example, the invoice may feature line items or spaces for information that isn’t relevant to your business, or your employment agreements may not feature an important section about how to handle your equipment. You can correct for this by seeking templates that are specific to your industry, or relying on templates created by businesses similar to yours.
  • Missing terms, conditions, etc. Often, a template won’t have specific sections or language that provides you with competent legal protection. This is especially important for documents like privacy policies, terms and conditions, or contracts. It’s easy to tell if a document features a section that you don’t need, but it’s much harder to recognize when a document doesn’t have something you do need—unless you have experience. You can compensate for this weakness by reviewing multiple templates of the same type, or by working with an experienced professional (like a lawyer) to make sure all your bases are covered.
  • Overconfidence. If you rely on templates for all your business needs, you may become overconfident in your abilities, or overly trusting that your documentation will cover all your needs. This tends to make entrepreneurs less likely to think critically about the materials they create and increase their chances of overlooking a key detail.
  • Unoriginality. If your templates are customer-facing, like if you’re relying on a website template or a contractual template, there’s a chance your customer could recognize what you’re using (especially if they’re relying on templates themselves). Depending on the type of business you’re working with, this could deal a blow to your reputation; using a template without significantly adapting it to your needs could be a sign that you aren’t putting in enough effort.

Entrepreneurship in the Age of Technology

Technology has made entrepreneurship more accessible and more efficient, but relying on tech isn’t strictly effective, nor can it be harnessed without also considering its weaknesses. Success in this era of entrepreneurship requires a balanced approach, and one that doesn’t rely on assumptions or someone else’s work. Templates aren’t, by themselves, good or bad for businesses. Instead, everything depends on how you use them, and whether you’re able to understand and account for their downsides.