In today’s digital age, traditional paper signatures have become increasingly outdated and impractical. With the rise of remote work and virtual transactions, businesses and individuals alike have turned to electronic signatures, also known as eSignatures, as a convenient and secure way to sign documents.
Whether you’re a business owner, legal professional, or simply someone who needs to sign a document online, we’ve put together this ultimate guide to eSignatures, with all the essential information you need to know to confidently use digital signing for business and personal documents – from signing sales contracts to paperless forms.
In this guide, we’ll cover what an eSignature is, how to legally create and validate one, and discuss all the features and benefits of electronic signing for both businesses and individuals.
What Is An ESignature?
Electronic signatures are digital tools used to electronically complete agreements, sales contracts, and other essential documents.
They play a critical role in streamlining online business processes, protecting organizations from the potential for fraud, and ensuring compliance with the law. This is achieved through customizable workflows, link sharing with recipients, and the use of predefined templates and fields suitable for your team’s specific needs.
An eSignature can take many forms such as a typed name, a scanned version of one’s signature, or even a simple checkbox confirming that you accept the terms of a document.
Why Use Electronic Signatures
E-signatures offer significant advantages over traditional pen-and-paper methods by providing speed, convenience, and cost-efficiency. They enable instant signing of documents from anywhere at any time, eliminating the need for physical presence or the need to print, fax, scan, or mail documents. This not only accelerates the completion of agreements but also significantly reduces operational costs.
E-signature platforms come with robust security features such as encryption and authentication, providing a secure way of signing documents. Additionally, they maintain a complete, time-stamped audit trail of the signing process, offering legal proof of transactions. E-signatures are recognized and legally accepted in many jurisdictions, making them a preferred method for signing legal documents.
The use of e-signatures also greatly enhances customer experience in the digital age. They allow businesses to streamline their processes, reduce errors, and better manage documents, all of which contribute to improved customer satisfaction. And as a bonus point, e-signatures are environmentally friendly, reducing the demand for paper and contributing to conservation efforts.
Is Electronic Signature Tech Right For My Startup?
The decision to implement electronic signature technology largely depends on your specific needs, the nature of your work, and the volume and type of documents you deal with. Here are a few considerations to help you decide:
- The Volume of Documents: If you handle a large number of documents that require signatures regularly, then electronic signatures can significantly speed up the process and increase efficiency.
- Remote Work or Geographic Dispersion: If your team, clients, or stakeholders are geographically dispersed or work remotely, e-signature technology can facilitate the signing process without the need for physical presence.
- Security: E-signature platforms usually provide robust security measures, including encryption and authentication. If you handle sensitive documents, e-signatures can offer enhanced security.
- Costs: E-signatures can help reduce costs associated with printing, scanning, mailing, and storing physical documents.
- Legal Requirements: E-signatures are legally recognized in many jurisdictions. If your documents need to comply with specific legal standards, electronic signatures may be suitable.
- Customer Experience: If you want to improve your customer experience by providing a quick, efficient, and modern signing process, e-signatures can be a good fit.
- Environmentally Conscious: If you’re looking to reduce your environmental footprint, transitioning to e-signatures can significantly decrease paper use.
Before implementing any new technology, it’s always a good idea to consider your specific needs, conduct thorough research, and possibly consult with an expert or a legal advisor.
Are Electronic Signatures Legally Binding?
The legality of eSignatures has been recognized by numerous countries around the world. In the United States, the electronic signatures legal framework was established with the implementation of two pieces of legislation: the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN Act) of 2000 and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) of 1999. These acts state that a contract or signature, “may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.”
In the European Union, eSignatures are regulated under the eIDAS (Electronic Identification, Authentication, and Trust Services) regulation adopted in 2014, which ensures that they are recognized and can be used in legal proceedings throughout most countries in the EU.
Despite these regulations, it’s important to note that the enforceability of eSignatures can sometimes depend on the type of document being signed and local jurisdiction. Therefore, it’s always advisable to consult with a legal expert when implementing eSignatures into your business practices.
Difference Between A Digital Signature And An Electronic Signature
It’s important to distinguish between electronic signatures and digital signatures, as they are not exactly the same although they are used interchangeably. While a digital signature is a form of electronic signature, not all electronic signatures are digital signatures.
For starters, digital signatures utilize a cryptography-based technology that provides a higher level of security and integrity for the document being signed, while an electronic signature can be as simple as an image of a signature pasted into a document or an email signature.
Digital signatures also utilize Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) standards and procedures to sign electronic data with a cryptographic key, ensuring that the contents of the signed document itself cannot be modified or tampered with without invalidating the signature.
Digital signatures offer the highest level of assurance of the identity of each signer and the authenticity and integrity of the document, making them suitable for use in complying with the most demanding regulatory requirements.
Automated ESignature Tracking
Automated electronic signature tracking is a feature provided by eSignature solutions that allows businesses to track the status of electronic signature documents. The process begins by distributing the document and tracking its status in real-time. The platform provides updates on whether the document has been opened, viewed, signed, or is still pending.
Automated notifications are sent to signers to remind them to sign, and to the sender once the document is signed. Once all signatures have been collected, the system marks the document as complete and notifies the relevant parties.
Automated eSignature tracking helps improve efficiency, accountability, and transparency in the signing process. It helps businesses expedite the signing process and ensures that no document is forgotten or overlooked. The system provides a clear record of the document’s progress and who has signed it, which can be useful for auditing and compliance purposes.
Places Where Signatures Can Be Used
There are various options available for customers to electronically sign documents requesting signatures, depending on the eSignature solution you are using. Here are some common options:
- Online Signing Portal: Many eSignature solutions provide an online signing portal where customers can log in and sign documents electronically. This portal can be accessed via a web browser on any device with an internet connection.
- Email: Some eSignature solutions allow you to send documents for signature via email. The customer receives an email with a link to the document, which they can open and sign electronically.
- Mobile App: Some eSignature solutions have mobile apps that allow customers to sign documents electronically from their mobile devices.
- API Integration: If you have a custom application that you use to interact with customers, you may be able to integrate an eSignature solution’s API to enable electronic signing directly within your application.
It’s important to choose an eSignature solution that is user-friendly, considering factors such as ease of use, security, and compatibility with existing systems to secure a fine electronic process for your customers.
How To Add Electronic Signatures To A PDF
Adding an electronic signature to a PDF is a straightforward process with many eSignature solutions. Here’s a general overview of the steps involved:
1. Choose an eSignature solution: There are many eSignature solutions available that offer different features and pricing plans. Choose an eSignature solution or free plan that fits your needs and budget (see a few options later on in this article).
2. Upload your PDF: Once you’ve chosen your eSignature solution, upload your PDF document to the platform.
3. Add signature field: Select the signature field option and place the field in the desired location on the PDF.
4. Sign the document: Sign the document with signature electronically, by drawing your signature on the signature field, typing your name, or selecting a pre-existing signature from your library.
5. Send upload documents for signature: Once you’ve signed the document, send it to the relevant parties for their electronic signature.
6. Track progress: Many electronic signature software offer automated tracking and notifications that keep you updated on the status of the document.
7. Download or save: Once all parties have signed the document, download or save a copy of the signed PDF for your records.
How To Add Electronic Signatures To A Word Document
The process for this is pretty much similar to the process for adding signatures electronically to PDF. Here’s a general overview of the steps involved:
1. Choose an eSignature solution: There are many eSignature solutions available that offer different features and pricing plans. Choose an eSignature solution that fits your needs and budget.
2. Upload your Word document: Once you’ve chosen your eSignature solution, upload your Word document to the platform.
3. Add signature field: Select the signature field option and place the field in the desired location on the Word document.
4. Sign the document: Sign the document electronically by drawing your signature on the signature field, typing your name, or selecting a pre-existing signature from your library.
5. Send for signature: Once you’ve signed the document, send it to the relevant parties for their electronic signature.
6. Track progress: Many eSignature solutions offer automated tracking and notifications that keep you updated on the status of the document.
7. Download or save: Once all parties have signed the document, download or save a copy of the signed Word document for your records.
These steps outlined (both for the PDF and Word document process) may vary depending on the electronic signature software you choose. Be sure to follow the instructions provided by your electronic signature provider to ensure a successful signing process.
How To Know When A Document Is Signed
When you send a document for electronic signature, you can track its progress using most eSignature solutions. Here are some common ways to know when your document is signed:
- Automated notifications: Many eSignature solutions send automated notifications to all parties involved in the signing process. These notifications may include alerts when the document is opened, viewed, or signed.
- Real-time tracking: Some eSignature solutions offer real-time tracking, which allows you to monitor the status of the document as it moves through the signing process. You can usually view the status of the document in your eSignature platform account.
- Audit trail: Most eSignature solutions generate an audit trail for each document that records all actions taken during the signing process, including when the document was opened, viewed, and signed. This audit trail can be used to verify the authenticity and integrity of the document.
- Completed document: Once all parties have signed the document, most eSignature solutions will mark the document as complete and send a final notification to all parties.
Specific tracking and notification features may vary depending on the electronic signature solution you choose. Make sure to select an eSignature provider that offers the tracking features you need to ensure you can monitor the status of your document during the signing process.
Are Electronic Signatures Secure?
Electronic signatures are generally secure when appropriate security measures are taken by the eSignature solution and its users. These measures include authentication, encryption, audit trails, compliance, and provider security.
Most eSignature solutions use various authentication methods to verify the identity of signers, encrypt documents during transmission and storage, generate audit trails for each document, comply with regulatory standards, and use appropriate security measures to protect data.
To ensure the security of electronic signatures, it’s important to choose a reputable provider that has appropriate security measures in place and to follow best practices for secure usage. This includes using strong passwords, keeping signing devices secure, and selecting an eSignature solution that complies with relevant regulations. This way, when you sign electronically, you can be confident about the security and authenticity of the transaction.
Types Of Esignatures I And My Recipients Can Use
eSignatures have become increasingly popular as businesses continue to digitize their processes. There are different types of eSignatures that you and your recipients can use but the best type of eSignature for you will depend on your specific technology and security needs and legal requirements. There are a bunch of electronic signatures but here are the four broad types there are:
1. Click-to-Sign Signatures: These are basic eSignatures that usually involve clicking on a button or typing a name into a field. They may also involve clicking on an “I accept” checkbox.
2. Digitized Signatures: This type of signature is created by using a touchscreen, mouse, or stylus to “write” a signature into a signature box. The resulting image is then appended to the document.
3. Basic Electronic Signatures: This is a broad category that includes any type of electronic data (like a symbol, sound, or process) that is logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.
4. Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES): These are more secure than basic eSignatures. AES must be uniquely linked to the signatory, capable of identifying the signatory, created using signature creation data that the signatory can, with a high level of confidence, use under their sole control, and linked to the data signed therewith in such a way that any subsequent change in the data is detectable.
Top 5 ESignature Tools Startups Can Use
DocuSign is one of the most widely used eSignature tools and for good reason. It offers a comprehensive suite of features including mobile signing, bulk sending, and integrations with many popular business applications. It also offers robust security measures to protect your documents.
- Responsive Signing
- Bulk Sending
- Advanced Authentication
- Complete Audit Trails
$10 – $40+/mo
2. Adobe Sign
Adobe Sign is another reputable eSignature tool. It integrates seamlessly with Adobe’s suite of products, as well as many other software applications. Its features include workflow automation, customizable templates, and a user-friendly interface.
- Workflow Designer
- Mega Sign
- Widget Creation
- Hybrid Routing
- Standards-Based Digital Signatures
Individuals: $13.96 – $21.49/mo
Teams: $16.11 – $25.79+/mo
3. DropBoxSign (Formerly HelloSign)
HelloSign is known for its user-friendly design and straightforward pricing. It offers features such as team management tools, customizable templates, and integrations with popular platforms like Google Workspace and Dropbox.
- Auto-fill documents from Dropbox files
- Dropbox Integration for seamless document storage and access
- Embedded Signing
- Flexible signing options with HelloFax integration
- In-person Signing
$15 – $25/mo
SignNow offers a great balance of functionality and affordability, making it an ideal choice for startups. It provides features like document editing, role-based signing, and an audit log for enhanced security.
- In-Person Signing
- Role-based Invite for multiple signatories
- Template Link sharing for efficient document distribution
- Kiosk Mode for gathering multiple signatures on a single device
- Integration with USLegal for access to a vast library of legal forms
$8 – $50/mo
PandaDoc is more than just an eSignature tool; it’s an all-in-one document automation software. It offers eSignature capabilities but also includes proposal, contract, and document management features. Its integration capabilities and customizable templates make it a versatile tool for startups.
- Interactive quoting
- Content locking
- Approval workflows
- In-document analytics
- Electronic payments
$19 – $49+/mo
Scrive is a premium eSignature solution recognized for its ease of use, high-grade security, and versatile features, such as document workflows and electronic sealing, along with smooth integrations with various business software.
- Detailed event log
- Two-factor authentication
- Onboarding and Identity verification
- Scrive API
- Multichannel delivery
Free – Є35+/mo
Answers To Common Questions
- Are There Any Legal Implications To Using ESignature Technology?Yes, there are legal implications to using eSignature technology. In many jurisdictions, digital signatures are legally binding documents that must be recognized in a court of law. E-signature technologies are used to create secure and legally valid documents that can be used just as physically signed documents would be.They must meet certain criteria with regard to authentication, integrity, non-repudiation, and traceability in order for an e-sign act to be considered legally binding in most jurisdictions. Additionally, various countries have their own separate sets of laws related to eSignature technology and its usage, so it is important to understand the legal landscape when setting up an electronic signature system.
- How Secure Is ESignature Technology?eSignature technology is extremely secure thanks to its encryption, authentication, and validation processes. Encryption ensures that all data is scrambled so it cannot be read except by those with access to the encryption key. Authentication requires verification of the signer’s identity, so any changes to the document are easily traceable.Lastly, validation verifies the integrity of the signatures—it can detect if a document has been tampered with or forged in any way. With these three processes in place, eSignature technology can provide greater security than traditional paper documents.
- How Does ESignature Technology Work?eSignature technology works by allowing people to electronically sign documents in a secure and legally binding way. This is done by legally binding electronic signatures using a variety of cryptographic algorithms and digital signatures that are designed to make it difficult for someone to tamper with or alter the document after it has been signed. When an individual e signs a document, the signature is securely stored digitally and can be verified later on through various methods such as public/private key encryption, hash algorithms, and Digital Certificates.The system works by first encrypting the signature. This signature is then stored along with other identifying information about the signer, like a username and password. The document itself is then encrypted so that only the signer will be able to view it, ensuring security and authenticity when viewed again. Once these steps have been taken, the eSignature can be sent back and forth between parties electronically and will automatically verify itself upon receipt, without any additional processing required on either side.The digital signature also acts as a guarantee that the document has not been altered since it was initially signed. Any type of tampering or alterations would be detected during the verification process which would prevent any fraudulent activity from occurring. In this manner, eSignatures ensure legal accountability for parties involved in a transaction by legally binding signatures, providing evidence of the agreement between both parties involved and date-stamping the document.
eSignatures have revolutionized the way we sign and manage documents in the digital age. These electronic signatures provide not just convenience but also robust security, enabling remote document signing and management. This feature is indispensable for individuals and corporations alike.
Incorporating eSignatures into your daily business is like killing two birds with one stone: you can streamline your document signing processes, reduce paperwork, and improve your overall efficiency. So why not embrace the power of eSignatures today and start transforming the way you do business!