In this article, we’ll look at the major ways exporters can complete export documentation: either manually through templates and documents, or through various types of software. We’ll also examine which method is best for small businesses, midsize businesses and large enterprises.
Comparing Different Types of Export Documentation Solutions
Using Word, Excel, Google Docs and PDF Templates
New, inexperienced and unsophisticated exporters often gravitate toward Microsoft Word/Excel/Google Docs/PDF templates as the fastest way to complete export forms. Templates are abundant—a quick Google search returns millions of results, but quantity does not equal quality. Here are some of the biggest considerations exporters should keep in mind when using these types of templates in lieu of export documentation software.
1. Templates Aren’t Always Updated and Current
When you download a document template or use the one your company always uses, you’re trusting that the file is accurate, which may or may not be the case at any given moment. Templates aren’t automatically updated as regulations and requirements change and best practices evolve, nor are those changes reflected in the version of the form you’re using. Furthermore, when you grab a template online or try to format one yourself, you don’t know that document’s validity or intended purpose.
2. Templates Don’t Share Data
You usually need to create a variety of documents for every export shipment. It’s not unusual to prepare five or more forms for every shipment. When you use a Word template or other types of templates for these forms, you have to reenter the same information into these documents again and again.
3. Templates Lack Important Export Features
- Templates don’t give you the ability to file your electronic export information through AESDirect, a critical function.
- Templates don’t easily connect to your company’s accounting, ERP or order-entry system. Having to manually reenter information into your templates rather than being able to import data from your ERP system means lost time and an increased chance of making a mistake.
- Templates don’t include export compliance screening capabilities. Preparing the documents is only part of the job—export compliance is the other half. Don’t wait until it’s too late to understand your role in export compliance.
- Templates can’t easily be modified for each of your users. Different people in your company’s export process have different responsibilities, but templates don’t make it easy to convert back and forth between the imperial measurements most U.S. companies use and the metric measurements often required on export forms. Most templates don’t allow you to convert currencies on an invoice from U.S. dollars to a foreign currency, if required.
4. Templates Don’t Store Contact and Products Information
Templates are a quick and dirty way to complete your export forms. If you don’t do much exporting or you encounter an export document that you don’t regularly need to use, they can be helpful. But templates aren’t ideal for repeated use. They don’t allow you to enter or import lists of your products, customers, freight forwarders, and other contacts and store them in databases like export documentation software does.
5. You Risk Downloading Bad Templates
Not only does relying on templates put you at risk of using outdated or incorrect export forms, it’s a giant security risk. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who are looking to infect your computer with viruses for mischievous or other, more nefarious purposes. By downloading templates from untrusted sources, you may risk downloading a virus, which puts your computer’s stability (and your important documents and files) at risk. Even if you are confident about the quality of the template you have downloaded or created, do you have the same level of confidence about the templates people in other parts of your company are using?
6. It’s Just You and Your Template
When you use a template to prepare your export documents, it’s just you and your computer screen. There’s no one there to answer your questions. There aren’t options for training. There probably aren’t even basic instructions for filling out the form. How’s that for assurance?
7. They Operate In a Silo
The global pandemic created a seventh important reason not to use Word templates to create your export documents: They don’t provide a single common program in which you and your colleagues can create, store and access your documents for all your shipments while you are working at home.
Using Tools Like Shipping Solutions Export Documentation Software
Export documentation software like Shipping Solutions ensures that no matter where your current office space is located, you can make sure your documents are ready as soon as your exports are ready to ship. In fact, we created Shipping Solutions export documentation software specifically because we were relying on templates for our exports and we experienced all the problems listed above.
Here’s why thousands of successful exporters rely on export documentation software instead of templates:
1. Reliable Software with Updated, Accurate Information
With Shipping Solutions, you can be confident that a team of industry experts stands behind the product and works daily to keep it updated. With more than 3,000 clients and hundreds of thousands of shipments under our belt, you can trust that our software reflects industry standards.
2. Safely Share and Collaborate Across Your Entire Organization
Shipping Solutions export documentation and compliance software stores all your shipment records in a centralized database where any authorized user can access the documents being created for the current export shipment, as well as all your previous export shipments. And the software allows you to create reports, so you can quickly identify when, where and how many of your goods you’ve shipped anywhere in the world.
3. Complete All the Important Export Tasks
- Shipping Solutions export documentation software allows you to file your Electronic Export Information (EEI) through AESDirect without having to manually reenter all your export information in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE).
- With Shipping Solutions, you can quickly generate electronic Certificates of Origin or Certificates of Free Sale stamped by a U.S. Chamber of Commerce without having to courier the documents back and forth.
- Not only can you print all your export documents on plain paper, Shipping Solutions software allows you to easily email your completed export forms to your freight forwarders and/or customers, so they can prepare the shipment and begin the customs clearance process.
- Shipping Solutions Professional and Enterprise versions include an Export Compliance Module that allows you to screen all the parties in your export transactions against more than 140 different restricted party lists, check to see if your products require an export license based on their classifications and destination countries, and identify the documents required for your export shipment.
- Shipping Solutions Professional and Enterprise versions connect to your company’s ERP or order-entry system, letting you decide if you want to integrate your shipping and accounting systems and then guiding you through it.
- Shipping Solutions software lets you create a variety of profiles and assign specific user rights, so everyone can do their job without modifying data that shouldn’t be changed.
4. Shipping Solutions Makes Data Entry Efficient and Accurate
Shipping Solutions software allows you to enter all the relevant data once, so you don’t waste time on data entry. Not only is this approach more efficient, but it also maintains consistency across your documents.
Here’s just one example of why consistency matters: If you’re relying on a letter of credit, you have to make sure your documents are uniform in order to get paid. Inconsistent documents take time and money to correct; they will almost always delay your payday, too. In Shipping Solutions, when you correct an error in one place, that correction transfers throughout all the related documents—something that’s impossible to do with templates.
With Shipping Solutions, you can easily select a product or contact from a drop-down list, and the software automatically enters all the related information into the various export documents. Again, the less typing you have to do, the less chance you have for errors that can slow down your shipments and slow down payment. Shipping Solutions software makes sure every employee involved in creating export paperwork does so consistently and accurately.
Shipping Solutions Professional and Enterprise allow you to import your export information from your accounting, ERP or data-entry system, so you don’t have to manually reenter all the data, which saves you time and improves the accuracy of your export paperwork.
5. Customer Service Is a Priority
Talk to a current Shipping Solutions software customer, and they will undoubtedly rave about our customer service. Our live phone and email support, annual maintenance programs, user guides, training videos and online help desk are available to help you easily and successfully complete export forms. You don’t have that support structure if you’re just downloading a template.
Using Global Supply Chain Software
Global supply chain solutions typically include the ability to create export paperwork. This type of software can be very expensive and is geared toward larger corporations of 5,000+ employees. Global supply chain software vendors include:
- SAP’s supply chain software
- Descartes, and more
The benefits of export documentation software at the enterprise level include the following:
- Enterprise software gives you a holistic view of the supply chain for your products/goods. This type of software gives you visibility into product movement from vendor to transportation to import-export to your own warehouse (or vice versa, from warehouse to customer). If you have distributors and/or resellers, they can also be integrated into your system to see their inventory levels.
- It allows you to manage vendor relationships and may also handle the transportation side of things, track your shipment’s inventory, etc.
Global supply chain software is powerful, but it isn’t for everyone. Most small and midsize exporters don’t need (and can’t afford) this level of offerings. Global supply chain systems manage significantly more than export/import documentation, often requiring companies to modify their procedures to fit the software rather than incorporate it into the existing system. It doesn’t adapt to a business’s needs, and there is generally very little ability to customize the documents.
Lastly, these systems are very expensive and can take many months, if not multiple years, to install and train employees before it can be used. Because they utilize data in so many different ways and for so many different purposes, these systems are often not very intuitive and require a lot of training and support.
Once these systems are installed, they can be very difficult to modify so that they don’t negatively impact other parts of the entire enterprise-wide solution. Because of that, changes are usually very expensive and take a long time to implement. Support contracts for these solutions can also be very expensive and often not very responsive.
My Final Takeaway
No matter what option you choose, it’s important to have some kind of export documentation system in place. In my experience, companies run into trouble when they haven’t planned for such a system, or neglect to train their employees in how to properly use the chosen software. Wherever you end up, your decision should be well-considered and thoughtful.
We’d love to show you how Shipping Solutions software might work in your company, so you can see how much easier it is compared to the way you’re filling out forms now. Schedule a free demo of our software today.
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