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Online contract signing: A complete guide

Signing contracts the traditional way, with pen and paper (or even PDF), can be incredibly slow and tedious. If you’re still using these outdated methods, it’s high time you experienced the joys of online contract signing. Not only is it a more efficient method, but it also provides more security. 

1. What is online contract signing?

Online contract signing involves signing using a digital signature or electronic signature (e-signature). These two terms should not be confused though. Essentially, you should think of a digital signature as the technique by which the signature is applied and electronic signatures as the type of signature. 

The majority of electronic signatures today are made using a digital signature, but that doesn’t mean they have to be. For example, if you write your signature on a computer with a stylus or mouse, this will count as an electronic signature, but not a digital one.

So, what is a digital signature? It’s basically a mathematical technique that is used to guarantee the authorship and integrity of a message or piece of data. In this instance we’re talking about the signature on a contract, but this could also include things like emails or bank transactions. 

Electronic contracts - live editable contracts - Oneflow

2. How do you sign an online contract?

It’s very telling that the search volume for “sign pdf online” is in the millions (and it has a hefty CPC – trust us). However, the process itself is incredibly simple. There are many services available that allow you to sign a contract online. 

Just follow these easy steps:

  1. Create the contract you intend to sign using any document editor (e.g. Google Docs or Microsoft Word). Then export as PDF.
  2. Choose a valid electronic signature provider here.
  3. For the sake of argument let’s say you chose Oneflow (you can create an account here).
  4. Verify your email address – click on the link in the Oneflow email and complete your registration by filling in the required fields.
  5. Ta-da! You’re in. Choose “create new contract” and choose the “PDF template”.
  6. Upload the PDF file you want to sign to the template.
  7. Add the counterparty’s email address on the right panel and your contract is ready to send! You can also include personal messages or even add a video to the contract from the Oneflow platform.
  8. You will automatically be notified when your counterparty receives, opens or signs your PDF contract.
  9. Sign the contract and voilà! You’ve just signed a PDF document online with a legally binding electronic signature.
  10. The signed PDF contract can be downloaded through the email automatically sent by Oneflow after it’s signed by all parties.

3. Online contract signing done securely

Digital signatures are, by design, a much more secure method of signing, but there are additional precautions you can take to increase security. We’ve put together some top tips here to help you do so: 

Use a reputable digital signature provider: Choose a provider that offers a friendly user interface, a secure platform and great customer support

Keep software up to date: Check regularly for updates as they can often include security patches that an outdated version wouldn’t provide.

Don’t share your private key: Your private key is the crux of your digital signature’s security. Make sure to keep this information in a safe place and avoid sharing with anyone.

Choose a strong password: Don’t use words or phrases that are easy to guess and try and include a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters.

Use two-factor authentication: It has become very popular for good reason, as it adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a verification code texted or emailed to you.

online contract - Oneflow

4. The A-Z of online contract signing

Creating a signature online is very simple and can be completed in just a few steps. Here’s how (using the Oneflow platform as an example):

1: Choose your digital signature provider

First thing’s first, you’ll need to choose a digital signature provider. There are quite a few providers out there, but it’s important to choose one that meets your needs. Ideally, you want a  provider that offers a friendly user interface, a secure platform and great customer support. For example, Oneflow. 

2: Create your account

After you’ve chosen a digital signature provider, you’ll then need to create your account. Generally you’ll be asked to give your name, email address and choose a password. Oneflow offers a free account – once you’ve created this you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your account. 

3: Complete registration 

Click the link from the email you received and you will be prompted to complete registration of your account.

4: Choose your document

You now have the option to “create new contract”. Select this and then choose “upload PDF”. (Unless you’re working from the premium version of Oneflow and are creating a truly digital contract!) You can now upload the PDF you’re looking to sign. 

5: Add your counterparty(ies)

You’ll now be able to add your counterparty’s email address in the right hand column. When they receive, open or sign your contract you will be notified automatically.

6: Add some personalization

Before you send you can add a personalized message or video to the recipient, providing instructions or just a friendly note, directly in Oneflow.

7: Send and sign

You’re ready to send the contract to your counterparty and sign yourself – you’ve now signed your PDF contract with a legally binding electronic signature!

online contract - Oneflow

5. There’s a better way to sign your online contracts

Your other option when it comes to contracts (besides old school paper and signing PDFs) is truly digital contracts. Unlike PDF’s these are HTML based and fully editable. Rather than living with the friction of sending contracts back and forth endlessly with revisions, you can work on only one version, edit in real-time, and avoid confusion and mistakes! 

It’s also no secret that more and more people are handling everything from their mobiles (70% of B2B contracts are signed on the phone). If you’ve ever tried reading a PDF on your phone, you know full well that it’s not fun. 

With Oneflow’s HTML contracts, text size and line breaks are adjusted to make them easy to read. With these truly digital contracts, you can also encourage negotiation and collaboration by adding interactive fields that the recipient can fill in. All changes and updates are made in real-time, like magic!


7 benefits of electronic signatures in the hybrid workforce


PDF signatures: How to add, create, and attach a signature to a PDF

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