Your customers and subs might be able to open Word documents you send them, but what about CAD drawings or MS Project job calendars? Or what if you want to save a paper sketch or a building permit onto your computer so you can e-mail it to your lead carpenters? The solution is the Portable Document Format -- PDF. Using Adobe Acrobat Standard Version 6.0 ($299 from www.adobe.com), you can create files that can be viewed by anyone with a Web browser and the free (downloadable) Adobe Acrobat Reader, no matter what the source of the original document.
Acrobat runs on both PCs and Macs. To convert a file to PDF, send the file to Acrobat by "printing" the file and selecting the Acrobat printer that will appear on your printer list after installation. You can also convert paper documents to PDF using an inexpensive scanner. Once created, PDF files retain the formatting of the original document and will look the same when printed.
Acrobat also adds its own bag of formatting tricks. You can add hyperlinks, searchable tables of contents, and electronic signature fields, among other features, improving efficiency by "digitizing" your paperwork. Here's a list of a few options you could include.
* Highlight a place for your clients to electronically "sign" documents that are otherwise read-only.
* Create an online library of project documents with added hyperlinks that connect each to, for example, a product Web site or local permit agency.
* Convert client questionnaires and employment applications to an electronic format that can be filled out online and e-mailed back to you.
* Create or reformat sales materials, company newsletters, and client relations materials (what to expect during the project, for example) into Web site content -- without writing a single line of HTML code.
* Instantly distribute drawings, schedules, estimates, or specs to anyone on your project team, regardless of whether they use a PC or a Mac.
Inexpensive and easy to use, Acrobat is one of the most versatile pieces of software remodelers can have in their digital tool kit. --Joe Stoddard is a technology consultant to the building industry. For more information, visit his Web site at www.mountainconsulting.com.