OmniGraffle and the W-9

Productivity is an incremental thing. Yesterday, I took another small step by making an OmniGraffle template of a W-9 form so I can quickly send it to clients. The same idea can be used for any repeatedly used form.

W-9 form

I’m not sure what the rules are for W-9s, but I am sure that if there are rules, no one knows what they are. Most of my clients don’t ask for a W-9, and they seem to have no trouble paying their bills. But some insist on getting one every year because they believe it’s an IRS requirement. My suspicion is that these latter companies have a very clever person working in accounts payable who figured out that she could have a lifetime, no stress job by insisting that W-9s are necessary and that she was the ideal person to be in charge of collecting them.

In any event, it’s in my best interest to satisfy these W-9 Nazis, because if they don’t get their forms they’ll either delay payment or take out some withholding. For years, I’ve been photocopying a form we have in the office, filling in the required info, and faxing it off. Yesterday I actually thought about what I was doing and realized how stupid I’d been. But for one field, all the information in the form is the same from one time to the next. All these years I could have been photocopying a mostly filled-in form and just adding the date.

Even better would be a PDF, since most clients now prefer email to faxing, but PDFs generally aren’t editable.1 I made an OmniGraffle template with all the unchanging info, including a digital version of my signature. Now when a request comes in, I open the template, change the date, and email it off using the Mail PDF command in the standard Print sheet.

Mail PDF command

OmniGraffle certainly isn’t necessary—I’m sure you could do a similar thing in Illustrator or Lineform or any other vector drawing or layout application; even word processors like Word and Pages should work—but it’s the program I’m most familiar with, so it took me almost no time to cobble up a template.

The first thing was to go to the IRS site to get a W-9 PDF. It’s such a common request there’s a link to it on the home page. I downloaded a copy to my desktop, and then dragged it into a blank OmniGraffle document. To make it fit on a single sheet, I set the document margins to zero.

OmniGraffle margin settings

Because it includes the instructions, the W-9 file is a multipage document, but when you drag it into OmniGraffle only the first page appears, which is exactly what I wanted. After centering it in the sheet using OmniGraffle’s handy guides, I locked it in place so I wouldn’t keep selecting and moving it by accident when working with the other page items that sit on top of it.

The name, address, and date are just individual text fields set in Helvetica 12 with no special formatting. The boxes are checked with a lower case x. The taxpayer ID number (TIN) is also Helvetica 12, but because it needs to be spread out with one digit in each box, I turned off kerning and played around with the tracking until it fit nicely. A value of 7.5 worked well.

Tracking to fit TIN in boxes

I’ve had a digital version of my signature for 20 years or so. Dropped that onto the form, lined it up, and saved it as a template. Done. Five minutes of work, most of which was messing with the TIN tracking. I’ve spent more time than that just looking for our W-9 and waiting for the photocopier to warm up.

  1. Smile Software makes PDF Pen, which is built for this sort of thing and is pretty well regarded, but I don’t see much value in buying a new application when one I already have can do the job.