What is a bill of lading and what is its purpose?

bill of lading

What is a bill of lading (pronounced “ leyding ”? The word “lade” means to load a burden or freight into or onto something, usually a large vehicle, and the lading is both the act of doing that loading and the cargo or shipment itself. Originally, a bill of lading was a ship’s cargo list, but today it is also used to refer to the contract made between two parties: the shipper of goods and the carrier of those goods (a trucking company, railroad, ship, or air freighter).

A bill of lading is a receipt or form that is filled out by one of the parties involved in a shipment that acknowledges what goods have been consigned for shipment (type, amount, number of boxes, weight, special handling requirements, rate/class, hazardous material notes), to which company it has been consigned, which company did the consigning, where the goods are being shipped from, and where they are going. It also has an individual number assigned to it, for ease in tracking each shipment; includes copies for all parties involved at both ends; and can include other information deemed necessary for successful shipment and delivery, such as who has to sign for it at the receiving end, what payment procedure and method is required, and to whom the bill is to be sent.

Most transportation companies offer blank forms for customers to keep on hand. This can be the fastest and easiest way to handle bills of lading in the beginning, especially if you are only using that particular transportation company at the present and have no need for additional information that the company’s form may not include. However, once you need extra information or are using more than one company for your shipping needs, you will want to have a bill of lading form designed to fit your particular needs.

Appropriate forms can be made for you by a print shop if you already know what you need and can provide a camera-ready sample. If you don’t have any idea what you want it to look like, you may require the assistance of a designer, which can be pricey.

Be sure, if you decide to hire a designer, that you sit down on your own time and draw up a list of all the information you want the bill of lading to contain and a rough sketch of how you want it to look. Take samples of other forms, your logo, and so on to the first meeting. This will keep you from wasting the designer’s time and yours and can save you money if the job is being done by the hour.

However, going the print shop route, even if you know exactly what you want, may still be too expensive, since they may require a minimum number of forms to be ordered at one time that is larger than your current needs require. Instead, if your need is small but specialized, why not investigate purchasing forms online? There are several excellent business form websites that offer forms that can be customized and downloaded as needed, for pennies each.

Your best bet may actually be designing your own form on your own computer, where you can print out as few or as many forms as you need each week when you need them, and make changes as needed. No more running out of forms and making panicked runs to the print shop. No more problems caused by a downed server connection.

And it’s easy, too, even if you have no experience or talent inform design. There are a number of software packages for just this purpose (some of them offer other forms as well) and they are readily available at many office supplies and computer software stores or online.

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