If you were in an accident or got sick, what would happen to your business Could your business continue operating for several weeks or months without your day to day attention? Could your spouse or a family member or a trusted employee step up and keep it going, until you returned?
For many business owners, I'm afraid the answer would be "no." The business would quickly wither and die down or collapse altogether if without our attention for extended periods. With a small business, so much depends on the individual business owner who runs things day to day.
That's where systematized activities and an operations manual come into play.
Recently franchise expert Joel Libava wrote about the need to write down processes and procedures if you intend to franchise your business. That's the only way your franchisees can replicate your processes and success.
That got me to thinking about the need for an operations manual even if you have no intentions of franchising. I suddenly realized that most of what it takes to run my business is in my head. Even when I've had to train staff and explain processes, it's been 90% verbal.
And that's not good.
So, I've started writing down my processes. It's been 2 weeks. Already I have 15 processes documented. And I did it without carving out huge blocks of time. The Operations Manual is materializing almost effortlessly, integrated into my daily activities.
Here's how I am creating my Operations Manual with no fuss, no muss:
(1) Explain Instructions in Email -- When one of my staff or a service provider is tackling a new activity, instead of providing direction verbally, I now send emails or send instructions via instant messenger. In other words, I write it down. I explain the process or a problem-solving solution succinctly in bullets or numbered steps. We often have verbal conversations in addition, but written instructions are good because they give staffers something to refer back to. And staffers can ask questions verbally if they need clarification later on.
(2) Copy and Paste into a Word Document -- After I send out the instructions, I quickly copy and paste the email or instant message contents into a Word document. I give the Word document a descriptive name. Most such processes are short -- from half a page to 2 pages in length.
(3) Save it in an Operations Manual Folder -- I've set up a separate folder on my computer called "Operations Manual." Each Word document is then saved in that folder.
As I said, I now have 15 different processes documented. They range from simple tasks such as "How to clean up dead links" in my Web properties and "Backing up template files before making changes" to "Format for writing a product review."
Each took 10 - 30 minutes to document this way. In all, I have spent maybe 2 - 3 hours. It is time I would have spent anyway to train and direct people working for me. So it feels as if the Operations Manual is almost effortless.
To some people, the above procedure may seem random. But I consider it a realistic approach for small business owners, especially sole proprietors and microbusiness owners.
You see, to me, the big challenge is just getting started on an Operations Manual. When tackling a huge writing project, there's nothing more intimidating than staring at a blank computer screen. I know I will need to fill in other processes at some point, if I want a comprehensive Operations Manual. But at least I will be part way there. I already have 21 pages written.
What about you? Do you have an Operations Manual or something you could use to keep your business operating, even if you are temporarily not able to run it? If so, how did you create yours?
PS, For a more traditional approach to developing an Operations Manual for your business, please see:
Automate Your Business
How to Write an Operations Manual