SOPs, guides, Operations Manual... whatever you want to call your workflow, it's important, even for small businesses, to document your processes. This documentation is the roadmap for your business and will help you identify improvements, detours and help guide new hires when your business is ready to grow. Here's what you need to know...
What is business documentation?
As you have built your business, you likely have found there are certain processes you should consistently take to successfully execute a task. For example, when a new prospect contacts your business, you may have requirements to input their information into your client database, make a phone call within 24 hours, send a follow-up email and set up a task to follow-up with the prospect after 3 business days. Without this process, you may have found people who were interested in your product or service were falling through the cracks and you developed a method over time that helped you capture that business.
Business documentation is simply creating a written document of the steps needed to successfully execute each task associated with the operations of your business. You want it to include all relevant information so another person could view it and understand why those tasks are required and how to execute the tasks.
Do I really need to document the process?
Having your processes documented is helpful for your business for many reasons:
Consistency - creating a repeatable process helps your business run more efficiently and in the long run, this will decrease your operating costs. In addition, if you have multiple employees or a partner, these processes will ensure everyone is operating in a standardized way.
Identifies areas for improvement - when things go wrong, you are able to identify areas in your process that are inefficient so you can make improvements to your process.
Training - if you plan to grow your business beyond just yourself, documenting your process is a great training tool as to the why and how things get done. In the event an employee leaves your business, you won't have to worry that they would take all the knowledge with them - you'll already have created written processes that have proven to work.
Compliance - if your business is under regulatory rules, your documentation will ensure you are in compliance.
How do I document my processes?
It's important to create materials that are both clear and concise but also not ambiguous or too detailed. As you go through your documentation process, take notes on what information would be helpful to you if you were doing this for the first time. You may want to include videos, screenshots or flowcharts of the process as a visual aid.
You can start from scratch when completing your business document, or there is software and templates on the market for completing your written document. In certain states and depending on how many employees you have, there may be legal requirements on sections that are required. In general, a small business would include the following sections:
Operational Processes and Policies - this is the main part of your document with both step-by-step instructions on tasks and what policies are in place (including what not to do). Outline how customer service, how to handle difficult customers, return policies, remote work, emergency procedures, and cyber security.
Managerial - this section will have key contact information for vendors, banks, attorney, landlord, insurance company and accountant as well as other additional information not available for employees.
Additional operations processes for different departments - you may have additional operations for Sales, HR, Security, Maintenance, Customer Service, etc.
Organizational Chart with Job Responsibilities
Keep in mind, while this document will lay the foundation of the "why" and "how" to conduct business, it will be a living document, needing updates as your business grows, processes change, or information becomes outdated. This should be reviewed for revisions at least annually. A good time to review your documentation is when you are creating your annual business plan.