Protect your proprietary information, ensure long-term sustainability, be prepared to train and develop employees, train virtual assistants, and get the funding you need – these are only a few of the things you can accomplish through documentation of systems and processes.
Business Practices Manual
This is the foundation of your documentation process. Identify all of your key business practices, document each one, and compile them in a manual. Include product development, quality control, customer service, internal and external communications, the sales process, financial processes, etc.
When writing your processes, break down each process into steps that are simple and easy for anyone to understand even if they have no knowledge of your industry. If a process has more than seven steps, break it down into two sub-processes. Keep the information clear and straightforward – using graphics and checklists to make each one easy to follow.
The manual can be used as a troubleshooting guide for when things go wrong as well as a training manual for new employees and other purposes..
Use the Business Practices Manual to create training materials for new hires. The training materials can easily be job specific with general information such as an overview of how the company works, learning systems, and policies.
If you rely on virtual help for internet or computer-based tasks, videos are a good way to train. Use screen capture video production software and film yourself actually doing the job. New hires can be given the video tutorials to watch and follow. This method is very effective when hiring and training people for whom English is a second language.
A style guide is a manual that provides a detailed explanation of the company’s preferred style of communication. For example: How to write emails to customers, how to speak to customers/clients on the phones; approved logos for marketing, letterheads, business cards, etc.; format for letters, fax, PowerPoint presentations; and words and phrases to use/avoid in marketing materials.
The purpose of a style guide is to ensure that a uniform “voice” is presented to the public, which is important for branding. Your brand image should be consistent. Some style guides also include ready-made templates that can be used for quick communications.
Visuals are powerful teaching aids and should be used whenever possible in documentation. A graph or diagram explains a process at a glance and eliminates the possibility of confusion that can result with written explanations without visuals.
Mind-mapping can be an effective tool for process documentation. It presents the ‘big picture’ of information in a simple, easy-to-understand way.
Enlist your employees or coworkers to help document your systems and processes. They are in the trenches using the processes every day and may think of details you could forget. They may have other input as well that helps to explain the system more clearly because of their hands-on, day-to-day use. At the very least, ask employees and customers for feedback.
If you have a larger company, you could ask employees to document their own processes, and have others review for accuracy and clarity.
If you are developing a start-up, document your business systems and processes with financial funding in mind. Investors will want to see the documentation. For business loan applications, you will be asked for the documentation to present to the lending institution. The more detailed and thorough your documentation, the better your chances will be to receive the funding you need.
Areas for Improvement
Documentation can also be used to identify areas that need improvement. When you go through the process of writing everything down, you uncover redundancies and outdated or unnecessary steps that can be eliminated for greater efficiency.
Room to Grow
Always allow room for growth. All businesses are dynamic and evolve over time. Processes and systems must be able to keep up with the changes. As the processes are documented, be sure to keep an eye on the future and projected growth.
The documentation should be reviewed regularly – at least once a year – to eliminate waste, increase efficiency, and ensure that everything stays current