Every operations manual is different, so there's no exact formula to follow. You'll want to create one that essentially maps out exactly how things get done in your specific business. Start with your company's mission statement, the products and services it offers, and any goals or values about your business that you may wish to communicate to others. Include an organizational chart and job descriptions. After that, you may want to break instructions down into distinct areas, including:
- How-to procedures, such as how to open and close your office, store, warehouse or other physical locations
- Phone numbers, e-mail addresses and other ways to reach clients, vendors, suppliers, insurance companies, the security company and other important contacts
- Business-related policies, such as whether you issue refunds or accept payment by credit card
The operations manual, essentially, is a tool kit for replicating your knowledge of your business and what you do on any given day. As your business grows, you may wish to have separate manuals for different departments or divisions. You might also develop a basic version for entry-level employees and a more detailed version (with sensitive information on finances, for example) for senior managers.
David Wong, a dentist in Tulsa, Okla. built his practice from the ground up, and now has a thriving business worth more than $1 million. Wong says he was able to train his employees— and empower them to run the operation if need be— by writing out all his policies and procedures. Wong found it easiest to break his business down into five categories— organization, marketing/sales, people, technology and capital— and advises other entrepreneurs to come up with categories that make sense for their businesses. "Think up everything you do on a daily basis, and try to put them into one of these categories," he says. Here's how he tells other business owners to write an operations manual:
Organization. Write out all that's involved in your daily operations. Outline who's in charge of opening the business
for the day and exactly how they should go about doing that. Provide specific instructions: park in the back, enter through the side entrance, unlock the door, disarm the security system, turn on all the lights, unlock all the doors and change the sign to Open. You'll also want to write down how to answer the phone, how to greet a customer, how to handle an angry client and any other related matters.
Marketing/sales. You'll want to keep track of basic information, such as where your business cards, brochures, direct mail pieces and other promotional materials are printed, and how often. You'll want to describe how leads are generated, how they are followed up, how your company handles customer service, and anything else that has to do with generating new and repeat business.
People. You'll want to write down all your staff positions, plus the job descriptions. For your current staff, record details of when (and how) each employee began or ended employment. Include a copy of your employee handbook, which covers everything from how employees should dress to how they earn bonuses and vacations.
Technology. Outline all the machines, computers, software and equipment that you use to keep your business up and running. Discuss how your various pieces of technology operate, what they do, how they are maintained, who needs to use them and how employees are trained to use them.
Capital. Include your company's financial statements and an explanation of how your budget is made and evaluated. Cover numerous details related to your company's financing operations, such as whether you have or are seeking loans, what to do with profits, how you set fees or prices for your goods or services, how you handle payroll and any details of your lease, if applicable.
Wong admits that it took some time to write out his operations manual, but now "it is easier to see the big picture of operating a business," he says. "The task is not so daunting. It can even be kind of fun!"