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How to Write Your First Operations Manual [Series- Part 2]


A few weeks ago, I did an article on how to write your first operations manual, where basically we brain-dumped everything we do in our daily business operations.

So now you have all this information, pages and pages of it. And it makes sense, finally, but only to you. We've got tables, and information about all the different things that you do on a daily basis. Today, we are going to learn how to put this information together, to actually create your first ever operations manual, and a few do's and don't's.

1. Break it up into bite-sized chunks!

The first step is to categorize all the information that you churned out, and break the content within this categories into short relevant chapters. You can choose the best way to categorize the different operations in your business. I would recommend you map out a cycle of your business, but in any case, here are the five major categories you can define:

1. Who you are and what you are about- In this category you can put in your vision, mission, your history (brief).

2. General policies- Things that employees can and cannot do.

3. How to Guides- Here is where most of your material will go. Remember to start from the beginning of your business process or customer experience cycle. Let's look at the cupcake business example that we looked at last time. So typically a customer cycle may start with an order of cupcakes. This is where you start. Then follow this up with what happens next. What is the ordering process? What are the documents involved? Start from there and then document each process that happens afterward until the customer receives his order.

4. Checklists- Add simple checklists wherever there are multiple items to remember. This might be during the clean up procedure before and after baking, or the baking ingredients themselves. Checklists are great tools to make sure things get done properly.

5. Appendices- Put all documents that you use for the different procedures here. Your formats for receipts, invoices, any scripts etc. all go here.

Your manual will now begin to take shape.

Your categories and chapters will reform with time as you compare the manual to your operations.

2. Simplify, simplify, SIMPLIFY!

Once you have put all the content in its right category and chapter, it is now time to go over it, and simplify. The manual needs to make sense to the one reading it.

This is a very key element of writing an operations manual. You may feel the need to use big words and really beautifully articulate and embellish what you do on a daily basis, but if it doesn't make sense to the reader, then you might as well not go through this exercise at all. You will not believe how simple, yet how important this step is.

This is the time where you can get your team members involved. Once you have a structure of the manual, have them give you feedback on what they do and do not understand. There might be things that are super simple for you but difficult to fathom for another person.

At the DreamBody Centre, it took us a while to realize that the words we were using in the manual were not being used by our Team Members. For example, we thought that it was really cool to call our first time visitor's forms "Personal Needs Evaluation Form". It turns out that none of our team members were using that term. Not only was it a mouthful but it also confused our guests, who got intimidated by it. Sure, it sounded really cool and was an accurate description, we ended up calling it the "Guest Information Form" which made life simpler for every one.

3. Keep it real!

Just like the point above, you may also be tempted to write in things that you wish were getting done a certain way, but if it is not going to happen in real life, then you might as well not write it down in your manual.

We had a really cool sales technique of breaking down monthly membership fees to insignificance by doing some hi-fi multiplication and division. This was supposed to make the fees look more attractive and great value for money. And although it was a great technique, it was so complicated that no one ever did it. Eventually we took this out of the manual too.

4. Add in the "why"

When a team member understands why he is doing the things that he needs to do, then he does it better and he does not resist. As a business owner, you know the reason behind everything that you do, but do not assume that your employees have the same insight.

Add a little section called "why we do this" at the end of each chapter or each task you outline in the manual. You will see aha moments happening in front of you as it finally clicks in your team member's heads on why you ask them to do a certain thing.

For example, one of the things we always emphasized is asking a guest how they heard about us. We knew that this is very important to find out which marketing avenues are working best for us, so we could invest in the ones that are working and stop the ones that aren't. But you would be surprised that most newcomers that joined us had no idea why this question was so important.

So, with these tips, I think you are ready to finally type out and print your first operations manual.

Remember, this is a continuous process. You will refine your manual as your business grows or as you identify different aspects that you may not have documented. Always remember to review your manual at least once every six months for updates. Always use the operations manual in training on a regular basis, and always ask your team members during this training if what you are training on is being done or not.

The operations manual is a live document that grows with your business, so keeping that in mind, write away!


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