When you start a business, it all starts in your head. You have an idea, fuel it with passion, and then make it real. In the early days of running your business, creating documentation is usually low priority. Accumulated knowledge stays in your head while you figure out what works and what doesn’t.
But once you have established basic operational routines, continuing to run the business from your head doesn’t benefit you or your business. In fact, it is probably getting in the way of your business running smoothly, efficiently, and may even inhibit your ability to grow.
Here are 5 signs that you may still be running your business from your head, why you should stop operating this way, and 5 basic strategies for capturing and organizing your knowledge in writing.
#1 Your business can’t run without you
If you can’t take a vacation, can’t remember the last time you took a vacation, or haven’t had a day off in months because the business can’t run without you, it may be time to step back and honestly ask yourself if this approach is sustainable for you or your business.
Working hard and not being able to take a vacation because of the operational consequences can feel depressing. Even worse is watching your business take a nose dive because you suddenly caught the flu or have to deal with a family emergency.
Whether you dream of a holiday or cringe at the thought of life throwing you a curveball, having your business set up to run without you is important. (And for those who think a vacation is a selfish endeavor with no business benefits, check out my blog: Let me help you take a vacation.).
You worked hard to build your business. With the right documentation and processes in place, your business can run smoothly in your absence.
Sidenote to solopreneurs: you may have trouble stepping away while remaining open for business, especially if you are the only one able to provide the service or product. In that case, documentation and good systems are less about running the business in your absence and more about running efficiently, which I will address in an upcoming blog.
#2 You feel like you’re reinventing the wheel
You renew your business license every year. You pay your taxes monthly. You reimburse your employees for expenses, as needed.
You’ve done these tasks before, but the details in your head have been crowded out by other details and now you can’t remember the steps.
You research and re-learn, feeling frustrated and vowing to write it down so you never have to figure it out again. But once the task is complete, it all seems so obvious, and you’re sure you’ll remember how to do it next time, and you promise yourself you’ll write it down soon…
Can you relate?
Good intentions aren’t quite the same as getting it done. Save yourself the frustration. There is a much better place to store those details than in your head. (And no, your operations manager’s head is not a better place.)
#3 You feel like you’re repeating yourself
You train your employees well but it takes time to absorb and remember all the details. Complicated tasks take longer to learn, especially if they occur only once in a while. People learn at different rates. Details learned can be forgotten or misremembered.
Last week Ingrid had a question. This week Adam needed clarification. Both are great team members who just needed a bit of guidance.
When questions come up and documentation is not available, they either interrupt you (or another team member) or give it their best shot and hope it’s right. Interruptions from questions may not happen every day, but every time they do, they take your time and attention.
Having clear and accessible documentation available to your team in a user-friendly format, will give them the confidence to do their job right. It will save your business time and money. And, it will allow you to stay focused on the big-picture boss activities that only you can do.
#4 Too many mistakes are happening
You know what needs to be done and you know the outcome you want. But, you forget how much you know. And, all that knowledge is stored only in your head.
When explaining something you are very familiar with, it’s easy to leave out a few of the “obvious” details. Or, your clear explanation is interpreted differently than you expected.
Taking an oral tradition approach to sharing knowledge with your team will eventually lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. Mistakes cost money. Rework costs time. They can also cost your team self-confidence and pride in doing their job well.
When instructions are clearly documented, mistakes go down, job satisfaction goes up, and everybody wins.
#5 Delegation is difficult
Delegating tasks will save you time and let you focus on the work only you can do. If you simply explain what needs to be done, you run the risk of future interruptions (see #3) or costly mistakes (see #4). If you wait to write it down until you need to delegate, you may find it will take more time to document than to do it yourself. And, saving you time is one of the main reasons to delegate.
A better strategy is to identify the work you want to delegate and document it in advance. Then when you need to delegate, you’re ready to go.
There are many reasons why running your established business from your head makes your work harder than it needs to be. Having clear documentation in place for you and your team makes it easier to run your business while saving you time and money.
5 strategies to get started:
- Set time aside every week to work on your documentation.
- Choose tools for writing and storing your documentation that you already know and like (e.g., Microsoft Word/DropBox, Google Doc/Google Drive, etc.).
- Use a consistent format and writing style.
- Start general, then fill in the details.
- Gather user feedback early and often.
If you’d like help getting started, need in-depth support, or just want to find out more, email me today to schedule a free phone consultation.