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What is Documentation Anyway?

Posted In Operations, Process & Procedures, Small Business ON December 18, 2019

In my last blog, I talked about the disadvantages of running your business from your head. It’s not efficient, it’s hard to scale, and it almost always makes the work harder than it needs to be.

And, I talked about the advantages of documenting how your business runs.

But what does it mean to document? What exactly is documentation?

I’ve found the term can be confusing. When I tell people that I help businesses document their operations, I’m often met with a blank stare. Sometimes people think I’m referring to writing official documents that relate to the government or some kind of regulation. Or, they think I’m writing employee policy manuals, something an HR consultant is more likely to do.

Business operations documentation is basically anything written down that you need to know to run your business day-to-day.

Understanding the different types of documentation can help you think about what you need to document for your business.  Below is a list of several different types and an example of each.

Process: A high-level workflow for sales.
Procedure: Step-by-step instructions for how to onboard a new client.
Policy: A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance policy for handling protected health information.
Guideline: Customer service guidelines.
Reference Table: An inventory of equipment, including serial numbers, model numbers, purchase date, repair service contact information, and warranty details.
Contingency Plan: What to do in the event of an earthquake.
Worksheet: A till-counting and reconciliation worksheet.
Checklist: An opening checklist for your store.

You, as the business owner, get to decide how your business runs. The documentation simply captures the details.

Business documentation doesn’t have to be dry, lengthy, or difficult to navigate. The best documentation is easy to read, succinct, and written in simple language that matches the company culture. 

Unfortunately, those of us already familiar with business documentation may have experienced it as a set of hefty 3-ring binders that collect dust on the shelf, when we should know it as the dog-eared collection of favorite recipes, with food-stained pages from frequent use. 

The advantages of documenting the work are many. Clear documentation allows you to:

  • Share the knowledge with everyone who needs it.
  • Restrict access from those who shouldn’t see it.
  • Reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding.
  • Improve accuracy, consistency, efficiencies.
  • Hold others accountable.
  • Facilitate delegation.
  • Reduce training time.
  • Spend less time, energy, and money running your business.

If you’re a solo business owner and you have no employees, and don’t plan to hire employees, does it still make sense to document the business? 

The answer is a definite yes, and here’s why – 

You can only hold so much information in your head. It doesn’t make sense to crowd your brain with information that can be written down and easily accessed when you need it.

Keeping your brain uncluttered frees you up to engage in more creative problem-solving, maintain focus on the present moment, and stay open to taking in new information. 

Also, having documentation ready if you do decide to hire help in the future, will make that process so much faster and easier.

So, take all those details, facts, figures, and instructions out of your head and store them where you can find them when you need them.

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.

And, if you want to learn more on your own about whether you’re running your business efficiently or running it out of your head, and receive a custom next step for free, you can take this short assessment.