Tools To Help You Create A Business Operations Manual

Suddenly the job he knew how to do so well becomes one job he knows how to do plus a dozen others he doesn't know how to do at all. ~Michael Gerber, The E-Myth

How consistent is your business?

Do you, as the business owner, deliver a different experience for your customers than your employees?  Why is that?  It can be a number of things such as experience, attitude, training, etc.  One of the things that customers like from a business is consistency.  Don't get consistency mixed up with mediocrity, as you can consistently deliver a fantastic experience….if you plan for it.

When it comes to delivering a fantastic experience, repeatedly, for your customers, look to franchising.  Wait, what?

Who wants to run their business like a fast food chain?  Before you draw up your mental images of what you think franchising is all about, let me remind you that the Fours Seasons Hotel and Resort chain is a franchise.  So is Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.  Franchises come in all shapes and sizes.

There are many advantages and disadvantages of being a franchise owner.  But one of it's biggest advantages over independent businesses is that they have a written operations manual that is distributed and used across hundreds (sometimes thousands) of individuals franchise locations.  This is one of the reasons they are able to open and operate thousands of locations…….and you struggle to manage a single location.

As Michael Gerber said in the E-Myth, “how is it that McDonald's can deliver a consistent experience across thousands of locations, when the average small business owner can't do it for just one?”

So how do you, as an independent small business owner, go through the arduous task of creating your own written operations manual?

To get a better understanding of what an operations manual is and what needs to go in there, check out this article I wrote on how to create an operations manual.  Once you're familiar with what you're supposed to do, I wanted to show you some of the tools I use in actually creating the manual.  These tools can also be used for creating an employee handbook, or just about any other documentation you need for your business.

Purchase our 300+ page Operations Manual Template for only $29.99. Originally sold to franchises for over $1,000. Instant download. Click here to learn more or add to cart now.

Screen Steps

This is my go to tool for creating any sort of “how to” or step by step guide.  Screen Steps is a simple to use desktop program (kind of like Word) that lets you create documentation for anything you need.  It's relatively inexpensive and will save you loads of time if creating documentation is something you do for your business.  I do warn you that you may get carried away with it…..I created a “How to unclog the toilet” guide for the office, complete with images.  Yes, I do get made fun of.

Use Screen Steps to create an operations maual

Examples of how I use it

  • Operations and Employee manuals
  • “How To” process guides for specific tasks
  • Documentation for software and hardware we use in our business

What makes Screen Steps so much better for this type of work is the way you can grab screenshots on the fly and automatically insert them into the document.  No more downloading and uploading images….a real time saver.  Also, you have the ability to create dozens of short documents/processes and can later merge them into a single PDF document.

Evernote

Perhaps my favorite service of all time.  Evernote is like having a second brain, a sort of junk drawer for your ideas and documents.  You can save just about anything from text notes, images, voice recording, and have them all fully searchable from just about anywhere through their Web, Mobile and Desktop apps.

Use Evernote to store your operations manual ideas

I have an almost paperless office, scanning most paper documents and sending them to Evernote for easy retrieval later.  When it comes to creating an operation manual, I use Evernote to store all of my ideas, notes and images using the mobile app on my phone.  When I'm in the middle of creating a new process, I can record via audio and/or take snapshots that I can later use when I sit down and create a proper document.  Everything is stored permanently so I don't have to worry about losing that piece of scrap paper that I decided to write my ideas down on.

The video below is a short guide on using Screen Steps and Evernote together.

Jing

I use Jing for most of my screen shots and screen recording.  When creating an operation manual for your team, It's important to use visuals as a single image can make more sense to someone than 500 words of explanation.  A good manual will incorporate visual guides, and if it's a digital version, possibly video or audio explanations.

Use Jing to grab screenshots for your operations manual

Jing is a desktop program that you download onto your computer, so that means you can take screenshots of items on your desktop as well as web based screenshots (web based screenshot tools only let you take screenshots within your browser).

Google Drive and Google Sites

Use Google Drive to store operations manual documents in the cloud

While I'm not a raving fan, I am a fan of Google Products, though the free version of Google Apps is no longer available.  Google has created a host of great tools for small business owners, most of which are free or low cost.  I store all of my completed documents created from Screen Steps in Google Drive (their online competitor to Microsoft's Word) for safe keeping and easy retrieval.  I use Google Sites (easily create external and internal websites) for creating an internal intranet for my business where everyone can access the operations manual online, via a list of links to each document in Drive.  I organize these links in a logical format, exactly how you would create a table of contents.

Sample table of contents-The Small Business Playbook

Binders

An operations manual is only good if people use it.  When will employees refer to your operations manual?  When they are new and in training, and when they need to learn how to do something.  Easy access is very important and an operations manual for your business is useless if it's inconvenient for your employees to access it.

organize operations manual with binders

I always keep an electronic version of it stored online and also a paper version, stored in color coded binders.  For some processes, we have them posted on the wall for easy reference, you see this a lot with food franchises where employees are working in an assembly line manner.

Purchase our 300+ page Operations Manual Template for only $29.99. Originally sold to franchises for over $1,000. Instant download. Click here to learn more or add to cart now.

It's only good if you use it

People always ask me what's the best way to go about creating an operations manual for their business.  I always advise them to start slowly and think of it as a living, breathing documents that you will add to (and take away) as your business evolves and changes.

All it really is is a series of written checklists and how to's, gleaned from best practices and mistakes you've made along the way, pieced together into one big binder.  Make sure it's organized, up to date and easily accessible to everyone and that you take the time every once and awhile to look it over with your employees to make sure everyone knows it's there.

Have a question about creating an operations manual or about your business in general?  Contact me here, I'm happy to answer any questions.

 

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Gary

CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
6 replies
  1. Heather Stone
    Heather Stone says:

    Awesome tips, Gary. I think it’s easy to forget just how many tools there are out there to keep your business running smoothly. I think sometimes entrepreneurs use a fraction of what’s available out there to make their lives easier. Posts like this that map out other options are really helpful to start us thinking about what’s available. Thanks so much for sharing it with the BizSugar community.

  2. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    Thanks Heather, there are so many great tools and services out there, but it can become information overload for any business owner. Places like BizSugar become a resource for helping business owners find these tools for their business. Keep up the great work!

  3. Beth Whitby
    Beth Whitby says:

    Screen Steps looks really cool! I’ve never heard of it before and it looks like just what I needed. I’ve been procrastinating about getting my processes down in writing and this helps a lot. Thanks!

  4. Rebecca Gibbs
    Rebecca Gibbs says:

    How to unclog a toilet…hahahahaha. Gary, that sounds like something I would create a document for.

    Thanks for sharing some of these tools! They’ll be helpful.

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