Hands up if you have recently written or reviewed your business policies, processes and procedures. You have? Well done! That's good news, it demonstrates that you understand the importance of these documents and what they mean for your business. Business owners who regularly review and update their records will be more efficient simply because everyone involved will know where to find: 1. The guidelines to work within; 2. The process of moving from A to B and 3. The step by step actions needed to achieve any given task.
For those of you who haven't...
Yes, as a small business owner also, I understand that documented policies, processes and procedures may not take priority on our never ending to-do lists - but they should.
Having a clear set of standards and instructions will prove extremely useful for anyone working with you, or for you, in your business. It doesn't need to be anything fancy like the latest flashy (costly) software. By all means, store your documents electronically but make sure everyone has access to them and knows where to find them. This is one area where a paper system is still a good idea. After all, in the event of a major power cut - it's no use if your manual operations plan is in electronic storage, you will need everyone to understand what processes need to be followed - in the event of such an incident - in order to keep the business moving.
So, where to start with documenting everything that happens in your business? It all begins with the policies. A policy is a set of rules and guidelines that you and all people involved with your business are expected to abide by. Think about Health & Safety, HR and General Business Operation as a start but there may be many more.
Once the policies are in place, they need to be followed up with processes. A process is a high level plan of how a task should flow from A to B. For example: A sales process might show the steps required from initial contact with the customer through to fulfillment of the customer's order.
We have our guidelines and our plans so it is now time to break into the detail of writing the procedures - step by step instructions for each individual task contained within your processes. For example: When a customer first makes contact with your company, you will need specific information from the customer, depending on their requirements. (Think about ordering a pair of curtains vs ordering an item of clothing - the information needed for each order will be different). How are you going to log that information, what detail do you need? Make sure the procedure is written with a logical flow from start to finish, capturing each element in turn. Then look at the next step in your process which might be passing the customer information to the warehouse. What if the item is out of stock, you'll need a procedure for handling that and letting the customer know.
When all these documents are in place they will be easy to maintain. Review them regularly, make it part of your end of year process or refresh them as and when things change within your business. This way, if Ronnie from reception is suddenly taken down with flu, a temporary replacement will have some clear guidance on how to carry out the reception tasks with minimum disruption.
A surprising number of small businesses do not have systems like this in place. It really makes sense to set aside the time and make a start. Put policies, processes and procedures at the top of your to-do list today and make them a priority. Start with the everyday, repetitive tasks. What guidelines do you work within? What is the purpose of carrying out that task? Make notes on how each task is done. Create a template and start filling in the details - it won't take nearly as long as you thought it would!