When you start your professional organizing business, you may only have one or two clients a week. You know what to do and when to do it. But what happens when you’re managing ten clients a week? And a team of independent contractors too? You need a way to ensure that each client receives the same excellent service your company is known for. The best way to do that is with an operations manual.
What Is an Operations Manual?
Simply put, an Operations Manual is a document – either physical or digital – that explains in detail how you run your business. It contains your company’s policies, the step-by-step procedures of how to do specific tasks, the contact information of essential staff members, which staff members perform which tasks, and what to do in case of emergencies. Let’s take a look at each element.
Policies are an overarching guide on how you run your business. They establish rules and regulations that create a framework for your business operations. Policies transform your mission, vision and values statements from lofty ideals to the practical world. If your mission statement includes deep concern for the wellbeing of clients, communities, and planet Earth, you’re going to do everything possible to embrace that statement. Your car would be fuel-efficient, your tote bag would be vegan leather, and you’d create company policies that reflect your commitment to recycle, repair, and repurpose.
Policies are guidelines. They state “in [situation] we do [action].” Polices include a section that lists the creator and creation date, revision dates and details, and the person responsible for updates. Generally, policies do not change very often, but it is wise to review them annually.
Procedures are step-by-step instructions on how to perform a task so you adhere to the policy. In the example above, your Earth-friendly paper-free policies mean the procedures for communicating with your clients (appointment reminders, contracts, invoices, etc.), are all digital.
Procedures also include a section that lists the creator and creation date, revision dates and details, and who is responsible for updates. Besides step-by-step instructions on how to complete a task, procedures include resources needed to do the job, health and safety precautions, a trouble-shooting section, and who to turn to for assistance.
Policies are the “why,” and procedures are the “how.”
The Benefits of an Operations Manual
Creating an Operations Manual is tedious, but the many benefits make it worth the effort and time.
Saving time is the most significant advantage of an Operations Manual. When you have all of your business policies, procedures, and processes in one place, you don’t have to search emails, documents, previous client agreements, or your memory to determine how to process an invoice or create a blog post. Simply look it up in your Ops Manual.
You will also save time training and/or explaining. An Ops Manual is the “go-to” place for information on how to do a job. Your team members will know who is responsible for which tasks – and more importantly, know when to contact you to make an executive decision.
With an Operations Manual, you can ensure that your clients are getting the best possible experience with you. And, that experience will be consistent time and time again. Because your policies and procedures are written down, you can focus on all the little details that not only differentiate your brand but make doing business with your company distinct.
Also, you can record the details of your visual and verbal brand elements so your touchpoints remain consistent across all channels (print, website, social media, etc.).
Well-written policies and procedures help avoid making mistakes. Considering how complicated our lives (and your clients’ lives) can be, there is just too much information to rely on memory alone. Procedures provide a step-by-step guide for performing a task, so nothing is forgotten. You can include checklists within your Ops Manual so team members can ensure they complete every step in the correct order. For more proof that checklists reduce errors, read The Checklist Manifesto, and you’ll learn why I love checklists so much!
When you explain your policies to your team members and clients, they know exactly what to expect from you. When you adhere to and enact your policies, you build trust and confidence – the foundations of building a rock-solid business.
Here’s another bonus point: When all team members follow the same procedures, it’s much easier to measure their performance. You’ll quickly know which team members are suited to which types of jobs.
With an Ops Manual, you can expand your business with fewer growing pains. Plus, it adds significant value if you decide to sell your business.
What if a team member or client suffers a loss or injury because of your services? The courts may examine whether your Ops Manual had policies and procedures in place to mitigate risk. Having an Ops manual is an excellent way to show that your company takes adequate care to comply with health and safety measures.
Your Ops Manual should contain an ICE (in case of emergency) Section. In other words, what happens when there is a catastrophe such as a computer failure or website hack. You should include your service providers’ (web host, designer, accountant, etc.) contact details and state the circumstances to contact them. Indicate where necessary login credentials are stored and how to access them. Perhaps the “catastrophe” would be you, the business owner, being unable to work. In that case, your team lead could grab your Ops Manual and run your business seamlessly on your behalf until your return.
Creating Your Ops Manual
Your Ops Manual should adhere to your brand. Use your brand colors and typography. Write with your communication style, voice, and tone. Be consistent with headers, spelling, and capitalization throughout the document.
Who will be using your Ops Manual? Will you need to share parts with independent contractors, employees, service providers (accountant, virtual assistant, etc.)? This may influence whether you create a digital or print document, have one large document, or have each section as separate documents.
Document Control Elements
You will need to keep track of the changes you make over time. And this will ensure you are using the most recent version of your Ops Manual. In the headers or footers of each page of your manual, include the page number, issue and revision date, name of the computer file, and add your company name and copyright symbol. Also, think about how you will name your electronic files (e.g., Ops-Manual-2021-v03.pdf), how and where you will store your physical copies.
Identify the various functions and tasks you perform in your business and then create it section-by-section. Think about whether you want to include checklists, flow charts, detailed step-by-step written instructions, or pictographs (e.g., aircraft emergency evacuation.) Remember to include the frequency (Daily-Weekly-Monthly-Quarterly-Annually) of each function.
Example: Publish a monthly blog post.
Document all of the tasks associated with creating a blog post and the procedure for each task: pick a topic, find SEO keywords, determine category and tags for the post, write content, edit content, end with a call-to-action. Obtain an image, record the image license information, then optimize the image. Finally, upload the blog post and image to your website, and publish it at a specific date and time. Get the short URL link and add it to your newsletter and social media accounts.
What You Should Include in Your Operations Manual
Introduction: company history (year established, type of entity, EIN, about the founder, etc.), mission, vision, brand promise, products and services offered, client base, geographical areas served, etc.
Policies and position statements: cancellation, inclement weather, gift certificates, fragrance-free worksites, working on weekends/evenings, travel and shopping fees, or privacy/confidentiality, creating passwords, etc. etc.
Documented processes and systems: brand standards (visual + verbal assets: logo, typography, tagline, style guide), how to perform on-the-job tasks, what to do in an unfortunate incident (e.g., break something at client’s home).
Occupational Health + Safety Guide: what health and safety protocols team members must adhere to (e.g., closed-toe shoes with non-slip soles, masks, gloves, etc.), what to do if you are ill or get injured, personal hygiene code (e.g., fragrance-free, hair tied back, etc.) how to lift heavy boxes and furniture properly.
Emergency Procedures: disaster recovery plan following an unexpected event (e.g., earthquake, hurricane) or in the event you suddenly die, how would you want your website and social media accounts handled?
Job descriptions: tasks, duties, responsibilities of team members, how to onboard independent contractors or freelancers such as a virtual assistant.
Contact details: how to reach key people on the team and essential external contacts such as vendors, web host, accountant, other service providers.
An Operations Manual reflects your company’s way of doing business. It defines how it interacts with clients, and the culture it fosters for its team members. Creating your Ops Manual is definitely not the easiest task, but it is one of the best ways to build a productive and robust organizing business.