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Victoria Munro of Make-it-FlyThe Secret to Surviving and Thriving
Put Systems in Place

By Victoria Munro

Printable version

Those disheartening statistics that tell us 80 percent of small business start-ups will fail in the first five years may also hold a secret to surviving and thriving. Those same statistics show that 95 percent of all franchises succeed. Why the disparity? One of the major differences is that franchisees are given and required to follow an operations manual. It tells them exactly what to do and how to do it. They have a tested, proven roadmap to follow. Everything is systematized and documented. No need to spend time reinventing the wheel or figuring out which wheel works best – that’s all been done for them. The operations manual is a key ingredient in the formula for small-business success.

Owners of small business start-ups are notorious for putting in long, hard hours. Starting a business can be very demanding, often requiring the owner to wear many different hats. As a result, the thought of taking time out to write an operations manual can seem relatively unimportant. If writing a manual is considered at all, it’s not regarded as being critical, so it often gets put off until ‘things slow down a little,’ which may or may not happen. After all, it’s not life threatening to the business. Or is it?

An operations manual gives you as a business owner many advantages. Having tried-and-true systems in place cuts out guesswork, reduces error and saves time. It enables you to provide a consistent experience for customers, vendors and employees. Following the steps in an operations manual when training will bring the new hire up to speed more quickly and can serve as a textbook for him or her to easily follow. With a good manual in place, you will be able to take a vacation and leave someone else to run the business.

An operations manual that has been tested, refined and is followed in the day-to-day running of the business can significantly increase the value of your business if and when you decide to sell it. Jim Johnston of Business Acquisitions Ltd. represents owners who are selling their businesses. "A business that has put operational practices on paper is much more attractive to a buyer," he explains. "When someone is looking to buy a business, he or she tries to picture taking over from the current business owner. If the organization is overly dependent on any one person's knowledge, especially the owner who is going away, it can be a scary proposition for a buyer."

Write Everything Down

Start by designing an organization chart complete with job descriptions, even though you may be filling most of these roles yourself now. Create a system for everything you do, then write it down. Think about every step, consider what could go wrong – if someone completing the task is likely to encounter difficulties, describe these and how to overcome them.

Make Sure it’s Crystal Clear

Write your manual so that anyone, even with no prior experience, can easily understand and follow the directions. The story is told of Napoleon Bonaparte when he was commanding his troops – he asked that the least intelligent soldier be assigned as his aide. Before issuing an order, Napoleon would give it to the aide and ask if he understood it. If he didn’t, the order was rewritten more clearly.

Details Are Important

Bonnie Smith plans to franchise her bakery and catering business, The Quiche Factory, and is in the process of documenting everything everyone does in the business. “It has to be in such detail,” she explains. “You can’t just say, ‘put an apron on.’ You have to say, ‘go into the kitchen and take an apron from the second shelf in the first cupboard on the right and put it on.’ ”

In Part II of this series, we’ll share some easy, practical steps you can take to write an operations manual for your business. With this in place, you’re much more likely to become one of the 20 percent of small businesses that survive and thrive after five years.

(812 words)
© 2005-2007 Victoria Munro.

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About the Author: Victoria Munro is co-founder (along with husband Dave Block) of Make-it-Fly® LLC, a company dedicated to creating success for small-business owners through creatively designed programs and tools. Victoria has started and run nine different businesses. To receive FREE business success articles with tips to help you with your business, sign up for their award-winning ezine, “In-Flight Refueling,” at:, and receive a free copy of the eBook, Get More Done in Less Time: 101 Quick and Easy Time Tactics & Tips.

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