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Victoria Munro of Make-it-FlySix Easy Steps to Create Your Operations Manual
Part Two of a Two-Part Series

By Victoria Munro

Printable version

A well-written, consistently followed operations manual will help you beat the odds and join the 20 percent of small business start-ups that are still around after five years.

In an operations manual, everything about your business is standardized and documented. It becomes a toolkit for replicating what you do. It can become your training textbook, saving you countless hours and helping people with different strengths and skill levels to perform tasks in the same way. Clients can also be assured of a consistent experience.

If you intend to franchise, documenting everything in an operations manual is essential. Mike Cotsworth of Car Connections Ltd. is planning to franchise his business soon. “Having a formalized system for franchisees to follow will prevent them from taking short cuts or dreaming up their own ways of doing things – which may dilute or derail a proven way of doing something,” he explains. “This has forced me to examine and define what the best steps are and write them down. Before doing this, I had it all in my head, so I worked by habit and experience. Now it’s being formalized into specific steps that someone else can follow.”

Write Your Manual

“When writing, you must think of your audience and set the tone accordingly,” Craig Dietz of Special Ops, LLC, advises. “Don’t use legalese, make it readable and use practical, easy-to-understand language. Know your topics and the people you’re writing to.”

Step One: Know Where You’re Going
Consider where you ultimately want to take the business, and keep this in mind as you write.

Step Two: Get Organized
Create an organization chart for your company. Draw boxes for each major area of responsibility. This offers a visual overview of the business that is easy to see at a glance.

Step Three: Start Writing
Set up a file on your computer or use a three-ring binder or notebook for your first draft. Assign a different section for each aspect of the business, then:

Outline each section
Develop a job description for the person responsible
List all necessary tasks
Write down exactly what is involved for each task
Spell out step-by-step instructions and a sequence to follow for each task

Use pictures, diagrams or charts to illustrate or clarify your points.

As you write, think about all the things that could possibly go wrong, list these and build in action steps to correct them.

Step Four: Get Feedback
Ask several others with similar experience and backgrounds to those of your reader to look over the document and give you feedback. Find out if there were steps you missed, details you forgot to mention, or words and concepts they didn’t easily understand.

Step Five: Polish It
Write your second draft. If the manual is for others to use, consider hiring a professional editor.

Step Six: Schedule Regular Reviews
Set times, perhaps once a year, to regularly review and update your manual. If you have added new products, services or markets, or made any changes in the way you do things, this information should be included.

Don’t wait until the business is mature to write your manual. Begin now. If you can’t devote a large block of time, allocate several hours each week to the project. If you’re consistent, you will soon have it completed and be ready to grow a healthy, profitable business. You will also be able to enjoy a vacation, knowing that those left in charge are able to do a first-rate job of running the business while you’re gone.

(683 words)
© 2005-2007 Victoria Munro.

Click here for printable version.

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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