How to keep your startup documents organized from the start – you’ll thank yourself later!
From the beginning of your Startup, you should document the unique details and procedures of your business by writing down what you do, how you do it, why you do it, when you do it, etc. If your goal is to expand your business, then you will need to share key business details and procedures with employees, consultants, vendors, service providers and others. Put a system in place now to collect and share this information, so that you can delegate and focus on other things. Your employees will become productive more quickly and help you advance your business.
Create and maintain a system that allows you to collect, share and revise the key information and operational procedures of your business.
When you first start your business, the business documentation process should be simple and easy. For example, the process might be as simple as jotting down your important ideas and notes in a notebook, Word document or a smartphone application (such as Evernote), so that you can review them later. You also should write down checklists or important steps that you follow to get things done, such as how to bill a customer, update the server, make bank deposits, buy supplies, answer the phones, etc. Over time, you can polish and refine this information and put it into a system or format that can be reviewed and updated more easily by others.
Don’t be a bottleneck in your company – write down the important details and procedures of your company so that you can delegate what you do and grow your business.
You are starting and building a business and have a million things on your to-do list. You likely are making decisions and doing many things for the first time. You are learning as you go and tweaking and adjusting operations along the way. You are (or will be) so busy running your company that you likely won’t remember all of the decisions and details of what you have been doing.
You may not realize it during the mad rush of the startup phase, but you actually are capturing and collecting valuable information about how to start and run your business, including how to resolve the unique issues, challenges and problems of your company.
Even if you are a one-person business, it is very helpful to record these business details and procedures so that you can refer back to them as needed. Small businesses are capable of creating huge amounts of data and information, especially with the various technologies and software that many businesses use. You will not remember everything, so write down the details in whatever way is easiest for you. This documentation process also will help relieve the information overload and overwhelm that you may experience from time to time as your business grows.
It is even more helpful to have this documentation process in place when you hire employees and consultants. You can speed up their involvement in the business if you already have business information and procedures that they can review before getting started. Each employee and consultant is different, so it is important to watch how each person responds to the business information and to listen carefully to the questions that they ask. These initial interactions provide a great opportunity to make your business procedures even better for future employees and consultants.
Because you have been writing down the operations of your business, you now have the start of a customized business manual that will help you delegate tasks and responsibilities to others more effectively. You then can let go of the reins of certain activities or tasks and have your colleagues or outside consultants take them over. You have a tool that will free you up so that you can focus on other business matters that are a better use of your time and better for the business.
Keep the documentation process simple at the start and as you go.
At the beginning, your business notes and information do not have to be perfectly polished, but they should describe what you do in a practical way. Use plain English and make sure that your notes and comments are easy to understand because you will want to share this information with others in the future. Keep it simple. If this documentation process becomes too difficult or too much work, then you won’t spend time adding information to it and your employees won’t contribute or use it as a resource. It is much better to have an unpolished resource that is simple and easy to understand than a formal policy manual that is never used.
You also should work this documentation process into the company’s DNA or culture, so that everyone is contributing the details of what they do. Over time, you have the chance to create a working document that describes the company’s best practices. As the process evolves, consider what type of review or discussion processes will help make the business documentation become an even better tool.
Sooner rather than later.
The startup phase of your business presents the ideal opportunity to get started with this business documentation process. It is never too late to start, however, and your company will benefit from the practical information about how it uniquely does its business.
Practical Tips and Next Steps
- Keep the business documentation process simple and accessible, at the beginning and always.
- Find ways to involve your employees in the documentation process – contribution should be easy and the information should be practical and useful.
- Set goals and monitor progress.
- Explore technologies that can assist with this business documentation process, including Evernote, Dropbox, Box, Google Docs, internal websites or wikis and social media tools.