How’s Your Process?

I’m fortunate to live near Narrative Coffee – the perfect place to imbibe a hot beverage, in a comfortable setting, on a dreary January day. Narrative not only offers great coffee, a delicious selection of uncommon herbal teas, and cookies baked fresh on site, they offer consistently great customer service.

Great service includes a way for their customers to bypass the line at the main counter, get their coffee fast, and go.

Meet the Honor Bar.

Self Serve Honor Bar

Narrative’s self-serve Honor Bar is welcoming and easy to navigate. It works well because the layout allows customers to quickly understand:

- What is this about?
– Who is this for?
– When do I use it?
– How does it work?

If any of these components were missing, it might leave the customer feeling unsure and uncomfortable, which is the opposite of how you want your customers to feel when they interact with your business.

The Honor Bar allows you to pour and pay for your coffee without interrupting the baristas who are trying to serve others. It provides clear and simple step-by-step instructions that you can even pick up if you need to read them at close range.

This is an example of a great process at work. So great, in fact, that you don’t think of it as a process. Just a great experience.

Every business is made up of processes: internally focused, customer-facing, intentionally crafted, or made up on the spot to put out fires. Unless you’re like me, and process is your passion, you probably focus more on the passion behind your business, not the process.

Honor Bar InstructionsBut when things aren’t working so well, it’s time to take a second look. Even if you don’t feel plagued by problems, solid processes will help you work more efficiently, save you time and money, bring clarity and consistency to your work, and allow you to grow efficiently.

Sounds great, but process just isn’t your thing? Truth is, most business owners could use help developing good processes, because process is not your passion. It’s mine. And, it takes a certain type of mind and objectivity to break the work into its parts and identify the best path to get the result you want.

So, take a few minutes today and ask yourself how well your processes are working for your business. Your passion started your business, good processes will keep it going.

The key to writing the best operations manual for your business – delegate it!

Once you decide to create a personalized business operations manual to run your business more efficiently, you need to answer a very important question: will you write it yourself or have someone else do it? And, if someone else, who is the best person to delegate to?

To answer that, consider the following:

  • Do you enjoy writing?
  • Are you good at it?
  • Do you have experience articulating a task or organizing a mass of information into coherent pieces, at the right level of detail, and in the right order?
  • Are you more of a detail oriented thinker, a big picture person, or a little of both?
  • How much time can you devote every week to this project?
  • Do you have a clear vision on the best format and outline to follow?
  • And finally, when you think of writing your personalized business owner’s manual, does it give you a rush of excitement (even a small one) motivating you to get started, or do you feel a niggling sense of dread? Just one more thing to do…

Here’s the thing, if you aren’t looking forward to the task at least a little, then best to delegate it out. There’s no option to delegate the whole thing. As the business owner, you are probably the subject matter expert for much of the content. But, writing and organizing the information will take time, effort, and a talent for writing, and if you don’t have that, you will eventually lose steam, resulting in a mediocre product at best, or worse, giving up. That’s discouraging. And it’s draining.

I‘m not saying you can’t write it yourself, but for most business owners, this type of project is not their strength. Another option is to have an employee write it for you. Begin by asking them the same questions above. Just because they work in your business, does not mean they are the best person to write it.

A project like this is less about knowing your business and more about knowing what to include, how to gather the information efficiently, what level of detail to capture, and how to best to organize it. A third option is to hire a professional who has these skills, has prior experience writing a business operations manual, and has a ready-made template from which to start work.

This is an important piece of work that will take some effort. Do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success by delegating it out if it’s not your strength.

Why every business needs an owner’s manual (aka operations manual)

Remember the last time you were driving and one of those pesky warning lights showed up when it was most inconvenient? Or, you were trying to figure out how to turn on the lights for that rental car? After a futile attempt to figure it out through trial and error, you probably looked in the glove box, pulled out the owner’s manual, and found the information you needed.

Wouldn’t it be great if the next time you were trying to remember how to submit your monthly taxes, or run payroll when your trusty assistant suddenly comes down with the flu, or how to set up the password manager on your new laptop, you could reach into the company glove box and…

Well, you can.

Having an owner’s manual at the tip of your fingers, with all the details of your business operations, saves you a ton of time and reduces error. It also doubles as a training manual if you are planning on hiring office staff, whether in-person or virtual. Even with no employees, an owner’s manual is a key reference for you as a solopreneur, managing the work of running your business.

And, more importantly, the process of writing the manual forces you to understand and articulate the nuts and bolts of how your business operates (also known as “current state”). A very important first step to running your business efficiently.

The benefits:

  • It provides an ongoing reference to finding the information you need.
  • It is the first step in streamlining your operations.
  • It makes training easy and fast!

The format doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t require expensive software to create. And best of all, your owner’s manual doesn’t have to be complete to start saving you time and effort. You just need to start with an outline, a plan for completing it, and begin filling in the blanks.

Key features:

  • It’s written specifically for the operation of your business.
  • It provides the right amount of detail for each task or operational area (What is the right amount? That will vary depending on what you’re documenting. As you start writing, it won’t take long to know when you’re in the sweet spot).
  • It’s written in your language – the language of your industry, your business, and your company culture.
  • It’s readily accessible when you need it.
  • …by everyone who needs it.
  • It’s easy to find specific information within the manual.
  • It’s accurate (because it’s updated as your business changes and grows).

Sound like a great idea but overwhelmed by the thought of taking on this seemingly enormous task in your already overloaded schedule? You can delegate the task internally or hire someone to do it. Either way, it’s a good idea to start by carving out some time to make a plan to make it happen.

Greater Opportunity for Women has its Challenges

Elizabeth Gilbert nails it, in several ways. She talks about the challenge of navigating the break from traditional roles without role models to show us the way (I’m sure many men can relate to this as well), and the illusion that we alone are struggling, while everyone else has figured “it” out.

The goal is not perfection and the solution is not cookie-cutter. The goal is knowing what you want to accomplish, honoring your individuality, and moving forward along your path. Success is not gained in finding the person or persons who will tell you what to do, but rather enlisting support from those who will help move you towards your goals, using their unique set of knowledge, skills, and expertise that compliments your unique set of knowledge, skills, and expertise.