Want to Tame the Chaos? Create an Operations Manual

Look up the word “chaos” in the dictionary, and you’ll probably see a picture of a small business owner. Fighting fires, filling in for absent employees, running around to prospect meetings—it’s anything but smooth sailing.

Yet, chaos often comes from not having systems for getting things done. When you don’t document your processes, how your business works becomes a cluttered mess in your head (or someone else’s). And if it’s a mess in your head, it’s even more difficult to share with others.

That’s why an operations manual is so handy.

My client, Luz, and I were debriefing after a long session to decipher her workflow and operations process.

She’s a brilliant marketing strategist who has run a successful 7-figure business for over a decade. But when her client services/office manager was out ill for a month, she realized something horrifying—and common to small business owners.

Huge chunks of the business were in her office manager’s head—and no one else’s.

Luz had no idea how some parts of her business functioned. And these were important parts. But they were left-brain detail parts, not the right-brain creative parts she enjoyed and at which she was good. Luz was just grateful she had found someone, Jeff, who enjoyed those tedious and pesky details. So over time, she gave over more and more to him. Abdicating, not just delegating.

Now, though, she’s panicked. There would be a gaping hole in her business if Jeff ever left the company. She began to see that she was working for Jeff, and not the other way around.

Sure, Luz had tried on and off throughout the years to get started documenting the company’s workflow, its systems, and its SOPs (standard operating procedures). She knew in her head this was important. She hadn’t had a vacation in … she couldn’t remember when. A real vacation. Tropical island, poolside Pina coladas, and no cellphone. Totally unplugged. And if she ever wanted to sell her business for a tidy sum, she’d need one.

But the process was so … tedious. She’d get started … then get distracted. There always seemed to be something more urgent, more important, more lucrative to do. Sound familiar? If you don’t want to end up like Luz, take small steps to document your processes.  Begin with this simple question:

What did you do today?  Yup. That’s it.  What did you do today?

What did you do yesterday? And the day before?

Bit-by-bit, layer by layer, you begin to see all the tasks and functions that make up your business. Not from the perspective of “who does it?” but from the vantage point of “what gets done?” Not yet digging into the details of how the work gets done. It’s the first step of naming the top level functions.

With Luz and her team, we also looked at timesheets to find out “what did you do?” We looked at the computer programs they used. All trying to get the fullest picture of “How do you spend your time?

Why take that approach?

Because when you look first at what gets done, instead of who does it, you let go. You let go of “I’m the only one who can do it.” Or, “That’s _____’s responsibility!” You begin to see, as Luz and her team did, what the business requires. It’s a catalyst for talking through whether the business really needs it. And you start identifying “what’s missing” that could be useful.

And that’s how you begin to tame the chaos!

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq. is a small business champion. Award-winning attorney. Trusted thought leader. Podcast host. Bookworm. She’s been a passionate advocate for small businesses for over 20 years. Her consulting firm, Business Exponential, works with knowledge-based business owners who want to tame the chaos, improve profits, and build the company they always dreamed of. Find out more at www.BusinessExponential.com