The Importance of Policy and Procedures Manuals

General, Tools

I love reading manuals. Any time a new appliance or machine enters our home, I read the manual from cover to cover. I need to know how the thing works from start to finish and that I’m using every single feature available. I want to get my money’s worth!

It’s probably no surprise that when I started my Virtual Assistant business nine years ago, one of the first things I did was outline my policies and procedures. Even before I had a client, I had a procedures manual. And so should you.

[Tweet “Start a procedures manual for your business the day you register the domain.”]

I realize it may seem strange to write down what you do on a daily basis when you don’t have anyone on your team. In fact, I started mine because I wanted to make sure I remembered how to use all of the new systems I was learning as I set up my business. As I grow my business, I can hand off any section of my manual to the relevant team member.

Why Does My Small Business Need a Procedures Manual?

Conversely, when I start working with a new client, the first thing I do is set up a procedures manual for them. By starting with a procedures manual from day one, I can enter the processes as I learn them from my client. Surprisingly enough, in nine years of VA work, only one of my clients already had a manual in place. The rest have handed off work piecemeal. I would figure out the process as I went, frequently checking in with the client to see if I was on the right track.

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This is a problem for several reasons. The first is that by the time most of my clients hire me, they want me to start working right now! They’d rather not wait for me to figure out every little thing about their business on my own. Think about what a time saver a step-by-step guide would be for any new team member coming into your business. The second problem is, without a procedures manual in place, you could be paying your new VA (in both time and money) to spin her wheels on things you’ve already found don’t work.

Procedures Manuals: Not Just for Step-by-Step Guides

I remember when I started working with one of my very first clients, it took me several months to get up to speed on how to run all of her systems. One of the first things I did was evaluate the platforms and software she was using to determine if there were better alternatives available. The client knew exactly what I was doing and had wholeheartedly agreed to the project. It was only after I had spent significant time researching and attempting to implement what I’d found that she remembered that we had to use the platform we were using because it worked with another system her business heavily relied on. If I’d had a procedures manual from the previous VA that had explained this, it would have saved us a lot of time and headache.

Procedures manuals are used to cover everything from a step-by-step walk though of how to set up a client’s newsletter to an explanation of why we do something another VA might think is unorthodox.  They can be laid out in several different ways, from the very simple to the very complex. If a client uses project management software like Basecamp or Teamwork PM, we set it up there so the entire team has access. Clients who don’t use such software have found a shared Dropbox file works for them.

Procedures Manuals: For the Unexpected Absence of a Key Member of Your Team

It is important to my business that my clients never rely on my so heavily that my absence affects their business. Unlike shady web designers who write code ensuring that they are the only ones who can work on your website, my clients know that with a few mouse clicks they will find all of the information they could ever need about how their business runs. Luckily, we’ve never needed it  in an emergency, but it gives me tremendous piece of mind to know that any of my clients could move on; after the proper amount of tears and gnashing of teeth, of course; without me if I ever happened to take that permanent vacation to the sky. 

What about you? Do you have a procedures manual for your  business? Why or why not? What is holding you back?



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