One of the most influential business books of all time, The E-Myth Revisited, extols the virtues of documenting your business extensively. If your business doesn’t have an operations manual, then it’s not really a business. A business without documentation depends on the owner’s presence in order to run. That means no vacation, no sick days, and no retirement for the founder. The business owner basically becomes a slave to his customers.

At first glance, I am intimidated by the idea of documentation of this type. Web design and development changes rapidly. It’s insanely hard to keep up. Sometimes it feels like once I’ve finally mastered a technique, a new tool or technique comes along to replace it. But then again, this very problem makes me a slave to those very things.

5 Reasons to write an operations manual

Now I’m working on getting past those worries and investing some of my limited time to write policies and procedures. Let me clarify that when I say, “policies and procedures” or “operations manual,” I mean more than just an HR handbook with sick day, vacation, and sexual harassment policies. I’m talking about a set of documents that record a business’s day-to-day operation as well.

If you haven’t read E-myth, do it. If you have read it and need some inspiration, here are 5 ways that I’ve further reasoned with myself on the need to write documentation.

1. Writing everything down forces me to make some decisions

This is probably something that most entrepreneurs like myself struggle with. Committing anything to paper forces me to put a stake in the ground and decide how things must work.

The scary part is that I very well could make some mistakes in my first iterations (and beyond). But reviewing documentation will help me to identify room for improvement and fix it.

2. I have an opportunity to focus on my vision and craft an experience

I want to be more than just “some guy” creating websites for money. I want to create a great experience for customers who want websites and technology that work for them. “Some guy” cannot do that, especially if he ever wants to take vacation, retire, and die peacefully one day. Really, the best place to start is by writing all of it down.

Many wildly successful businesses are prototyped, tested, tuned, and documented. The late Steve Jobs and his team prototyped a full-working Apple Store in a gigantic warehouse before building a real one, just to make sure that Apple got the experience right. Ray Kroc used his first McDonald’s location as a testing ground to get things right before building more locations and a killer franchise business.

Instead of spending all day focusing on the drudgery of tasks at hand, writing documentation gives me some time to craft and tune my vision. And it’s an investment, not a waste of time.

3. I will be well on my way to being able to hire help

If I want to change the world in a significant way, I’m not going to be able to do it by myself.

Creating policies and procedures means that tasks can be delegated to others. If the policies and procedures are written well, then employees can be trained in a way that empowers them to deliver a particular experience to customers.

4. The operations manual gives employees ownership of the company’s operations

You would think that it would be the opposite, and I suppose it could be the opposite if I ended up running my company in an oppressive, draconian way.

I am excited about having employees that take ownership of the operations manuals for their own roles. Areas identified for improvement can be prototyped, tested, and refined in an objective manner.

Those who “get it” the most can be promoted to a position where they take ownership over a team’s operations.

5. Tacit knowledge needs to be squashed

Oh, tacit knowledge. Often, I’ve heard technicians joke about their knowledge being job security. In the end, this attitude hurts a business and its customers. What happens when that guys leaves?

As long as the documentation is taken seriously, everything important to know to keep the business running will be recorded. If someone moves on to another position at another company, they should leave behind some of the knowledge in the form of policies and procedures.

I’m not saying that documentation should turn employees into cogs that can be easily replaced. But the business must survive and be bigger than any individual person’s talent. Ultimately, this is in the customers’ best interests.

Now the rubber hits the road

I’m sure that I will learn some stuff along the way, and I plan on sharing some tips. Does anyone out there have any tips to share? Leave them in the comments!

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