The vast majority of manuals, of any type, go unread. When’s the last time you read a product manual? When’s the last time you read a manual that your employer produced? If your employer hands you a binder with 200 pages in it spelling out the HR policy at your job, are you really going to take that home and peruse it carefully? Forget all that stuff. If you’re an entrepreneur who’s is trying to create a scalable business, you need a system, and the core of that system is your operations manual.
Your operations manual is a book or document that tells someone how to run your business. In other words, the document should be detailed enough that you could hand it to a reasonably competent person, put them in charge of your business, leave for a year, come back, and find everything working just fine and the guy you left in charge saying “It was easy, whenever I had a question I just looked in the operations manual and the answer was there.” Of course you probably aren’t going to encounter this situation, but that’s what I think about as I’m writing MWI’s operations manual. I also think about my employees reading it when they have questions, even though I suspect a lot of them never will read it…but even if they don’t, it’s still important for me to write it for myself.
Although creating a mission statement and an org chart were fairly quick work, the operations manual is a beast of a project. Mine is up to 11 pages of 10 point font type, single-spaced, and I feel like I’m only 20% done, even though I’ve re-written everything I’ve done at least once. There’s still a lot of work to be done on it. But the exercise is proving to be well worth it, in that it is already changing how I run my business as I think through every process in my business and how it should be done. I’m creating detailed instructions on how to answer a phone call from a prospective client, how to respond to an email request, how to write a proposal, when to follow up on the proposal and how, how to price services, how to negotiate with a client on price if they don’t accept the quoted price, etc. All of it in detail, based on my experience of what works, as well as my thoughts on what might work better. Here’s an excerpt from the portion of MWI’s operations manual dealing with leads:
The Customer Lifecycle
It all starts with a lead. You could say it all begins with sales and marketing, but the customer does not become part of the lifecycle until they become a lead.
Where Do Leads Come From?
- Phone call. People call the main line.
- General email. Generally to email@example.com, gathered from the website.
- Personal email. That is, someone is referred to an employee and emails them directly.
- Web form. Through the form on our website.
- In person. Face to face.
Lead response time. No more than one day. Many potential clients make their decision, consciously or unconsciously, on whether to go with us or not based on how quickly we respond.
Who responds? All leads should be referred to the VP Sales, who can then refer a lead to someone on his team if he so desires.
The worst leads. People. That is, individuals who are spending their own money. They generally have low budgets, are spending their own money, and as a result will be very picky and hard to work with. These projects have a high risk of failure. People who cold call in are generally worse than those who are referred via word of mouth.
The best leads. Established companies. Not only do these make for better case studies since they’re more likely to have recognizable names, but they generally have larger budgets, are less concerned about how the money is used (which ironically often leads to better results), and if they are referred by a previous client then they are golden since a lead with a reference is much easier to land.
That is just rough draft, and will probably be re-written a few times in the near future, and more times as I actually start building out the business again. The operations manual is not set in stone, it’s a living, breathing document that will change and be refined as needed.
Even if none of my employees ever read the operations manual, it’s worth writing, because I know I will read it, and continue writing and modifying it. As long as it’s on paper and in my head, then it will influence how I run my business. If I weren’t to go through this exercise, I wouldn’t be refining the processes that govern my business, and I myself wouldn’t know what to tell my employees what to do in some situations. But because I’m putting it all down right now, I have the opportunity to think a lot about all the situations that can come up, create a response, and then when it does happen, I’ll be ready to create a teachable moment. And who knows, maybe if I keep referring to the manual and quoting from it some of my employees will actually read it.Liked it? Share it!