When you hear the words “business operations manual,” what’s your reaction?
Does it make you excited, ambivalent… or are you already bored to tears?
While an operations manual may not be the sexiest thing out there, they’re an incredible helpful tool for the management and growth of your business.
In short, an operations manual details the ins and outs of your business — processes and procedures, systems, brand guidelines, you name it.
When you’ve just started your business and you’re in solopreneur land, a business operations manual probably isn’t the first thing on your radar, but if there’s even an inkling that you might want to grow your team one day — even if it’s just by one person — creating a business operations manual will save you a ton of time and stress.
HOW TO CREATE A BUSINESS OPERATIONS MANUAL USING TRELLO
Even though I don’t have plans to grow my team at any point in the foreseeable future, I still found myself wanting one central location where you could find pretty much all the information about my business. That way, rather than hunting through different folders or logins to find pieces of information when I need it, I could head to one location and know that the information I need would be there (or at least linked).
When I set out to create the operations manual for Love & Spreadsheets I initially had grand visions of a completely epic Google Doc with screenshots, linked sections, graphs, and more. But when just the canned emails and workflows for my client onboarding and project timelines turned out to be 50 pages… I realized keeping everything in one document would actually make finding information harder, not easier.
So I turned to my favorite project management tool — Trello.
Using Trello’s organizational systems of boards, lists, and cards, I was able to put together a comprehensive operations manual that details pretty much everything about what my business is and how it runs all in one spot, despite the fact that I’ve got stuff spread between Trello, Google Drive, and Dropbox.
Now, whenever I need anything — the copy for a canned email, the checklist for a system, the link for a scheduling calendar, or the hex code for the L&S pink or navy blue — I know it can all be found on the one board in Trello, and today I’m going to teach you how to do the same for your business.
OUTLINE THE CONTENT
Before you begin putting everything together, you want to start by outlining the content — what information are you going to include and how will it be organized?
One way to start is by thinking in terms of some questions we’re all familiar with — the 5 W’s and an H. Your operations manual will want to answer questions like:
Who are we? What do we do? When do we do it? Where do we do it? Why do we do it? How do we do it?
This is obviously somewhat simplistic, but can get you thinking in the right direction. The answer to your Who and Why questions will be things like your brand mission and values, brand visuals, and team members. The answer to your What and Where questions will be things like your services and offerings and location. The answer to your When and How questions will be things like your processes and systems.
Things can get a little unruly here at the start, so do your best to keep it simple. While it might seem easiest to have a different list or card for every little thing within your business, the more paths someone (including yourself) has to wind down to find the information, the less effective the manual will be.
If all else fails, you can think of the manual in terms of team building. If you were ever to bring someone on to (or already have someone on) your team, what information would they need to know?
After you’ve figured out what you’re putting in the Operations Manual, you have to decide where the actual files are going to go. Depending on the type of information, you may be able to store it directly in Trello, but you’re also going to need another storage location to keep things like images, documents, and spreadsheets.
I keep documents and spreadsheets in Google Drive, images and PDFs in Dropbox, and checklists directly in Trello.
DOCUMENT YOUR PROCESSES
Depending on where you’re at in your business, this may be the longest or shortest part of the process, but the next step is to document your processes. All of them — client onboarding, content management and creation, canned emails, and more.
This is one of those areas where your motto should probably be “The more detailed, the better.”
Similar to deciding what to put in the manual itself, think of it in terms of team members. Your operations manual should be detailed yet simple enough that, in terms of process, any person could come, follow your instructions, and run your business for you.
Though it can take longer, I find it helpful to create both written and visual documentation. Use a tool like Loom to create video screen shares of you going through various processes, while also creating a document that details the step-by-step process (with screenshots).
CREATE THE MANUAL
Now that you’ve documented everything and decided what’s going into the manual, you get to actually create it!
Since you’ve already decided how you’re going to organize all the information, all you have to do is follow the organizational system, which starts with creating a separate board for the manual, and then creating a list for every main category of information.
Just like when creating an organizational system for digital files, organize your manual in a way that makes sense for your brain and how you process information, but would also make sense to another team member without too much effort.
My own Operations Manual seven different overarching categories — Brand Visuals, Brand Copy, Team Members, Business Admin, Systems & Processes, Offerings, and Content.
From there, you get to start adding individual cards for the items and attaching or linking other documents and files, or inputting information into the descriptions and comments. Again, try not to let the number of cards get too out of hand, but be careful not to put so much information in a single card that it’s impossible to find.