Here is a message I received from a client:

I know you were big on documenting your firm’s processes and procedures. I would imagine that you had some sort of ‘operating manual’ for running your business. I would imagine it was very, very thick. I think you indicated to me, in a conversation at some point, that it was key to you selling the business and getting a good multiple on it.

My question is this: How useful was the manual for actually running the day-to-day company operations? Did folks actually use it? Is this a required step for making the business less dependent on my co-owner and myself?

I’m close to committing the time and resources necessary to go down this path, but I have my doubts that it will actually get used. I feel like it’s going to be that 50-page business plan sitting in the file cabinet that no one looks at. Big time-sink with little ROI. Thoughts?

Short answer: Yes, do it.

Now for the longer answer ...

At our company, we had manuals for the following:

  • Employees
  • Office (used by both the office manager and the administrative assistant)
  • Production manager
  • Field (for the lead carpenters and other production staff)
  • Sales
  • Designer
  • Estimator
  • Trade contractor
  • Client

Each manual included the following:

  • Job description, when appropriate
  • All processes that the position would be responsible for
  • Any forms or systems that supported implementing those processes
  • How the position interacted with and depended on other positions in the company

The information that went into the manual was assembled by the office staff. They would make sense of what they were given and would integrate it into the appropriate manual in the appropriate place.

Where did the information come from? Real-life experiences. Anytime something did not go well, we tried to work together to figure out how to prevent that from happening again — that is where systems and processes come from. And when we were doing something right, we wanted to get that documented, too.

Why manuals for trade contractors and clients? They are part of your team and you need to set them up to be successful players. Writing down and sharing your expectations for these people and what they can expect from your company makes it easier for everyone to literally and figuratively be on the same page.

How did we keep the manuals alive? We would train using them. The training sessions would be short and were integrated into our “Monday Morning Meetings.” We would tell everyone on staff that we would be asking questions about certain pages in either the employee manual or the field manual at the upcoming meeting. Whoever answered a question correctly about the material they had read would get a point. At the end of the year, the person with the most points would get to pick first from the holiday gift pile — makes learning fun!

We also would give a new employee the appropriate manuals. And, after he’d had a chance to review them, his manager would go through the manual(s) with him, page by page, verifying that the information was understood.

Finally, the manuals would be referenced on an as-needed basis by those who needed to find out how we did a particular task at our company.

What motivated us to do all this? My wife, Nina, and I wanted to have the company depend on us less because we wanted to do other things besides work there. And, as you mentioned, we wanted to build value in the company in the eyes of a potential buyer.

So, is it worth it to do all this work? Like I said before, yes. Do it in small pieces and watch how it begins to add up! 

—Paul Winans, a veteran remodeler, now works as a facilitator for Remodelers Advantage, and as a consultant to remodeling business owners. Contact him at paul@remodelersadvantage.com.