How to Document a Business System

What is a Business System? A routine that helps complete a result with the same quality each & every time.

Growing a business is no easy task. A key factor in successfully gaining and keeping customers is having routines that delivery quality, dependable results. 

As your business grows, you may need to hire and train new staff to meet the demand for your product or service. This is where business systems enter the stage. “Systems” ensure that your company can deliver results, even if the people doing the work change. Based on the popular book E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, here are some tips on the “How” of creating documents and guides for your business. 

How many Systems do I need?
Even a small business could have 50+ micro systems, but I’d recommend at least 4 key systems: 

  • Sales: How to get a customer to say YES
  • Marketing: How to get a customer’s attention
  • Fullfillment: How I get my customer happy about the money they spend 
  • Money/Accounting: How I pay the bills / How I get paid

What needs to be documented?
The point of documenting the routine is to make a job easier. So remember to keep it clear, concise and as generic as possible (tailored for your business of course)

  • Document results you do well as a business (so you can continue to do it well over time).
  • Document routine tasks (so you keep the quality each time).
  • Document the “Core” of a system (clear, concise, generic)
  • If the system is too detailed, it deflates the employee who reads it. Don’t get bogged down in the details, but do add references if needed. 

How the system is communicated:
Remember - A system only works, if you work it. Make sure systems are easy to reference, up-to-date, and highly readable.  

  • A system is made up of 1) Steps 2) Standards
  • Steps say “What to do.”
  • Standards say “How to do” the steps (Keep the details in the Standards).
  • Each step needs: step description / position responsible / timing (What, Who, When).
  • Let team members know where systems can be referenced.
  • Organize systems used by the entire staff, as well as specific roles (sales, marketing).
  • When a system is updated, send an email to positions who work the system. Copy and paste the system from the place it’s documented (and can be found later).
  • Visuals are helpful, like a “Box & Arrow” diagram to help show Yes/No steps. (If Yes, move to step 4). 

How to document (the details):
Think of your document as a Checklist (simple steps) and the reference notes (scripts, links, and standards).

  • Answer the question: “What is this system supposed to do?“
  • List the 5-50 steps needed (save the details for the standards).
  • List the team member (position only) who does each step.
  • Add timing for each step. Use these terms: As needed, ASAP, 2 weeks, 1 day, 2 hours (means X time after trigger for the current step. "Return Phone call” assumes phone rang).
  • Add standards, scripts for staff to follow, links, and the “How to do” each step. Link or reference any support documents, other systems.
  • Standards include describing any Quantity / Quality / Behavior a staff member needs to use.
  • List resource requirements. This allows staff to see the needed tools/time before starting a task.
  • Include the total man-hours planned to complete the whole process from A-Z (amount & type of manpower needed to fulfill the result).
  • List any space/facilities/equipment needed (Types of space, utilities, physical tools, software, data). 

Tips / Ideas:
Keep these in mind when writing your documentation.

  • Test your time estimates by tracking hours. Estimate how many man-hours are involved in a system, then track how long it really takes. Do any steps take longer than expected? Do you need to tweak 1 or 2 steps?
  • Write for New employees, so they can understand quickly and easily
  • Don’t document just to document, have an action you are shooting for.
  • Don’t put Names in a system, use positions/titles. Org charts reference “Who’s who", not the process document.

If you are interested in learning more about creating a business that runs smoothly (or runs without you), I’d start with listening to the Audiobook. It is an 8 hours very well spent (in your car). Ready for the next step? Learn about more E-Myth Training.