Why You Need A Policies and Procedures Manual For Your Business

Why does a “Big Mac” look and taste same at every McDonalds, regardless of which one you go to? What allows a successful business to open hundreds of stores and have them be just as successful as the first? It is their Policies and Procedures. In this article, I will show you why you will want to create your own policies and procedures document.

Policies and Procedures are the recipe of what makes your business. When someone buys into a franchise, they are purchasing another companies policies and procedures because they have already worked out the “formula for success” in that niche. When you first start your own business you have to experiment a lot with various forms of advertising and learn some lessons the hard way. However, eventually you will find the advertising that works for you and you will know never to make that same mistake again.
This is your recipe for success and you should write it down. While you may not want to share your advertising research with your staff (in case one leaves and opens their own store), you will want to write a procedure for your staff to follow so that all your current and future staff will not make that same mistake again either.

One the biggest problems of hiring staff is that every new recruit needs to be trained and this can take a significant amount of time. However, with a well written procedure manual they can get up to speed in a fraction of the time.
Another problem with having staff is them leaving. Lets say that you hired a technician who was an absolute master at removing viruses and because of this, you took on a lot of virus removal work and even mentioned it in your advertising. Then one day, this technician was killed in a car crash or you find out that he was stealing from you and you have to fire him immediately. You business now has a big problem, you are no longer the virus removal professionals and its going to be difficult replacing him in a reasonable amount of time.

So what can you do about this? Make it a policy that all staff must document methods used so someone else can easily pick up where the last person left off.
Another important reason for documentation is that it also prevents an employee from holding your business hostage. A certain employee may be the only person that knows how to do a certain task and they can make themselves irreplaceable. You will often see this happening in large businesses where a System Administrator supporting old proprietary hardware or software that almost no one else knows how to support any more. To make matters worse, they will often recommend and install new systems that few people know how to manage just to ensure their job at the company in the future. If you ask your employees to document everything, this helps do away with this problem.

Of course, don’t make your policies and procedure manual just so you can easily replace staff. Make it a positive thing by making it guide to help your new and existing staff do their jobs better. If anyone doesn’t know what they need to do or how to do it, they can simply refer to the manual. Its about maintaining consistency and preventing problems before they arise – use it as a way to grow your business.

On that note, you and your staff will always be figuring out new and better ways to do a task so you will also need something that can easily be edited. Here are a few ways you could manage your policies and procedures manual:

  • A Simple Word Document – You can store a word document in a shared location on the network so your technicians can easily update it. The main problem with this is that anyone can read anything and there may be multiple versions of the document saved in various locations; causing mismatched documents.
  • Google Docs - Google Docs is like Microsoft Word and Excel with the exception that it is free and entirely online. The main advantage of this is that it shares changes in real time and you can set permissions of who can read or edit it. You can use Google Docs for free at: http://docs.google.com.
  • Wiki Software – A “Wiki” is a website that allows easy creation and editing of any number of interlinked pages using a simple markup language. Wikipedia.com is one such website that uses Wiki software. Wikipedia runs on Mediawiki but that is probably overkill for our policies and procedures setup. I recommend Dokuwiki which is a simple Wiki aimed at small companies for creating documentation of any kind. It also stores its data in plain text files so you do not need a database. Dokuwiki supports permission based sections so you could give the workshop technicians access to the technician section, but not to the marketing section and vice versa.
    You could run Dokuwiki on an intranet server which keeps your information off the internet, but you would need to lock the server down both physically and in the software since the text files would be readable if you were to slave the hard drive.
    If you dont know anything about setting up websites, Google Sites allows you to setup a Wiki and hosts it for you for free.

Each option has its pros and cons. Google Docs and an online Wiki are web accessible so its more vulnerable to hacking, but offline options are more prone to a technician gaining access to them physically. It is up to you to decide which one is best for you.

Bryce Whitty

About the Author

Bryce Whitty
More articles by me...
Bryce is an Australian computer technician and the founder of Technibble. He started his computer repair business when he was 17 years old and is still running it 9 years later. He is an avid traveller and spends at least a month of the year in another country.

Comments (17)

  • Ron says:

    I’m a network/system admin by day and after fixing computers for family, friends, friends of friends, co-workers.. you get the idea, I’ve finally started a night/weekend computer repair service. I don’t have employees and don’t plan on having any, but having policies and procedures in my docuwiki has helped me a lot in making sure I provide the best possible service every time. I think it helps stop bad habits from forming.

    I’ve also found that once I setup docuwiki, I’ve been filling it up with how-to’s, repair guides, etc as I run into things.

    Yet another helpful article at Technibble :) Thanks!

  • Jonathan S says:

    Working at my university’s Residential Networking with a team of 30 people, Bryce is right on the money – training takes lots of time and is quite expensive (imagine 15 techs in a room paid a fair wage for 5 hours and the costs can add up).

    To add to the headache, given the variability of funding, support options would vary for different affiliates of the university, so policies and procedures is as huge sticky point, and we’ve found that a training manual that is then exported to a wiki and constantly updated is the best way to go about things and in keeping everyone on the same page.

    The worst method of training in my opinion is through corporate videos, when I worked at Fry’s I was subjected to that crap (it was all sales stuff the service department folk didn’t need).

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  • Very good post and got good knowledge about it. Will surely use wiki’s.

  • Leanne Watson says:

    After years of doing maintenance programming for large corporations, it still baffles me that I must know everything about every department, yet they are not required to know ANYTHING about what I do. Heck most of them are confused by email alone. Plus having to justify every line of code is tedious and a pain in the rear. Any programmer, or repair person should already have the basics, and lets face it after almost 3 decades nothing has really changed there are only so many parts, and its all just a 1 or a 0. Documenting weird fixes is great, but even great documentation is useless with places like Geek Squad.

  • Frank Mylls says:

    I’m not 100% certain I would like to divulge all of my knowledge for all to partake in. Yes, it can hold a business hostage and can be frustrating when I can’t easily fix something but my co-worker knows how to fix it in 5 minutes, but lets face it: companies are out to make money, nothing else. Corporations always talk about company loyalty but there is virtually none when it comes to employee loyalty, especially nowadays. If you’re seen as expendable, once they have your knowledge there is nothing stopping them from letting you go and replacing you with some high school kid for 25% of what you were paid, outsourcing the work for pennies on the dollar, or even having a secretary or the janitor do double-duty with little or no increase in pay. I’m all for sharing amongst team members but at least if I keep a few things to myself my job is relatively safe. All techs/admins should have good broad knowledge in IT, but being the go-to guy is in my opinion the best use of a resource. Instead of having 5 guys running around scrambling through documentation to fix an issue, you have the 1 or 2 people who can be responsible for it and most likely get it resolved much more quickly. Not to mention there are aspects of our jobs that we hate and if there’s someone on the team who likes doing it or is willing, let them be the expert.

  • It is always a good idea to write up a manual of standard operation procedures. That way people know what they need to do beforehand and also so they know what is expected of them.

  • Great post and great ideas. I find it very useful to use Google Docs as they are easily accessible by everyone from everywhere. Also, I 100% agree that a manual of some sort is needed for a certain job procedures.

  • Kent Dyer says:

    SharePoint also works pretty well as it has it’s own Wiki which is what we use in the office. What is kind of funny is that we have propietary information that in fact we had to keep it private where the most of the other departments are able to use the Team Site or the Public SharePoint site..

  • We are big fans of google apps and use google docs for recording policies and procedures.

  • I setup a mediawiki for this exact purpose awhile back, but haven’t gotten around to filling it out yet. Now that I’m starting to hire technicians, I think it’s time to get back to it. Like you said, it will make getting everyone up to speed a lot easier. Thanks for the kick in the rear!

  • Just be careful how you implement a Policies and Procedure Manual in an existing business. Previously I had a job where my employer was trying to pressure me to quit and one of his strategies was getting me to contribute to similar documentation. He wanted to make it clear that every employee was replaceable. If an employee doesn’t feel appreciated, you may have to replace them sooner than expected. Even with good policies and procedures, it still takes time and money to replace employees.

  • Wiki’s are very useful. They provide lots of information.

  • Very useful article. Great idea to make a procedure so that you don’t have to train each employee

  • For every business it’s crucially important to define, test, optimize and constantly improve their various procedures. And I’m not only talking about Fortune 500 businesses – even the “small” website owner needs to take care of this – because sooner or later you will grow and you will want to outsource certain tasks, and that’s when you’ll need clearly defined, optimized and working procedures.

    By the way, for all those who are interested in building a business, I highly recommend a book called “The E-Myth” from M. Gerber – check it out on Amazon if you didn’t already read it ;-)

  • Here’s a good example for having a procedure in place in regard to something that just happened to me this week. I’ve used this one electrician before and he was great. Now he’ hired two guys to help him. Did they phone me to tell me that they were running late and wouldn’t make the appointment that the main guy booked. No and that totally wasted three hours of my day. having something in place for even the smallest business is important. I’m looking for a new electrician.

  • PDX Micro says:

    Great idea Bryce, I’ll be looking into this for sure. No company is too small for proper policies and procedures – even for those jobs you believe you know by heart. Sooner or later something will interrupt you during your work and you could be complacent.