5 steps to document your small business processes

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Paula Holsberry

Founder, Tessera Virtual Business Solutions

Basic processes are the foundation of any successful small business

They are the set of activities, tasks, and responsibilities that are required to achieve the goals you want to attain. These processes can include everything from marketing and sales to internal onboarding and operations. 

While all businesses have processes, you may not have taken the time to define (or refine) and document them in a format that is accessible and user-friendly. But doing so will reap great benefits in the long run.

5 steps to document your small business processes
Why should you document your business processes?

Defining and documenting business processes helps to ensure that your business runs smoothly and is moving toward your goals. It helps to improve efficiency and productivity by providing clear guidelines for completing tasks and achieving objectives. 

If you are working with others in your business, whether a virtual assistant, an outside contractor, or an employee, documenting basic processes helps to enhance communication and collaboration, as it provides a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities. 

If you are working as a solopreneur at this point in your business journey, defining your processes now is more important than ever. When you work alone, everything rides on you. Consistency is key. Remembering every detail you need to do for your business and HOW you do that thing becomes impossible without some written guidelines. 

Moreover, documenting your processes now will allow you to scale quickly when it is time to grow your team. If everything is documented and easily updated, you will be able to hand off parts of your work incrementally so that you can continue to focus on growing your business while your new team members takes on other work. 

5 Steps for defining business processes

So now that you are convinced that defining and documenting your processes is key to future business success, how do you get started? Let’s break it down into five basic steps.

  1. Identify 3 key business processes
  2. Document each process in detail
  3. Assign roles and responsibilities
  4. Implement and test each process
  5. Review each process periodically
Identify 3 key business processes

Start with just 3. More than that and the task seems too overwhelming. To identify the key processes in your business, brainstorm a list of all the activities, tasks, and responsibilities that are required to achieve the goals of your business.

Narrow that list by asking a few questions:

  • Which processes are most critical to the success of your business?
  • Which processes have the greatest impact on efficiency and productivity?
  • Which processes have the most potential for errors or mistakes?

To get you started, here are a few documented processes that many small businesses need.

  • Tracking leads through a sales funnel
  • Onboarding a new client or team member
  • Creating and managing content

Once you have identified key processes, you can then prioritize these and begin documenting and implementing them.

Document each process in detail

To be honest, this is the step where many small business owners get stuck. They see documentation as a tedious task where the time spent is not worth the return. Remember that detail does not always mean hours of extra time. If this is a key process in your business, you are already doing it anyway, right? The small amount of time added to document what you are already going will have a huge return on investment as you grow your business.

To document a process, break it down into individual steps, providing detailed instructions for each step. The easiest way to do this is to create a screen-share video (Loom is a great option.) of you completing the tasks involved while talking through them. Use the provided transcript of the video and you have the beginning of a documented process. Then refine the transcript, adding links to the files needed. If time is a factor, you can outsource this step by sending the video to a contractor or team member who will pull the information from the video into a workable document.

There are several ways to show the steps in a process so that team members easily understand. Create a simple step-by-step written process or create a flow chart or swim lane chart. You can also create a document with screenshots of the process that is being done or perhaps a combination of one or more of these options. The key is for the information to be communicated clearly.

One other important thing to note. If someone else is currently doing this process, they should be the ones creating the screen-share video and talking through it. They can then create the documentation or ask someone else to use the video to do that.

Assign roles and responsibilities

Identify who will be responsible for completing each step or task in the process. This can be individual employees, departments, or teams, depending on the size and complexity of the process. If the entire process is completed by one person, show that in the heading of the process document. Of course, as the responsible party changes, the document will be easily updated.

If the process is more in-depth and requires more than one person or role to be involved, the responsible party can be listed next to the actual step in the process. Depending on the type of document used, this may be text only or a color-coded system on a chart.

It is important to ensure that the roles and responsibilities are clearly communicated to all employees, as this can help to avoid misunderstandings and confusion. By assigning roles and responsibilities for each process, you can ensure that all tasks are completed accurately and that everyone knows what is expected of them.

Implement and test each process

Before implementing a newly documented business process, make sure that all involved are aware of the process and have received the process documentation and any necessary resources. Give them access to documents that are linked to the new plan and introduce any necessary tools to support the process, such as specific software.

Once the process has been implemented, test it to ensure that it is working effectively. One entrepreneur I know gives the process documentation to someone on her team who has not done this task before. If the process document is missing information or is unclear at any point, the team member can ask clarifying questions. These questions inform what other information should be added to the process document.

By testing the process, you can identify any issues or areas for improvement before finalizing the process document. Once it is updated, store it in a place that is easily accessible and editable. Your processes are always a work in progress.

Review each process periodically

Once the initial testing of your process is complete, ensure it remains effective over time by encouraging feedback. Set the expectation that the team should be willing to make improvements based on that feedback. As feedback is received, take note of it and link it back to the process document. At the determined interval (3 months, 6 months, etc) use the feedback from others and observations that you make during that time to assess the changes you want to make going forward.

Changes may involve adjusting the process itself, providing additional training or resources, or introducing new systems or tools to support the process. By continuously reviewing and improving your processes, you can ensure that they are always working effectively to support the goals of your business.

Best practices to consider

When you begin to document key processes in your business, choose a person who will be the “keeper of the processes.” This simply means the person who is responsible for creating a system for housing the documentation. This person can be tasked with gathering feedback as it comes in and then setting reminders to evaluate the process at regular intervals. This ensures that all documented processes are updated and accurate as well as easily accessible to all.

Once the processes are documented, you may want to consider creating templates in your work management software that will outline the steps in the process. These templates can be used any time the process should be enacted.

When an individual is completing the entire process, using a template ensures that no steps are forgotten. If multiple people are responsible for their part in a process, using a templated system lets everyone involved know who is doing what by when, where the bottlenecks are, and it gives them the ability to communicate about the process right where the work is occurring.

Finally, consider using automation to streamline your processes. Automation involves the use of technology to automate repetitive tasks, freeing you and your team up to focus on higher-value activities.

The list of available automation software is long and the best one for you depends on many factors. The size of your business, the number of users of the software, and the type of processes you plan to automate. Consider hiring an expert in the platforms you are looking at to walk you through possibilities before jumping in.

Wrap-Up and Resources

Documenting basic business processes is an essential part of running a successful business. By following the steps and best practices outlined above, you can effectively define and implement your processes to improve efficiency and productivity.

For further reading:

Why Every Company Needs Standard Operating Procedures

The Simple Process of Creating an SOP

Paula Holsberry

Contributed by

Paula Holsberry

Founder, Tessera Virtual Business Solutions

Paula is the Founder of Tessera Virtual Business Solutions. She is dedicated to helping businesses boost profit by reducing inefficiencies in their systems and processes. She offers Asana Consulting and Training, Process Improvement Consulting, and Business Management.