Today’s entrepreneurs have it both better and worse than any generation of their peers has in the past. The sheer volume of technologies and tools at our fingertips is overwhelming to the point of suffocation, but when used properly, those tools can be incredibly powerful.
Every day I am bombarded with ads for new tools, services, and apps that will supposedly make me more efficient and help me get more out of my business, but in truth only 1 in 100 of those things will ever actually help me personally. What does help, I’ve found, is to start documenting what you do and how you do it early and often. To help you do the same for your business, here are seven simple tips for documentation of how your business works, which tools you use, and what you’ve tried (whether successfully or not).
Notebooks, sticky notes, and emails are not good tools to keep track of how your business operates. You can certainly spend a boat load of money and buy expensive software like Omnifocus for organizing tasks and to do lists, or you can keep it simple.
For all of my documentation needs, I use Evernote. I’ve broken my business down into five main components—sales, marketing, production, management, and financial—and created separate notebooks in which I keep notes about specific tasks I perform on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. From receipts and tax documents to the emails we send to cold leads, I have everything in about twenty-five carefully organized journals, and it’s all free.
Whatever tool you decide to use, make sure it has a mobile component. Evernote fits the bill here, which is one of the reasons I started using it, and another app I like for its mobile integration is Day One, a journaling app. With desktop and iOS mobile editions, Day One is a great way to jot down notes about what I did and any concerns I had on any given day.
Collaborate with Colleagues and Clients
Even if you work 100% on your own, don’t be afraid to ask other people in your industry (or even your clients) what they think about a certain process.
We actively engage our clients and ask what they think about our sales processes, our marketing techniques, and the service they received. What good would it do to document a complex process if you find out two years later that your clients hate it?
Use GTD to Prioritize
David Allen’s Getting Things Done is one of the most important books ever written about productivity, and there is an entire category of software built around the concepts in that book.
The basic idea is fairly simple: when a task comes in, you act on it immediately. The task either goes on your to-do list with a date and time for completion, into a bin for later consideration, or to a staff member or contractor who can handle it for you. All tasks must be actionable. The last thing you want to see in three weeks is a task on your list that says “get new clients”. Thank you self, that’s very specific.
The GTD method of task management helps in documentation because it forces you to think in terms of priority and actionable tasks. When you do that, it’s a lot easier to create a list of what tasks were involved.
Review Notes Once a Month
When you’re taking so many notes, it’s easy to sit down daily and read through them and try to create a pattern, but to maximize the return on your time investment, it’s important that you only review your notes once a month.
When you do, three things happen:
- You start to see clear patterns
- You can organize those patterns into processes
- You can make plans based on your processes for the next month
Better yet, you’re not distracted daily by the urge to compulsively reorganize your schedule. It’s only done once a month.
Share Notes with Customers
Don’t just ask clients and customers for feedback; show them exactly what you record. We use internal notes as marketing materials, actually sending prospective clients a full outline of what we do and how we do it so they can see who they are hiring.
Not only does it create trust because of the transparency; it allows us to clear up any issues before a project starts that would otherwise create problems.
Hold Nothing Sacred
Your business is special to you, and there are certain things you’ve been doing for years that work well, but things change. Whether you are growing rapidly, or being forced to make key changes with advances in technology, you need to be ready and willing to revise old processes when they don’t work as well anymore. When you’re constantly taking note of what you do and how you do it, you’ll see these patterns more quickly and be able to adjust to them in real time, not weeks or months down the road. That kind of agility is extremely important when trying to stay ahead of the ever evolving curve of online business.
One of the most valuable assets your business has is in your head; it’s the steps you take every day to get things done. When you write these down, you make it possible to automate, outsource, and streamline just about every aspect of what you do. That doesn’t mean you have to hire someone to replace you, but you’ll be that much closer to the point at which you could.
Full documentation takes time, but if you start now you will begin to see positive results almost immediately, and with time you will hopefully create a habit that makes it possible to blaze through just about every task on your to-do list.