Pro Tip for Startups: Document Your Processes

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This story appears in the October 2014 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

"Document your processes" is a B-school chestnut that's been pounded into upper-management training for decades. But here's the thing: That same nugget applies to your 1-month-old, one-person startup, as well. You may think that's crazy as you bounce between different roles and duties every five minutes, and your company's product, target market and business plan are still being worked out, but it's not. Simply put, if you know where you want to go as a business, the step-by-step processes you implement will tell you how to get there.

To explain what that means, Joe Worth, a CFO for both public and private companies and Entrepreneur's "Ask the Money Guy" columnist, recounts a story about a small high-tech machine tool manufacturer he worked for, where every single process in the company was written out and housed in a row of three-ring binders. "They even spelled out how to clean and stock the company kitchen," Worth says. "I asked the owner why she'd gone to this level of detail, and she told me, 'I want to act like the company I want to become.' On an operational level, it was fantastic. I was able to grab the accounting process book put together by the outgoing controller, and within five minutes I was in business."

As Worth's experience points out, the biggest benefit to documenting processes is the control it gives you over your company and its future. Once done, you can delegate tasks to new hires, partners or contract workers, or more easily move employees from one position to another, freeing you up to focus on growing your business. "In a startup, new people are joining the company all the time," Worth says. "When there's a specific process in place, everyone knows what their job is and what's expected of them."

But even if it's just you running your business, writing out a checklist (for, say, sales calls, accounts payable and accounts receivable) or a packing list (for trade-shows or conferences) will help keep you on top of your business. "This is what every Fortune 500 company does, and it's what every franchisor has to do to enable complete strangers to execute their business model," Worth says. "If you do the same thing on day one of your startup, you're going to be well ahead of the competition in creating a more valuable company."

Edition: September 2017

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