Documentation Should Be a Priority, not a Last Resort for Small Businesses.


As a small business owner, you may feel that you have a thousand things to juggle simultaneously. In the hustle and bustle of daily operations, documenting processes is not a high priority. 

However, process documentation is critical to running a successful small business. 

In this article, we will explore the importance of documenting processes and how they can contribute to the growth and sustainability of your small business.

Understanding Business Documentation

Before diving into the benefits, let’s first define process documentation. 

It is the practice of recording step-by-step instructions, workflows, and procedures that guide your employees in performing their tasks consistently and effectively. 

Importantly, there is no one-way same-way outcome for business documentation. It needs to be designed to the needs of a small business. This can depend on several factors, including size, industry, complexity, regulation, and users. 

Business documentation can take many shapes and forms too:

  • Policies: these are fundamental for any sized business and describe standards that ensure the business complies with all statutory, legal, employment and consumer obligations.
  • Processes: commonly referred to as process maps, these documents provide a visual standard that represents how a series of activities and tasks should be executed.
  • Standard operating procedures: describe in detail step-by-step tasks to be completed to fulfil the activities and functions of a process. This includes references to other systems, equipment and tools that enable the procedure.
  • Checklists: simple-to-use lists that provide users with easy-to-follow steps to complete procedures. These are often positioned so that users have access to them exactly where and when they need them.
  • Visual Standards: aids placed in positions to visually indicate what and how should be done and what the result looks like. 
  • Risk Management Matrix: measures the likelihood and consequence of events that can negatively impact the running of the business. The document describes controls to prevent, detect, mitigate and manage the risks.

Don’t overlook what is the appropriate documentation for the work at hand. The risk is that you dive right into business documentation and end up making one of two errors:

1. You overinvest in the documentation that creates more effort to use and maintain than the value for users. 

2. You underinvest in the documentation that is too generic to engage users to practise and fails to add value to your business.

If nothing else, the value of your business documentation is to serve as a reference point for your team, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and reducing the chances of errors or misunderstandings.

But there are many more benefits to document your business processes. 

1. Improved Staff Efficiency and Consistency

If you want to increase the motivation of your people, then help them to be their best through clear roles and responsibilities.

With clear guidelines, employees can focus on their tasks and avoid confusion, leading to increased efficiency. 

Process documentation also ensures consistency, as everyone follows the same set of instructions, resulting in a uniform output that meets your business standards.

2. Easier Training and Onboarding for New People

One of the most disappointing processes for people is the onboarding experience.

When you have well-documented processes, training new employees becomes a breeze. 

New hires can quickly familiarise themselves with your business operations and adapt to their new roles. This reduces the time spent on training and allows your new team members to become productive faster.

The alternative is new hires working out their way to get work done. This adds more variation to processes and more significant risk to a consistent customer experience.

3. Knowledge Retention and Continuity – Avoid Key Person Risk

Have you ever worried about a staff member leaving your business because everything they do is only recorded in their brain? 

This is a critical person risk.

Inevitably, employees leave or change roles within your company. 

When this happens, their knowledge and experience might be lost, impacting your business negatively. 

Documented processes enable you to retain critical information, ensuring that your business continues to run smoothly even when key employees depart.

4. Facilitates Scalability from Small to Big Business

As your small business grows, it’s crucial to have processes that can be easily scaled up. 

Documented processes provide a roadmap for growth, allowing you to replicate and expand your operations without compromising quality or efficiency.

As you grow your business, you add and modify your existing documentation.

5. Easier Compliance and Auditing

Many industries have regulatory requirements that businesses must adhere to. 

Small businesses are only aware of the need to maintain critical documents once an event occurs or the regulator announces a visit.

Documented processes make it easier for your business to demonstrate compliance during audits, reducing the risk of fines and penalties. 

Additionally, well-documented processes can serve as evidence in case of disputes or legal issues.

Tips for Effective Process Documentation

To reap the benefits of business documentation, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Start with a “Top Down” approach. Break your business into the most critical functions for your business. For example, an insurance broker may elect the following functions: quotes, claims, payments, and policy renewals. 2.
  2. Identify the critical activities involved within each business function and which role in the organisation is responsible for that activity. An excellent tool for this exercise is a SIPOC diagram. 3.
  3. Determine the most appropriate form of documentation for the complexity and detail of the activities identified in step 2. Agree on the form of the documentation with those people involved in these activities. It must be user-friendly.4.
  4. Proceed with a “Bottom Up” approach whereby you run sessions with all users to develop a first draft of the business documentation. This should be run over several sessions. An iterative approach is always best, as you’ll see new information and perspectives through repetition. This can take up to seven drafts. 5.
  5. Once you have buy-in from all users and stakeholders, test the documentation by piloting its use. Make the necessary edits and then launch the business documentation.6.
  6. Regularly review and update your documentation to reflect changes in your business functions, policies, processes, procedures, and activities.


Documenting processes for your small business may seem daunting, but its benefits are well worth the effort. 

From improved efficiency and consistency to more accessible training and compliance, process documentation are vital to help your small business thrive. 

By investing time and resources into documenting your processes, you’re laying a solid foundation for the future success of your business. 

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