Writing an operations manual doesn't need to be complicated
Writing an operations manual doesn't need to be complicated
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Writing an Operations Manual for Your Small Business

The process of writing an operations manual for your small business may sound dry, but once you get to grips with the details, it can be satisfying and liberating: you answer all the “what ifs” that need to be addressed and make sure all essentials are covered.

An operations manual is essentially a handbook detailing how things are done and how they should be done in your business. It is as a collation of essential information for you, for any employees or volunteers you bring in to help with the business, and for any of the government or local authority agencies who may have a legitimate interest in your business operations. Just as your business grows and develops, so should your business operations manual. Give it a “birthday” to revisit and revise at every anniversary.

What is an operations manual for?

An operations manual sets the standards for your business operation and acts as the repository of essential practical information. Whereas parts of a business plan can be described as aspirational, this is much more “nuts and bolts”: think of information like how your company name is presented when answering the phone, details to be included in your automated email signature, processes for ordering supplies, and emergency contacts for, e.g., re-programming a key and transponder if you have lost your van keys.

Finding templates for policy and procedures manuals

Operations manual templates for food safety are readily available
Operations manual templates for food safety are readily available

While most businesses don’t have easy access to sector-specific templates, there are significant exceptions. If your enterprise has anything to do with catering, food handling or food retail, there are ready-made checklists available from the UK Government’s Food Standards Agency . This specifies that you must have an HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), the standard for managing food safety. Templates or checklists are available from the FSA or local authorities, or a food industry guide. The HACCP will form a major part of your Food Standards Agency but you will need to add other details specific to your business.

The Health & Safety Executive is another UK Government body which provides guidance and checklists for at least part of your small business operations manual. These can cover, among many areas of work:

  • Risk Assessment procedures as an element of an operations manual
  • COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health)
  • RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013)
  • Electrical Safety

HSE guidance is also available in relation to a great many areas from agriculture to construction, and from laundries and dry cleaning to motor vehicle repair. It’s always worth checking the HSE guidance as part of writing your operations manual since you will find not only helpful checklists, but also a clear exposition of the legal obligations which prevail in your field of work.

Writing an operations manual without a template

It is difficult to pick up a ready-made operations manual template because every business is different. That being said, here are some suggestions for you to consider, some of which will be readily adaptable to your particular business needs and others that will no doubt prompt you to think in the right direction.

Your operations manual should set out arrangements for:

Brand vision and consistency

  • The standard of service and response that customers can expect
  • Presentation: standard typeface and graphic style, email signature, logo and its use on print, social and other media

Office and admin procedures

  • Office equipment serial numbers and replacement details plus contact details for suppliers of consumables
  • Key holders and emergency arrangements for replacements
  • Data back-up and recovery arrangements
  • How payments are handled, record-keeping of orders, delivering and invoicing, tax return information
  • Details of professional advisers by category for ad hoc problem solving
  • Identifying numbers, location and copies of key documents, e.g. licences, insurance policies, finance agreements

Business basics: how-to lists (examples)

  • Checklist of equipment packed in the van for a decorating, electrical or plumbing business
  • Road safety checklist for the van before setting out on a long journey
  • Order of loading parcels for a local delivery service
  • Cleaning materials inventory and process for a mobile catering company

Policy documents required by law or for additional business security

  • Risk assessment
  • Health and safety checklist (either for your own use or as required by the Health & Safety Executive)
  • Employment handbook
  • Complaints handling procedure

We hope this has given you food for thought and some sustenance in the shape of suggestions that you can adapt to suit your business needs. When you’ve put your operations manual together, you will have a personalised operations manual template ready to update next time around.