How well does your business run without you? Does everything fall apart when you’re not there? Do you feel like a master juggler trying to keep all the balls in the air? If these questions strike a nerve, then maybe you’re missing an essential tool: an operations manual.
Many fitness business owners will tell you they have an operations manual, but when they show it to you, it’s just an employee handbook that contains policies regarding sexual harassment and vacation time. This is important to have, but it doesn’t constitute an operations manual. A legitimate operations manual contains everything that happens in your business and how it happens. It centralizes and contains your facility’s mission, its organizational structure, how you hire, how you train, your workflow processes, marketing systems, sales systems—and, of course, a section on policies.
Now that we’ve defined what an operations manual is, let’s review the top five reasons you need one.
1. It Provides a Framework
You need an operations manual so you can stop “flying by the seat of your pants.” If employees come to you with urgent questions and you’re always making decisions on the fly, that’s a strong indication you need an operations manual. The best businesses spend time on important things like strategic planning, but if you’re always rushing to manage urgent situations, you’ll never have time to build your business.
2. It Houses Best Practices
Not planning is the same as planning to fail, so create your best systems for doing business, document them, and revise as needed. In his book The Lean Startup , Eric Ries writes about the “Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop.” The lesson is to measure every system that’s built into your business and learn from the feedback you receive. Of course, the operations manual is subject to change! Systems get better with trial and error, so you’ll have opportunities to improve the manual.
Remember that hope alone is not a plan. You can’t simply hope that you hired right, that you provided adequate training, that the marketing works and that you have a good sales system in place. Instead, you have to plan for these things and write down the procedures.
3. It’s a Financially Fit Strategy
Would you like to make more money? Good, because the third reason you need an operations manual is to reduce costs and make more money. You might still be thinking that you don’t need to write things down. “It’s common sense, and if someone can’t use common sense, then I’ll hire someone else,” you say? That’s a mistake.
In the book Scaling Up , Verne Harnish writes, “Even smart people [like doctors] need checklists. In one hospital, a checklist prevented 43 infections and eight deaths, while saving $2 million in costs.” There are many checklists in a standard operations manual, and there’s a serious amount of cost savings associated with these checklists. Business owners will tell you that the biggest preventable expense is employee turnover. Hiring the right people is one of the most efficient ways to prevent turnover, yet most fitness managers and owners don’t have a hiring checklist like the “12 Steps to a Good Hire” in Dave Ramsey’s book EntreLeadership .
Taking time to develop a hiring system, writing that system down and keeping it in your operations manual is just one way to cut costs and help you make money. Having such information on hand keeps employees who make $50 or more per hour (such as yourself) from doing $10-an-hour jobs. Look at it this way: Surgeons specialize in surgery, and janitors sweep the floor. Sure, if surgeons sweep the floor they get points for demonstrating that they appreciate every job. However, who does the surgery while the surgeons are sweeping the floor? As the owner/manager, you are the surgeon, and you have work to do that no one else can do. Your duties generally can’t be written down and taught to others, so prioritize your responsibilities while letting others do their jobs, all of which should be clearly outlined in the “workflow processes” section of your operations manual.