How to write a small business operations manual

What is a small business operations manual?

A small business operations manual is a document that states what you do in your business or how you carry out the day-to-day activities of your business. It is a blueprint that states how your
business works.

small business operations manual

How to write a small business operations manual

Larger businesses for example, those in the food business, tend to have operations manuals that specify, in minute details, the rigorous cooking instructions such as recipes, cooking times, temperatures, portions, etc.

Documenting operating procedures helps to ensure consistency and reliability in service quality and customers experience.

This article is a guide to help you write a small business operations manual.

It explains the benefits of documenting your small business operating procedures and provides a list of areas to cover when writing one for your small business.

Benefits of writing an operations manual

Writing an operations manual can help a small business owner have a clearer view of all the aspects of the business and to improve their business processes.

The small business operations manual is useful not only for the small business owner and the current employees but also serves as a reference point for future employees.

Although many small business owners know the businesses in and out, they may feel there is no point documenting their process.

However, having a concise documentation of operating procedures, helps to create a standard for your business.

It is a business tool that can help build employees’ confidence in your business because they know that your business is organised.

Consequently, they are able to perform their jobs optimally, because they know what to do at every point in time.

In addition, customers will get a hint of this confidence and would see your business as organised and professional.

Areas to cover when writing an operations manual

A small business operations manual should be very detailed and specific, and should cover just about every aspect of the day-to-day small business operations.

Although an operations manual for any business is unique to that business, a general guide to writing an operations manual for your small business considers the following aspects:

Writing opening procedures in small business operations manual

Things to write here include:

  • What you do when you open your business location every morning.
  • Location specific procedures if you have more than one location.
  • What employees should do if the business was burgled overnight.
  • The equipment that should be ready before the first customer comes through the door.
  • How you and your staff should be dressed.

Writing about the business processes

Things to write here include:

  • How you handle power cuts and system downtimes.
  • How you handle and monitor customer complaints.
  • Who handles and verifies transactions.
  • The common misconceptions and errors and how they should be handled.
  • At what point a process or transaction should be escalated to a higher authority.
  • When and where to order supplies and products.
  • Where important business contacts and customers details are stored and how to access them when needed.

Writing about the business policies

Things to write here include:

  • Private use of work facilities (telephone, computers, internet etc.)
  • Customer refunds.
  • Prohibition during work hours.
  • Business expense policy.
  • Staff holidays.

Writing about health and safety in an operations manual

Things to write here include:

  • Where the first aid box is located and how to access and administer it.
  • What should be done if there is a hospital emergency.
  • What should be done in an emergency such as fire.
  • Locations of fire extinguishers and how to use them.
  • Telephone number of fire station – where applicable.

Writing about security in small business operations manual

Things to write here include:

  • What should be done if there’s a robbery attack.
  • Telephone number of nearest police station – where applicable.


Having these areas documented in a manual can be reassuring to you as a business owner and would help to build the confidence of your staff.

This is because everyone knows what is expected of them and there is a blueprint for contingencies.

The time and money invested to prepare an operations manual is time well-spent because it is a one-time investment that can be multiplied over many transactions.

The small business operations manual should be written in simple and plain language.

It is advisable to keep it in a list format.

A business operations manager or staff responsible for keeping the manual up-to-date simply needs to update the manual if or when the business processes change.

The manual should be kept in a place that is easily accessible – every staff should know where to find it.