How Do I Write a Franchise Operations Manual?

Ready to franchise? Great. Let’s talk operations manual for your FDD.

Most new concepts automatically assume they are the best authority to document their processes, and to write their own manuals. There’s some wisdom to that, no one knows the product better than you. I won’t tell you that you shouldn’t write your own stuff, but here are some considerations to help you decide whether or not it’s the best long-term decision.

Or maybe you already have an operations manual, and either have or recognize the need for more specialized guides and documents for different audiences, and are wondering if there is a better way.

Here are some questions for you and your team to answer before you begin writing your own, using simple tools like a word processing program.

Will franchisees ever need to localize their manuals due to local regulations?

It depends on the type of franchise system. Any health-related concept will have laws specific to their state or region. If you have international units, you’ll probably need (at least) one for each country in which you do business.

Younger systems are usually concentrated geographically, so this might not be a concern. At first. If you grow, you’ll need multiple versions.

Will processes ever differ based on unit size?

Again, it can depend on the type of franchise you have. Many brands have full-size locations, but modify operations for stand-alone, inline, mall, airport, or co-brand locations. Each of those situations will require modified standards, procedures, and policies (and maybe even product offerings). A static document will have trouble accommodating those differences, especially if change happens quickly.

What was the exact wording of a specific policy back in April of 2014?

When your attorney asks you that question, you should probably have an answer.

Will franchise partners, or their employees, ever need to access documents from home? Or on a mobile device?

Printed manuals are fine, but they have plenty of challenges. If there is only one per unit, do people have to share? If there are multiple copies per unit, how do you know they are all accounted for when you create a new version? Real estate, cleaning services, and lawn care concepts are just three examples for which mobile devices might be a better fit than a hefty binder of material. Consider your audience.

Some other considerations to mull over:

  • Change is inevitable, and constant. Who will make them? How often? How will you communicate the changes?
  • An operations manual is a necessary first step, but store development and training guides are just as important and usually follow very quickly behind. One change usually means multiple documents need to be changed.
  • Do you have writers on staff?
  • Are your attorneys comfortable with your level of detail?

Yes, you can absolutely do this yourself.

There are a lot of concepts that do create their own manuals, especially initially. But change is constant and, if you’re lucky, growth will take you to new heights. With growth comes diversity – in franchisee skill level, in store types, in regional differences – and each of these will need to change as you change equipment packages, sign national contracts, and update your branding. 

Here’s some advice if you choose to go it alone:

  • Keep it short, and break it up. You don’t have a 400 page document, you have 400 topics that are one page each. (Or 100 topics that are 4 pages each – point is, you have topics that serve multiple manuals/guides/modules.)
  • Write once, publish everywhere. Some of those topics are re-used in the operations, master training, and employee reference guides. It helps if you only have to change in one place.
  • Print layout is more difficult than creating web pages, but you should make items accessible in both media.
  • Schedule your updates. A common mistake by those making changes themselves is to make ad hoc changes, as they come in. This method keeps you on top of things, but creates multiple versions which, if not communicated properly, will cause some locations to be working off of old documents, opening you to liability.
  • Plan for growth. Your business plan presumes a level of growth over time. Your operations, training, and development guides need to be ready to accommodate that growth. It’s far easier to plan for it when building than to make adjustments later.
  • Keep version to a minimum. You have to communicate change every time a change is made. If you do this every month, it can be difficult to get the word out.

There’s no question you need to document your business. The question is whether or not you go it alone.

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