Define the Process – Where to store your documents

If you want to grow your business, you have to set up processes and document those processes. As we engage with clients in helping them set up these documents, we always just start by focusing on one process. This first process is usually in a word doc on a local computer.

This is a great start, but since processes are all connected, this document starts to grow and then others need to review it. Someone else starts to document their processes and pretty soon you have docs all over the place. It becomes a confusing mess. The worst part of this mess is that no one knows where to find the documents so they end up not using them.

I had a client that asked the following question recently:

“Where should we store our process documents? “

This is a great question. And it is an important question because I find that the answer makes a big difference in terms of how much the documents get used and updated. I find there is usually a progression in getting better and better documents that follow these steps:

Step One – Local Files

Of course, I’m ecstatic whenever a client starts documenting, and my goal is to help eliminate all friction around creating process documents. It is very common for a client to just open word and start typing and then save the doc on their local computer. A business owner or team leader might print these out or just review the docs regularly to make sure the process is being followed.

Step Two – Shared files

At some point, these documents need a bit more structure and other people also need to access them. Inevitably this means they need to share them on a server. While there is no arguing that more and more data is moving to the cloud, we still have lots of customers with on-premises file storage (a server located within their building).

As a tech person who has been using cloud storage for over a decade for my business, local servers seem strange to me. I haven’t done a detailed survey, but my guess would be close to 50% of my clients still store files on a local file server. I get why if that is the current place their employees know where to look for documents. However, it would be a better step to place these shared files onto a cloud file service like Dropbox or One Drive or Google Drive. These services make sharing a bit easier, especially if they aren’t in the building.

Step Three – Cloud docs

As you progress in your documentation, you have more and more of a need to collaborate with your team. The best process documentation isn’t top-down, but bottom-up. You have to create a culture where everyone is owning their process and keeping documentation updated. The more we can use technology tools to collaborate, the better our documentation will be.

One easy next step is to train your team to start creating and editing files in the web-based versions of Word in Office365 or by using Google Docs. These tools increase collaboration, even allowing multiple team members to be reviewing a file together and seeing changes in real-time. There is very little fear of making updates because you have a near-infinite history of changes and your team can easily add comments if there are questions about certain details. Additionally, these documents can be easily edited on your phone, taking even greater friction out of the process of reviewing and updating processes.

Step Four – Workspace collaboration

Once you have started documenting your processes in files, I do find organization can start to be difficult. Some people put everything put together in a giant single file. This can work for a while but collaboration can be difficult and it is hard to navigate or make significant changes. Another option is to have everything in separate files and then to start adding folders to organize things on your file server. Again, this can work for a while, but people start to get confused about where the documents are located and what folder they are in.

The solution for many of my clients has been to move their documents into a workspace collaboration system. These types of systems are cloud-based and give you the ability to quickly edit and link docs within the software. There are some great options on the market in this space are Notion, Coda, and Sharepoint.

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