Got a Play Book?


By Leslie Banks 

Professional sports teams have them.  High School Teams have them.  Even departments in many large and mid-sized companies have them.  But, what about the small one- or two-person operations? My hunch is not so much. Growing up in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s as the child of two successful entrepreneurs, I know that there can be so many things that are more important than sitting down and pounding out a how-to manual for running a small company – even a small biz that is generating large revenues.  My dad, a real estate developer and mortgage banker handled millions of dollars; my mom, an interior designer managed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Aside from a full-time secretary (dad) and a part-time design assistant, and the occasional intern (mom), neither parent had a play book – an operations manual that described the business and/or how it functioned.  Thankfully, neither was ever out of the country or out of commission long enough to require that someone step in and take full command of the ship, but had such a need ever arisen, I don’t know what either of my parents would have done.

For Better, For Worse

By the way it’s not just a protracted illness or serious injury that could cause a small business to come to a grinding halt in the absence of its chief.  Imagine that, following a genius YouTube video, Tweet or other social media event that links directly to your business goes viral, your phone starts blowing up, at precisely the time you have to be….anywhere but at your headquarters taking calls, orders, or what have you. Imagine that while you are handling the business you do have, you can’t possibly accommodate the new customers beating down your door.  What if, just for a few hours or days or weeks, you needed someone to come in and help manage the boon, but you had no time for any major training sessions; you just needed someone to come in and get their arms around a task or project, just until the job was done or things settled down.  Whether you call a temp agency or your cousin’s wife’s step-brother, without some direction, without a playbook you would have to divert time and energy from handling the business you already have to teaching the help how to do what you need them to do. 

But, what if in your time of need, the help that arrived had a manual- instructions on how to handle the work that needs to be done?  What if you had a play book? Maybe not for every, miniscule work that your business entailed, but for tasks that could be handled by someone other than you while did other stuff, or were off someplace else? 


How it Works

A company play book or operations manual need not be complicated, or require reams of paper.  It can be as simple or elaborate as needed to explain how a job is done.  For example, if you’re in a business that involves any type of on-boarding of new clients, what is the process? How is their data captured: on a paper form, in a computer database? What are the next steps: the scheduling of a consultation? Where do the next steps happen: in your office? At the client’s office?  On the other hand, maybe you already have a filing system, either paper or digital, but business has been booming, there’s a mountain of paperwork that has to be filed or scanned into a database and there is just no way you can get to it, but it has to get done because you’re about to launch a special promotion and each sheet of paper in your mountain is a potential customer that must be targeted in the promotion.  The help you need has arrived and with the instructions contained in the play book the job can get done with little or no supervision. 

One other benefit of a play book, aside from needing short- or long-term help, is that it ensures consistency and uniformity in how things are done.  A play book can help ensure that all clients or jobs are treated equally. Furthermore, it can help you or perhaps a business coach or consultant identify areas or procedures in your operation that work well and/or that need improvement. It can also demonstrate a needed level of professionalism, if for example a potential client or customer or investor or attorney or insurer wants to see evidence of your operation or company policies. That play book is the evidence that you take your business seriously.  Finally, a play book, or certain sections of the book can serve as the basis for a capability statement or request for a proposal. 

How it Looks

As I said, a play book need not be elaborate. If you’re the analog type, a binder with tabs is a good place to start.  Begin with a general overview of the business, a list of the names and contact numbers and email addresses of the owner and anyone else with decision-making and check-writing authority.  Maybe a simple flow chart of the operation, just to provide an overview of how things work would be in order.  Next, you might want a tab for any job that has a specific process to complete. For example,  if your business involves taking orders on a paper form, include a blank master copy of the form and another, labeled SAMPLE to serve as anexample of howit is to be filled out when an order is taken.  Or, if you provide a service that keeps you out in the field, like a landscaping business with clients who have standing orders for weekly lawn maintenance, you might want to include a client list with phone numbers, addresses and the weekly services you provide, along with a service calendar.  If your company relies on supplies or inventory to function, you would absolutely need a directory of all suppliers, or vendors, the names of the individuals with whom you have direct dealings, a list of the key items you purchase, how you make your orders, and terms of payment. If you are the digital type, your manual can be saved on a hard drive and even uploaded to the cloud, say in Google Docs or Drop Box.  Ideally you should have both hard and digital copies of your manual.

In terms of some unforeseen misfortune, may you never need a play book for the purpose of handing over the reins of your business because you are out of commission. On the other hand, in the event that your business is booming, so much so, that you need a few extra hands to keep things running smoothly, may you have the tools you need to ensure that everything is handled properly.

Whatever business you’re in, the smaller the operation, the more you need to have a play book, a manual that describes and/or illustrates the business and how it works. As things evolve, as your business grows or changes, so too can the book.