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I outsource quite a bit to my virtual assistant. Posting podcast episodes, updating WordPress, managing social media… there are a lot of varied tasks that she handles for me (with aplomb, I should add).

But what happens when she has to quit? Or what if she’s unavailable for a week? I’ve spent a lot of time helping her get up to speed on the different tools and processes that she uses. How could I train someone else to quickly fill her shoes?

That’s why I’ve built a Process Handbook for my business. A Process Handbook gives you an easy way to archive and share your training to new virtual assistants and team members.

What is a Process Handbook?

A Process Handbook is essentially a big pack of documentation about how to handle various tasks and processes in your business (or personal life). Process Handbooks should be self contained, easy to understand and navigate around, and quickly shareable.

Ultimately, a Process Handbook should be able to teach someone how to complete any key task in your business. Nothing is too small or insignificant to include; don’t be afraid to document yourself out of a job—that’s the point!

What makes a good Process Handbook?

A good Process Handbook has a few key attributes:

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First, it should be widely accessible. You want anyone on your team to be able to access the handbook so they can easily consult it.

Second, you should know the audience. A Process Handbook written for developers will be dramatically different than one written for a general virtual assistant. You may even use different tools to manage the handbook, depending on your audience (see below!).

Third, you should always be more detailed than you think you need to be. You never know who will read articles in the handbook and what level of experience they might have. Thoroughly document everything. Above all, never assume the reader knows what you’re talking about.

To that end, the fourth attribute is illustrate wherever you can. Use screenshots and video to make it even clearer how to complete tasks. Use apps like Skitch to mark up screenshots with arrows, circles, and text so the audience can easily see where to look and click.

Like I said before, you should document every aspect of your business. If something isn’t documentable, that’s a sign it should be rethought so it fits into a tidy process that anyone could easily complete.

How I use Process Handbooks

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I actually have two process handbooks. One is a Gollum/Jekyll powered wiki that lives in our team Bitbucket account. It’s developer-oriented and open for anyone on the team to view and edit. In this handbook, we keep information like…

  • Coding style
  • Server documentation (how to restart a server, clear caches, manage backups, etc.)
  • Recommended reading
  • Communication guidelines

This Process Handbook—the “vpm-handbook” in internal parlance—is a way for me to quickly bring developers up to speed with how we work, and historical documentation of how to complete various tasks.

The second handbook is shared between myself and my virtual assistant, and covers how to complete various day-to-day tasks, such as:

  • Updating WordPress installations
  • Setting up new Wrapp Up episodes
  • Posting new articles to StudioSleuth
  • Ordering translations from Rev.com

I keep this Process Handbook in Google Drive, with each article as a separate document within a shared folder. This makes it easy to share the handbook as a whole or in specific parts depending on the specific situation.

Each article in this handbook makes excessive use of screenshots. While screenshots aren’t too useful in our developer handbook, here they make lots of sense. This makes it easier to hand off tasks to others at a moment’s notice, because everything is clearly documented.

It’s worth noting that both of these process handbooks have built-in version tracking, so I can easily see when changes have been made to a specific document. This isn’t an absolutely necessity, but it’s definitely nice to have… just in case.

Your Turn

Even if you are still at a stage where you do everything yourself, it’s useful to start keeping track of these processes. That way, when you do have the resources to outsource to a virtual assistant or other team members, training them will be easier and faster.

Do you already use a Process Handbook in your business? What processes could you document?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

photo credit: rdenubila, arminho-paper, and SimiWriter via photopin (cc)

Published by Chris Van Patten

I'm an entrepreneur and product lead, and owner of Tomodomo, through which I help companies build their digital publishing platform.

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2 Comments

  1. Great article Chris! I’ve always had worries about my VAs just leaving
    me for some other clients who could offer them better pay. Process
    Handbook makes sure that everything’s documented and your next viable VA
    prospect won’t start over from scratch and take up a lot of your time.
    I’m
    thinking of already process documenting my websites (how to update, the
    log ins used, etc) and also my personal expectations for a VA.

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