What is business documentation?
Business documentation (or business documents) consists of —quite simply — documents used as part of a business' operations. Obviously, there's a huge range of documents that can fall under this umbrella, including:
- Meeting Minutes
- Process Documents
- Customer Data
…and so on. If it's a document that contains information about your business, it's probably a business document!
Why is good business documentation so important?
Due to the wide range of business documents out there, the importance of good documentation practices is hard to summarize. With that being said, there are still a few general benefits we'd like to cover, including:
All businesses are founded on a set of core business practices. When these core practices are performed well, the business (often) moves in the right direction. When they aren't… well, that's usually a bad sign.
Documentation helps to systematize a business' core practices by creating clear instructions (e.g., a handbook) that everyone in the organization can follow. This, in turn, leads to improved efficiency and consistency.
Depending on your industry, there may be certain compliance regulations your business needs to adhere to. Good documentation can help ensure you're meeting all the necessary requirements, and can serve as evidence if you ever need to prove compliance to a regulatory body.
Documentation can also improve communication, both within an organization (between employees) and between a business and its clients. This is because well-written documentation provides clear instructions and expectations for all parties involved. When everyone is on the same page, it's much easier to avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings.
Last but not least, documentation—specifically process documentation—can help make employees more independent and self-sufficient. This is because well-documented processes provide clear guidance on how to complete a task, without the need for constant supervision or input from others.
As such, documentation can free up managers' time, so they can focus on other tasks, and it can empower employees to take more initiative in their work.
How can I improve my business documentation?
Given the benefits mentioned above (and the others we didn't have space to cover), it's no surprise you're here looking for information about improving your business' documentation process.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Start documenting immediately.
As a start-up, it can be tempting to cut corners when it comes to documentation. Your team is small, and everyone is already aware of the business' processes. Why take the time to document something that everyone knows?
While this may seem like a valid argument, it's actually quite short-sighted. The sooner you start documenting your business' processes, the better. Not only will this make it easier to onboard new employees in the future, but it will also force you to systematize your own practices—which can only be a good thing!
In addition, getting started immediately also prevents a documentation backlog from building up as your business becomes more complex over time.
Learn the language of your industry.
Every industry has its own jargon, and it's important to use the correct terminology in your documentation. This will help ensure that your documentation is clear and concise, and that everyone who reads it understands your meaning.
If you're unsure about certain terms, don't be afraid to ask a colleague or expert for clarification. It's always better to get clarification upfront than to use the wrong term and risk confusing or offending someone.
Write clearly and concisely.
When writing documentation, always keep your audience in mind. Write in a clear and concise way, and avoid using unnecessary jargon or overly technical language. It's also important to be as specific as possible, so that there's no room for interpretation or misunderstanding.
If you're ever unsure about whether your documentation is clear enough, ask someone else to read it and provide feedback—preferably someone from the target audience. It can be helpful to have a second set of eyes on your work, to catch any errors or ambiguity that you may have missed.
Many office suites (like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud) come with built-in templates for common business documents, like reports, proposals, and contracts. Using these templates can help you get a feel for the structure and layout of different kinds of documents.
Alternatively, there are tons of online resources you can use to find templates for different business documents, including:
All of these sites are free to use when you sign up for an account!
Visually model your processes.
Language is a crucial element of documentation. It isn't the be-all end-all, though. Sometimes, a visual representation of a process can be much more effective than a written description.
This is process models come in. There are several standardized ways to document business processes, including:
- Unified Modeling Language (UML): A graphical notation used to model the structure and behavior of software systems.
- Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN): A standard notation for modeling business processes.
- Harbarian Process Modeling (HPM): A modeling language specifically designed for business process management.
The systems listed above serve as standardized ways to visually describe a business' processes. They use flow charts, swimlane diagrams, and other graphical representations to create information-dense documentation.
At Baton, we work with you to create BPMN process models that accurately captures your workflows. Once you have the models, you can add them to your documentation as a reference for employees, contractors, and anyone else who needs to follow the process.
You can even load them into the Camunda Process Engine to start automating tasks!
Don't neglect supplementary documentation.
Some kinds of documentation (e.g., process models) are vital to running a business at scale. Others (e.g., mission statements and brand value statements) aren't. However, it's a mistake to think that you should skip these!
While this kind of documentation may not be strictly necessary, it can still be helpful in creating a shared understanding of your business' goals and values.
Supplementary documentation can include:
- Mission Statements: The mission motivating your business or brand—what is it that you're trying to change or improve?
- Style Guidelines: A list of audience notes, fonts, and tone descriptions. This will help create a consistent brand identity across all channels (email, social media, website, etc.), and will make it easier for customers and clients to recognize your company.
- Code of Conduct: A set of rules that dictate how employees should behave at work. This can include things like dress code, expected hours of work, and acceptable behavior towards colleagues.
For an example of supplementary documentation done right, check out ConvertKit’s handbook. The company devotes a ton of real estate to supplementary documentation like mission statements and the company’s story. While these aren’t “necessary” they help the company stand out as a unified entity.
Keep your documentation organized.
If you want your documentation to be effective, you need to keep it organized in a way that makes sense. There are several ways to do this, but one of the most popular methods is to use a content management system (CMS).
A CMS is a piece of software that helps you manage digital content—like blog posts, website pages, and, in our case, business documentation. While there are tons of CMSs out there, not all are well-suited for business documentation management. For a CMS that is, you can use Alfresco, for example.
Alfresco has tons of features specifically designed for business documentation, including:
- Version Control: Track changes made to documents over time to ensure documents are up-to-date.
- Hierarchical Structure: Create hierarchical structures within your documentation to easily organize documents by project, team, or any other criteria.
- User Permissions: Control who has access to your documents to keep sensitive information safe and secure.
- Smart Filters: Create aggregation folders based on document type (e.g., “contracts”, “invoices”, etc.).
A good CMS will help you keep all of your documentation organized and accessible.
Hire a professional.
If you don't have the time or resources to improve your business documentation skills on your own, you can always hire a professional to do it for you. There are plenty of consultants and firms who specialize in business documentation—like Baton!
When outsourcing your business documentation, there are a few traits you'll want to screen for, including:
- Industry Experience: Business documentation is technical by definition. That means it's helpful to work with someone who is familiar with industry procedures.
- Communication Skills: Communication skills—namely listening ability—are a must when outsourcing business documentation. At Baton, we use a two part process involving video and targeted questions to fully understand your workflow.
- Track Record: At the end of the day, you want to work with someone who has a proven track record of success—be sure to ask for references. You can view one of Baton's references here (if you're curious)!
Once you've written a document, ask someone else to read it and give you their thoughts. This can be helpful in identifying any areas that need improvement.
These are just a few skills that are essential for success in business documentation. By mastering these skills, you'll be well on your way to communicating effectively with your colleagues and clients—and achieving your business goals.
Success in business documentation requires a mastery of several skills. While this does require effort on your part, the results are more than worth it. Good documentation will improve communication, efficiency, and accuracy within your organization.
If you need help creating process models for your business, feel free to book a free process discovery call with Baton today—we're always happy to help!