For The Worst-case Scenario: Do You Have An Ops Manual?

Have you ever thought of what would happen to your business if you were suddenly taken out of the picture? And that morbid thought doesn’t even touch yet on what would happen to your family.

Not to be a drag, but part of business continuity planning is thinking of worst-case scenarios so back-up plans can be established, and well,  the sudden loss of the business owner certainly qualifies.

That’s where a well-thought out operations manual — the combination detailed instruction manual and Bible of your business– is priceless.

The ops manual can help keep the foundation, processes, work and structure of the business steady and strong even without you. On a much brighter note, if your business grows so successful that you can sell it,  the ops manual would still be an integral part of your business’s success, and a necessary component of the transfer. And if you need a vacation, or have to take on a sudden trip to the hospital, the people left in your stead can readily cover for your unavoidable absence.

An operations manual simply explains how your business works.
It details all the aspects of the business (operations, finances, production, etc.) as well as covers the information that’s needed to make it– and keep it– running smoothly. Even the details like the account numbers for utilities, or contact numbers for your  CPA, or lawyers, and your suppliers, etc. The ops manual is a controlled, concise data-dump of every detail of your business.  The business is your baby, the ops manual is your guide to taking care of that baby.

If you have an online business, your ops manual would cover all the details needed to access the information necessary to running that business. From master log-ins and passwords, verifying account details, schedule of payments,  and the locations of important data, your ops manual should include all the relevant information on the parts that make up your online business and keep it running, including online accounts and offline resources.

If you have a brick and mortar business, your ops manual would cover what to do when you or your staff opens the store to when you close it down for the day, the employee code of conduct,  the standard operating procedures for registering sales, how to deal with customer complaints, what your warranty, returns and refund polices are, etc.

It can also include where to order various supplies and tools  used in making your products, company policies regarding employees, utility and business rental contracts and, well, just about everything else that is relevant to the overall business as well as daily business operations.

Whether you just started out or are already established, whether you’re a one-man band, a small operation or a big business, an operations manual can only benefit you.

An operations manual details the processes involved in running your business well and intelligently. Procurement, hiring, human resources, production, delivery, customer services, daily operations, account, taxes, and payroll… if something is important to your business, it should be in your ops manual. It is the reference tool for your business, and in case you aren’t available, the people left in charge will know what to do and have access to the information they need to make necessary, well-informed and well-supported decisions.


All business have to go through changes to grow, and your operations manual need to reflect that. Outdated information, procedures,  or even contact numbers can cause problems down the line, and may even get the company into hot water because you’ve fallen out of  compliance with meeting government regulations.

One good practice for the hard-copy version is to keep one active manual in a binder so you can add and remove the relevant pages easily.  The online version or electronic copy can be updated  by versioning.  And whether in hard or e-copy, all the information in your ops manual (that isn’t proprietary) needs to be presented in clear, simple and plain language . One, to avoid any misunderstandings, and two, to prevent any misinterpretations, deliberate or otherwise.

One important aspect of the operations manual you need to have is the one regarding emergencies.  Having a step-by-step plan in case of applicable issues can help reassure  people on-site and help them stay focused through things like natural calamities (for example, flooding), man-made events (burglary, vandalism, riots), data and communication issues (data corruption, power outage, hacking, getting locked out, etc.) or even possible on-site accidents.

In this line of thought, an operations manual also requires a contacts list of people who need to be informed in case a crisis comes up, and seconding them, an alternate list of contacts. The contacts list should be clear in pointing out who needs to be called and when they must be called, and what to do in case a particular person can’t be contacted. No one should be left wondering what to do next in case X, Y or Z happens, because the ops manual has a back-up plan, identifies the people to be in charge,  and has an emergency procedure they can follow.

Another vital point is that an operations manual is useless if no one reads it. Everyone involved should know what the operations manual is, and everyone who is relevant to daily operations and in supervisory roles should know it, fixed it well in memory, and contribute to its improvement by updating it when it’s needed.

An operations manual is also useless when nobody knows where it is. If an emergency pops up, scrambling to find where it’s kept is a shameful waste of time and shows lack of forethought.

Creating and maintaining an operations manual shows discipline, future-thinking, and foresight. You are adding to the stability and continuation of your business by giving the people in it access to information that helps keep the business running healthily, giving them a reference point to go to and empower themselves to make decisions when you’re not available, and you also create confidence in your staff and your customers.

By developing a simple, comprehensive and functional op manual and ensuring all your people know where it is and have read it, you increase your chances of your business thriving,  everybody concerned gets reassured and gets some peace of mind, while you get assured that what you’ve built can keep going even without you at the helm.

Additional links: The following articles are sobering examples of what happens when someone dies suddenly and their survivors have no knowledge of or access to their accounts, or the particulars of their online enterprises. As uncomfortable the topic may make you feel, the  lessons you can take from these stories can give you helpful ideas of what to pay attention to when you make your own manual.

Taking Passwords To The Grave (

Dying With Your Passwords (discussion)

How To Be Prepared For Death In A Digital Age (Gigaom)

What Happens When A Hacker Dies (Kotaku) – the discussion is educational.

And the related story, Dealing with the digital afterlife of a hacker (Daily Dot)


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