The importance of a file note

Whether you are a small or large business, franchisor or franchisee, you need to make a habit of using file notes.  Not only can it help you grow your business, but it can also act as an aide memoire, and help you remember what happened if you have a legal dispute where the ability to be able to provide a clear, detailed chronology of what has been agreed to or occurred can help protect your business.

These days a file note should be an electronic note.  Made either using a Notes app on your phone, or on your PC or in your CRM, database or diary but with a firm process that if a file note is on a personal device it is transferred to a central repository within your business on the next business day at the latest. File notes shouldn’t take the place of official correspondence, but they can be an adjunct to it.

Extracting and documenting the essence of a conversation is an art that we need to teach our team members. Not everybody is born with the ability to listen and hear, validate the points and then document into a useable file note.

As a business owner you’ll find that implementing a habit of making files notes across your team will provide you with golden information on your business and aid you in making good decisions.  And, worst case scenario, if there’s a dispute or legal action, you have all the historic information you need at your fingertips.

At a minimum, business owners should:

Implement a policy and procedures about when file notes should be taken, where they should be stored, what they should contain.

What you should be doing

Work out a template (or series of templates) that suits your business – with memory-jogging headings for the information that should be recorded.  There should be action items, agreed items, next steps.

Invest in an IT system that makes creating files notes an easy process then implement a system to also capture email exchanges and documents and file accordingly. Find a way to alert others in the business that need to know that a file note has been recorded.

Ensure the privacy and confidentiality is maintained around these notes.

What you should make notes on:

  • Important conversations (by phone, virtual, text message or in-person) with team members, suppliers, partners, clients.
  • Conversations with team members, particularly on any HR related issues.
  • Anything to do with a potential dispute resolution – team or client or franchisee.
  • Personal information such as birth of a child, travel plans etc of clients, team members, suppliers – so that you can refer to them in future conversations.

What not to do

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of taking file notes.
  • Don’t wait too long before making a file note. They should be made will the conversation is fresh.

Bringing your vision, strategy and goals to life

The way many businesses operate has changed forever, we’ve had to pivot to meet new demands, processes and customer habits. In the face of uncertainty, it is increasingly challenging to plan for the future.

While it’s tempting to put aside future planning, and often it’s not seen as a priority – now more than ever, what you need is a vision, a strategic direction and realistic goals to accomplish in the coming year or two.

Unless you’re a large multinational with significant infrastructure, five-year plans are no longer the go – if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that in small business we need to be able to pivot quickly and in a way that makes the most of the resources, people and best laid plans that were already in place.

In many businesses, people are the resource and assets with the biggest impact on you achieving your vision. Have you communicated the vision, strategies and goals? Are they on board? Do they have the skills and attitude to help you get there? Ensure that the people are part of your planning.

Given the ongoing uncertainty and getting to know the ‘new normal’, it’s good to have one or more backup plans for your business. Lay out potential contingencies that you may face, but keep them realistic, and consider strategic responses to these possibilities.

What you should be doing

  • Identify your ultimate vision for your business. It might be ‘break even by Q12022’, ‘Have a saleable asset by end of 2022 and exit the business by mid 2023’. – it should a very high level, succinct, and achievable.
  • From there, make it bite size – turn the succinct vision statement into the underlying strategies that are going to get you there. A strategy could be ‘Document the department SOPs in a digital format’ or ‘Increase social media presence to drive sales’
  • Then, identify the short, sharp, executable goals that are going to make your vision achievable. A goal could be ‘Maintain COGS within X%’, ‘Update branding and imagery on social media profiles’, or ‘Digitalise all menu recipes and costings’.
  • Develop ways to assess the strategies and goals, and the resources around you to achieve them. Regularly refer back to your vision plan – how are you tracking? What adjustments can you make?
  • Be ready to change and adapt – the visual may not change, but the strategies, timing and goals might. Just don’t lose sight of the end game!
  • Don’t be afraid to shed to move forward – people, plans, thought patterns… If they no longer serve you and your business, move them on.

Final Statement:

Gone are the days of thinking five years ahead, be pointed on two year vision, supported by a pointed strategy and short sharp goals.


IP and Knowledge Transfer – Online Systems

You may be in a scenario where you’re hiring a new team member, or you might be looking to sell your business – the problem is that all of the IP, the knowledge and the information that would need to be transferred in these situations is ‘in your head’. Its not documented or recorded, and it most certainly is not safe from the ‘bus test’, that is the simple principle that knowledge should be duplicated between multiple people to avoid it being lost in the event that that one person got hit by a bus.

Whether your operation is a ‘one (hu)man band’, or relies on key team members to the extent that losing that person would significantly negatively impact your business, literally every repeated activity in a business should be recorded as a standard operating procedures (SOPs). At a basic level, SOPs represent a set of instructions that outlines the actions for a task or routine activity. The structure of an SOP should be linear, easy to follow, concise, with simple and clearly outlined steps.

Taking advantage of software and tools that this age of technology offers to make the documenting of SOPs significantly easier. The tech options will save you time and will make the SOPs more accessible compared to hard-copy. Its 2021 – we should not be looking at printed, hard copy manuals.

For one human bands, digital SOPs do not have to be stored on complex, purpose built platforms that cost thousands of dollars a year – keep it simple with videos recorded on a mobile device or screen record software and saved to ‘the cloud’ in a logical, easy to identify file structure.

For small to large enterprises, there are a vast range of software and cloud-based portals that can support the documentation and sharing of your company’s SOPs. At the very least it should be able to control access, provide alerts and notices for new and updated content, and record acknowledgement and sign off.

Regardless of whether you go hi-tech or keep it simple, consider a solution that is more than just a repository for static pdf documents that must be downloaded to be read. Because, chances are, no one will read them. Aim to use photos, videos and interactive formats as much as possible to support the written form.

What you should be doing

  • Record the why, when, what and how of tasks makes it easier for someone else to get the job done.
  • Keep it bite sized, concise, and easy to follow
  • Take advantage of the myriad of software tools you can use for creating, housing, distributing and monitoring SOPs
  • Make a list, and knock off recording a couple of SOPs each day while you’re going about your daily tasks
  • Delegate the documenting to the people who do the tasks regularly

What not to do

  • Assume tasks are being completed consistently, correctly, and safely
  • Leave yourself vulnerable to the bus test, regardless of the size of your business
  • Wait until it’s too late, be proactive about recording your SOPs

Should it be a meeting, an email or a chat?

Are there meetings you or your team could do without? And are there email streams that would have been more efficiently managed with a phone call, a quick meeting or an online chat?

We’ve all been in at least one of those meetings… you know, the ones that should have been an email. Or the email stream that goes back and forth cc-ing and distracting 10 different people over the course of an afternoon, that should have been a 5 minute zoom meeting.

Finding the right balance between zooms, phone calls, chats, texts, in person meetings (do we still do those?) is key to efficiency within your business.

The question of what should be a meeting – and what shouldn’t – can often be circumvented by setting regular, mandatory attendance team, department and project team meetings.

If you are going to schedule a meeting, always state the purpose of the meeting in the calendar invite and include further information if possible. And, as a modern approach, include a Zoom or Teams link for the meeting – even if most the team will be in the office that day.

Keeping meetings on track is best achieved with an agenda – and that doesn’t have to be a traditional agenda. Using your team’s project management and task list tool (e.g. Teamwork, Trello, Asana) as the run sheet for a meeting, can be an effective way to ensure that the critical items are covered.

In some cases, a traditional agenda is necessary. Consider this – instead of listing out topics, pose the questions you want answered in the meeting. This will ensure interaction, which is why you called the meeting in the first place. If you don’t have any questions to ask, then you may not need a meeting.

What you should be doing

  • Establishing regular, consistent meeting cycles, e.g. Monday morning weekly team meeting, Tuesday morning weekly Project X meeting, Wednesday morning fortnightly Department meeting.
  • Create an ‘agenda’ – whether that be a traditional layout or using your project management tool
  • Sharing an online meeting link, even you plan to be in the office that day.

What not to do

  • Set a meeting without an agenda or without questions that need to be answered in that meeting.
  • Don’t play a match of email tennis that has a that cc’s five other people – pickup the phone, or call a meeting.