When I’m speaking to any IT solution provider or managed service provider (MSP), one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “What’s the one mistake you’d recommend IT businesses avoid?”
My answer is always this: Not documenting your business.
The reason is simple. If you don’t document your business, you’ll inevitably find your business is prone to an SPF—a single point of failure.
What’s an SPF in business terms?
Rather than being the Sender Policy Framework most of us techy geeks are familiar with, an SPF in business terms refers to a person within your business who has knowledge in their head rather than documented in writing.
If (as I used to be before I sold my MSP business) you are the owner and manager of your own IT business, then chances are you are the SPF within your business!
To determine whether you’re the SPF, ask yourself these questions:
- Are there any processes within your business that you, and only you, know or can perform?
- Are there any key pieces of information within your business that you, and only you, have access to?
- Is there any client knowledge that you, and only you, are aware of?
If the answer to any of these question is “yes” then you are, I’m afraid, a single point of failure within your own business.
Even if you answered “no” to all the questions above, repeat the process and apply it to other people within your business.
- Is there a member of staff whose absence might cause a process to fail? It could be payroll or invoicing or any administrative task that’s key to the business functioning.
- Are there any senior technicians whose absence would mean you couldn’t service one or more clients effectively? It could be they, and only they, know usernames or passwords or how to install and operate a line of business application, for example.
Again, if the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then you have an SPF within your business—and that means your business is in danger.
Why are SPFs dangerous to your business?
If you’re the SPF within your own business, then you own a job rather than a business.
The business couldn’t function without you. If you were knocked over by a car or taken ill, the business would falter. Vital information and knowledge on how to run the business is locked up in your head, and as such, is inaccessible when you’re taken out of commission.
You stop, the business stops.
At this point, I can guess you might be thinking, “That will never happen to me! I’ll never be knocked over or taken ill.”
We all think that way, that it will never happen to us. I thought that way too, until last year when it did happen to me. I was knocked over by a car in a hit-and-run accident and hospitalized, unable to run my business.
Later that year, I was taken ill and hospitalized again (if you’re interested, you can read the full story here). Once again, I was taken out of commission and unable to run my business.
Thankfully, I wasn’t an SPF. I’d documented my business, put written processes in place, and made sure my team could carry on running the business in my absence.
Not to be too morbid here, but life happens. We, our employees, and our friends and family, can be left unable to work through reasons out of our control. If you or that person is an SPF, your business is at risk.
If you’re suitably concerned at this point, your next question will be, “How can I eliminate single point of failures within my business?” Thankfully, the answer is simple.
How to eliminate SPFs within your business
To eliminate single points of failure within your business, and to ensure your company’s survival in the event of a catastrophe, you need to do one, simple thing.
Document your business.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this idea—perhaps you don’t know where to start or are in awe of the task in hand—then follow this advice.
The next time you need to undertake a task you think you may need to do again in the future… slow down and document that task.
It may be you need to file a tax return for the business. Slow down and document how you do it—the steps you took and the information you needed to complete the task.
It may be one of your engineers needs to set up a PC for a client. Ask them to slow down and document how they set up the PC for that client—the steps they took, the information they needed, and the process they followed.
When you take the time to document how you completed a task, you’ll have created the very first standard operating procedure (SOP) for your business. Your SOPs are the intellectual property (IP) your business is made of.
Over time, they form your business operations manual. And that manual makes the difference between owning a job and owning a business that has value to yourself and others.