TOPIC: The Business Owner's Guide to Process Documentation When Opening Additional Locations

OBJECTIVE:  Demonstrate the numerous ways that process documentation can help a business owner operate additional locations with more consistency and less stress.

IDEAL READER:  Business owners or progressive managers who would like to improve efficiency in their daily workflows and bring higher job satisfaction to workers through clarity of their responsibilities.

KNOWN PROBLEMS:  Certain employees operate at an elite level while others struggle to achieve mediocre results.  The same key employees could at any time exit the company without notice, leaving a large gap in knowledge.  Both situations will have a negative effect on the customer base and revenue.

STRATEGIC SOLUTION:  Create a culture that is focused on documenting and following procedures so that the cumulative systems create efficiency and reduce stress.

CASE STUDY:  Elmwood Agency – Insurance Broker

  • Business size: 21 employees in two cities
  • Google quality rating:  4.9 Stars
  • Number of carriers they partner with:  35
  • Urgency level:  High. The second location was already open and new staff were being hired.
  • Existing documentation work:  Some
  • 12-Week Project timeframe:  April – June 2023

CLIENT OVERVIEW:  Founded in 2019 with the goal of changing the way that dated insurance brokers operated, Elmwood Agency’s mission from the beginning has been to offer an easy way for clients to shop for personal and business insurance while finding them the best coverage and price available on the market.  They are not a transactional business and strive to build long-lasting relationships with all of their clients, partners, and the communities they serve. This commitment takes a lot of dedication to the highest level of service by all of their staff.

In October of 2021, Elmwood Agency in Rochester, NY decided that they wanted to expand into the Buffalo, NY market and joined forces with Oasis Group & Associates. Through this merger and the continued addition of new clients, Elmwood Agency is now the fastest organic growing Insurance Agency in New York State. To maintain this level of growth, the team needed to build consistent internal systems so that everyone could work efficiently and consistently to meet the needs of their clients.

SELECTING SOFTWARE:  There are numerous ways that any company can store their “How To” process documents.  If a company does any documentation at all, they will usually use Google or Word Docs and store them in random places on their shared drives. This is one of the main ways that the system of documenting systems breaks down.  The downside to this method is a lack of clarity on where the documents exist, if an employee, has access to them when needed, and if they are the most up-to-date version. 

Although no company looks forward to using separate software in order to gain efficiency, this is one of the exceptions to the rule.  By housing all of the media and documents in a simple systems storage software, the magic of accessible, best practices emerges.  Before the Elmwood 12-week program began, Jason worked with management to determine the best software for their needs. He presented examples of two good options, with a recommendation for the best choice.

Jason finds that most owners and managers just don’t have the time to research software and even if they do, they won’t have any point of reference to confirm their choice. It’s a guess at best, based on what Google them serves up in response to their query.

Based on Elmwood’s size, budget, and type of company, Whale IO was the chosen path.  Jason considered the fact that there were under 50 employees and all of them worked in office positions.  There wasn’t a need for a built-in Org Chart or employee Role definition which other software options provide.  And the team was keen on being able to see all of their process documents in a clean and organized manner.  All of these needs were met by Whale along with an affordable monthly cost.

STAGES OF IMPLEMENTATION: During their 12-week program with Henderberg Business Solutions, the team at Elmwood was guided through the following framework.  Where many consultants or coaches will advise from a distance, Jason prefers to provide a more hands-on approach.  One recent client stated during an executive session: “Jason you grab a shovel and start digging right beside us”! This type of “done with you” approach ensures that everyone can see the work being done and truly understand how to embed the suggested steps into their daily life.

  1. STRATEGY: Planning for clarity takes about one month.  Many clients want to jump right in and start documenting what they do. However, if we don’t lay a solid foundation based on the particulars of that company, they will be built on top of the foundation, and we won’t achieve success.   We worked together using several written frameworks and workflows to determine who your optimum client is.  There is no sense in wasting time focusing on a lost leader portion of your business.  Next, we defined all of the company departments and employee roles.  This is often overlooked because it is felt that these terms are generic and that’s just not the case.  Lastly, we prepared the whole team for the coming changes so that everyone can feel involved and there is less stress about the new mindset.
  2. STANDARDIZATION: We surveyed employees and gathered their input in an effort to best understand what the priorities will be.  There are endless things to document, and we must know where to start focusing.  Building a process documentation framework takes time but getting it right is invaluable.  We reviewed how to record work sessions, methods of saving the files, and best practices for distilling down the knowledge into practical training steps.  Then we get down to business and start documenting.  Doing this together, week to week, ensures that the learned methods turn into habits.    
  3. SUSTAIN:  The program would be a waste of time if it doesn’t continue on. Once documentation is in place, it doesn’t have any value until it is looked at by the team.  Everything we are working towards is sharing good knowledge. We discussed how to weave documentation and training efforts into everyday life.  We launched some practice Quizzes inside Whale and reviewed how to verify that everyone on the team gets the information they need.  Making things easy to access is key.

METHODOLOGY:  Each program that Jason delivers is similar but tailored to meet the needs of the company. Every situation is unique due to the industry, size of the company, internal priorities, etc. Without flexibility and the ability to adapt, guaranteed successful results would not be achievable. Prior to beginning the face-to-face meetings with Elmwood, Jason produced a bespoke 12-week agenda for everyone to review.

As there were no manufacturing or manual jobs being performed there was no need to incorporate any training on how to film various work settings.  All event capturing could be done via screen recordings and referencing online YouTube videos.  This simplified the scope of work and allowed for more time to focus on a higher volume of documentation and a more focused education for the core department managers.

DELIVERABLES:  At the end of 12 weeks, the management team from both locations were collaborating to get as many topics in place as possible while being guided by Jason.  Based on the prep work they had done to focus on specific client types, their software was fully built out with a custom framework that would sustain them well into the future. 

All of the pre-existing Elmwood SOPs were loaded into Whale by Jason and organized into a more cohesive workflow. While working with him, they also recorded over 50 new systems videos that were translated into written documents and screenshots. At the end of the program, Elmwood had 122 finished process Cards set up and ready to train from.  Perfect timing for the new staff coming aboard.

Additionally, they had internally gone above and beyond by developing a punch list of over 100 potential areas to record in the future - across all eight departments.  Having a “to-do” list is just one of the numerous ways Jason ensures you can sustain the program long into the future. It’s one thing to do good work for a few months but the real success is keeping the momentum up year after year* and including your whole team along the way.  That’s how you develop a systems-focused culture.

* 1-Year Validation: When the team started on their documentation journey in April 2023, their Word Doc SOPs were housed in random places and no files were set up in their new systems software. As of April 2024, Elmwood Agency now has 78 internal Playbooks containing hundreds of individual training pages in their Whale software. Whale also provides usage stats for managers to ensure that their team is kept engaged. For the prior four weeks in 2024, their Playbooks were accessed 234 times and the staff looked at 403 individual process Cards. In a word… Success.      

CHALLENGES: During implementation of their 12-week Systems Success Program, time was the most critical factor.  The insurance business is very fast-paced, and their team is committed to responding to client needs in a prompt manner.  Although time is often an excuse that any business will red flag as a reason not to start on this most important journey, it is not valid. 

Jason is very focused on making sure that nobody wastes time during their day.  This was the case when he was managing other companies as a leader and holds true to the guidance he provides to his valued clients.  For that reason, the programs he develops are referred to as an investment.  Once you learn the techniques and do the work, you won’t have to do it again.  Training and improvement go on autopilot and is appreciated by everyone involved because they know it actually creates time.  AKA a green flag.

By embedding the effort of recording while you are already doing the work, you ensure that it is documented properly and that it represents numerous real-life scenarios, not just high-level steps.  Unscripted recording sessions also allow you to notice and capture employee feelings and inflections that reveal where pain points are so that you can strive to improve their workday. Time IS on your side.

CLIENT FEEDBACK: “As an insurance agency owner, I have evolved over time to understand that we certainly can always improve our systems and processes. I was skeptical always about working with [consultants] not in my particular line of business. What I quickly realized with Jason is that systems, processes and efficiency are rather uniform no matter what the industry. Jason came into an office of 20 plus employees and dissected our operation by asking intentional questions meant to inform him of our way of operating. In doing so, he was able to successfully determine the best path forward in our systems, safeguard against having all of our eggs in a singular basket regarding any operation or control being on the back of solely one individual and strengthen us as a team.

By using his technology, systems and his many years of experience, over the course of our many hours of meetings, we now have a sustainable, repeatable process that is both efficient and concrete in our business avenues. We have a reference library, a full training platform, and we were able to further our usage of technology to deliver our platform with consistent training and processes that are tried and true. Hiring, training, and continuing education are now on cruise control.

Jason helped immensely to help us cultivate culture and our mission statement to our team. We saved on our budget by investing in Jason's training platform, and the returns have been non-quantifiable both in time and monetary compensation. Essentially, we are well-oiled machine now due to Jason and his systems programming.

I would recommend to any principal of any industry making this investment. There is no better return than having a business that runs smoothly. Many thanks, Jason!”  - Nick Pagano

CONCLUSION: While the task of documenting your processes may seem daunting, the rewards are well worth the effort and investment. By capturing and codifying how things get done in your organization, you can promote clarity, consistency, and efficiency across all departments. After choosing the right software and following Jason’s process documentation suggestions, your company will get to the next level of efficiency. Your team will also thank you for the clarity and empowerment that well-documented processes provide. Then when you're ready to expand your franchise, those same processes and documents will serve as the foundation for repeated success.

READY TO OPEN ANOTHER LOCATION?  Let’s collaborate so that you have 100% confidence in your plans to scale up. It’s critical that your next location succeeds just as well as your first.  If you'd like me to expand on any specific sections of this case study or provide additional examples, reach out to start a conversation.  This is an easier decision than you think.             

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IN NEED OF A TRUSTED INSURANCE PARTNER?  Reach out to Elmwood Agency and see for yourself how efficiently their staff operates.