Documentation

Step-by-step Guide Template: How to Create Easy-to-Follow Guides

Looking to standardize processes? In the guide, we explain how to build how-to guides for sales teams and beyond.

Introduction

Only 2% of organizations have all the internal processes modeled and documented. Apparently, the other 98% just don’t want to enjoy the benefits of process standardization.

… Or they don’t know how to create process documentation that sticks. If that’s the case for you, we’re here to help.

Below we’ve highlighted some of the most significant benefits of sharing step-by-step instructions within an organization and suggested a simple but actionable strategy for building and adopting ones.

How step-by-step guides affect your business

Why spend hours documenting the process when you can explain it in person in 5 minutes?

Step-by-step guides form a strong base for successful business operations. They standardize internal processes by outlining the key steps employees should take to reach the desired objective.

These are some tangible benefits of creating easy-to-follow how-to guides for your teams:

  • Time savings. Employees spend 20% of the workweek looking for help with specific tasks. Having how-to guides at hand would help to spend this time more productively.
  • Improved collaboration. 54% of respondents consider improved employee collaboration the biggest benefit of digital documentation.
  • Money savings. Enterprises waste from $2.5 to $3.5 million per year as a result of the lack of knowledge sharing. Process documentation is one of the most effective ways to transfer institutional knowledge and address the knowledge-sharing problem.
  • Better onboarding experience. Ready-to-use step-by-step guides save people managers’ time and introduce new employees to the information they need to do their work successfully.
  • Faster project delivery. The average employee spends approximately 5 hours a week waiting for assistance from colleagues. Unshared knowledge forces employees to spend time recreating their coworkers’ existing expertise or just delay the work in question. All of these result in project delays which can be eliminated with process standardization.
  • Increased employee engagement. The studies prove that knowledge sharing affects employee engagement. Indeed, 81% of employees feel frustrated when they can't access the information they need to do their job. With clear instructions available on demand, employees not only spend less time searching for the necessary information but feel empowered to be proactive at work. 
  • Human error prevention. Failure to follow proper procedures is a major reason for human errors in organizations, making up 45% of total errors. This way, by creating and distributing how-to guides outlining the key business processes, you can prevent up to 45% of errors caused by the improper procedure.

How-to guides and sales operations

Sales teams deal with a ton of repetitive tasks daily. As a sales operations manager, you can watch them reinventing simple processes over and over again, or you can create a standardized sales process. 

A standardized sales process is a set of repeatable steps sales reps take to move prospects down the sales funnel and convert them into paying customers. 

Whatever your sales team is working on – lead generation, cold calling, nurturing, or CRM – they’d better have guidance on how to perform the tasks in the most effective way. Step-by-step guides drive some compelling benefits for sales teams:

  • Improved sales process. By following standard procedure, your sales team will be able to focus on the strategic activities that generate the most revenue.
  • Less time spent on micromanagement. For a sales leader, it’s easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging. With how-to guides in place, you shouldn’t worry about human errors caused by the lack of clear process documentation. You can let your sales reps follow outlined processes without constantly checking in with the team. 
  • Predictable results. The lack of standardization leads to low consistency, which is no good for business. A repeatable sales process enables sales teams to see consistent results and have a more accurate sense of wins. Thus, it’s easier to forecast close rates and set realistic goals.
  • Scalable infrastructure. Expanding your team is no more a problem when you have standrardized all the critical processes. How-to guides can be used as onboarding resources enabling new sales reps to get up to speed fast.
  • Positive customer experience. When sales reps improvise too much, it creates a sense they lack understanding of their customers and the product(s) they sell. It hurts your company's authority and creates distrust. By creating a standardized sales process, you’ll deliver a consistent customer experience and lay the foundation for strong customer relationships. 
  • Better CRM adoption. A whopping 61% of respondents say they have plenty of analytics and CRM tools at their disposal, but they still fail to produce and make sense of the customer insights. Digital adoption is a serious challenge for the majority of companies these days. Creating step-by-step guides that help sales teams to navigate software is one of the best ways to drive digital adoption.

DiscoverabilityFeatures of an effective how-to guide 

What makes an effective how-to guide? Not so many things, actually. And that’s why you need to make sure each of these components is present in your guide.

Discoverability

First, you need to create a system allowing your teammates to easily find the relevant how-to guide in minutes, not hours. 

Ideally, it should be a centralized knowledge base where all employees can find the answers to their questions. But if your organization hasn’t implemented a company-wide resource library yet, you can create a team wiki inside your collaboration tool, like Notion or Guru.

To make your guides easily accessible, follow these practices:

  • Build new guides inside one system;
  • Create and follow a naming convention;
  • Label guides based on the topics;
  • Group guides into clusters;
  • Link to the guides within collaboration platforms whenever possible.

Context

When you’ve created a new file inside your internal wiki and named it properly, it’s time to get started with the content. 

The first element in any step-by-step guide should be the context. Providing context helps the end audience to understand why things should be done exactly this way. There’s no need to write long intros and get too much into detail – one or two sentences will suffice. 

Structure

A well-structured guide is also easier to navigate and apply the information provided.

As you proceed with the explanation of the process, you need to establish a clear content structure. A wall of text won’t work. An easy-to-follow guide is split into sections and steps, backed by screenshots and GIFs. 

Each stage should be labeled with a heading and include no more than a few sentences. The less plain text you use, the easier it is to process the information and follow the process.

Applicability

The purpose of any how-to guide is to enable readers to reproduce it right away. 

Including visuals and referring to real use cases will make your guide actionable. Link to all the helpful resources right in the content – don’t make people leave it and look elsewhere. 

Expertise

All how-to guides should be created by subject matter experts. If you involve junior specialists in the process, always check the resulting content to ensure the accuracy of the information provided.

Easy collaboration

A good how-to guide is NOT set in stone. Teammates should be able to interact directly in the file if they have any questions or suggestions. Don’t make people create another Slack thread to discuss the process. Enable collaboration or at least commenting on your how-to guides.

Constant updates

Your organization develops constantly (hopefully). It’s very likely that the process you’ve introduced initially undergoes a lot of changes throughout the year. Therefore, it’s critical that your team members update the guide whenever its content gets outdated. To make it possible, everyone involved should have access to editing the knowledge base resources.

Step-by-step guide templates

We’ve already stressed the importance of standardizing every repeatable process. The process of creating how-to guides is no exception. It’s best to have step-by-step guide templates that you can reuse every time you need to outline a certain process.

Inside the Scribe gallery, there are plenty of how-to guides particularly useful for sales ops managers. There are guides on Zoom, LinkedIn, Salesforce, Slack, and many more tools your sales reps deal with every day. 

 

You can add these Scribes to your knowledge base as they are or use them as step-by-step guide templates to build customized manuals. 

Building how-to guides from scratch is also possible with Scribe’s automatic SOP generator. It follows, records, and breaks into separate steps any process that you perform in your browser. You can adjust the resulting guides the way you want, add tips and custom steps, and embed them into your knowledge base. 

How to standardize any process with how-to guides

Here’s how you transform standard operating procedures into actionable step-by-step guides.

Identify the problem(s)

When you get to process standardization, you don’t reinvent the wheel. You just need to document steps you’ve been taking regularly for a long (or not so long) time. But before you do it, you should also define which processes should be documented in the first place.

Talk to the team and the leaders to learn about their day-to-day activities. Start with identifying generic topics (e.g. sales prospecting) and then get more specific (e.g. sales prospecting on LinkedIn). Generic topics will form clusters whole more specific processes will be outlined in separate guides under those clusters.

Define the target persona

Is the future guide more of an onboarding resource, or should it help senior employees to address roadblocks? Is it intended for one specific team, or will it be used by the entire company?

The answers will indicate whether you need to explain the terminology, introduce readers to the tools, and provide a wider context. Knowing in advance which personas will use your guide helps to speak their language without overcomplicating or oversimplifying things.

Pick software

Automating the process documentation process not only allows you to save precious time but also reduces the possibility of spreading inaccurate information. It’s easy to miss some critical information when you deal with complex, multi-step processes. Tools, like Scribe, will automatically create visual step-by-step guides while you carry out the processes that you want to capture.

Outline the steps

If you choose to create how-to guides manually or need to document the process that can’t be captured automatically (for instance, you might want to share a guide to cold calling), you should draft the key steps of the process first.

You can order the steps later – the most important task at this point is to define the milestones to hit along the way.

Write up the guide

Now when you have drafted a structure, you can order the steps, add subheadings, and support the process document with visuals. Having the written steps outlined first will help you greatly to decide which visual components your guide needs.

In case you use software, it’s also a moment when you can adjust the guide that has been automatically generated. Add tips and notes enabling readers to perform the process more effectively and troubleshoot if necessary.

You don’t need to add much copy, just make sure you include enough illustrations supporting the points you make.

Update regularly

Once you’ve started to build process documentation, you’re never done with it. If you fail to update the guides as you develop new processes or update the existing ones, you’ll end up with a collection of manuals nobody uses.

To keep your how-to guides up to date, allocate some time monthly or quarterly to check in and make adjustments.

Make the guides stick

When a how-to guide is published, the adoption process starts. You don’t expect your team members to fully switch to self-service materials immediately, do you? If they’re used to improvising or turning to colleagues to source the necessary information, it’ll take effort to fully adopt on-demand guides.

You can make your new step-by-step guides stick by following these practices: 

  • Announce new guides through internal communication channels, like email or Slack;
  • Link to the resource library from your internal communication and collaboration platforms;
  • Highlight new guides and process updates inside the internal knowledge base;
  • Use bots capturing the changes in the knowledge base and sending the updates via your chosen communication platform;  
  • Enable collaboration on your how-to guides.