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The Power of Documentation

By December 2, 2015April 19th, 2016No Comments


I have come recently to believe that the difference between businesses that last and those that don’t is this: Documentation. I know, I know, I’m being overly simplistic, but hear me out. I am writing primarily from the perspective of digital marketing, but I believe these principles apply more broadly. Also, be sure to find the helpful links including brand templates at the end of this post.

Documentation Accounts for Unknowns

Any project generally starts with known goals and desired outcomes. We’ll call this ‘Point B’ on the proverbial map. Once that project is delegated internally or to third parties, there a lot of points on the map between A and B that get fleshed out. If an organization never documents such steps in a process, those ‘unknowns’ never become known to the organization, but often stay with the third party. This is sometimes by design of the service provider, but not in the interest of the organization who will then need to start from scratch again the next time a project is undertaken.

Basic, right?

Documentation Is Sequential

If you’re a visionary leader or even just a busy administrator, it is easy to head into a project with a lot of head-nodding and assumed understanding of project requirements and contingencies. Documentation of expectations and those requirements forces a project to account for the sequential nature of certain project elements. Say you are building a website for a client. Are we assuming a particular domain name to be used? Is it available? Do you have DNS access? Or a brochure…do you know how many office locations need to be present? Do you have those phone numbers? Are the addresses changing soon?

A web designer or graphic designer might not take those pieces of information into account, but good project management will require mapping out the needed information sequentially through the project so no one gets ahead of themselves.

Documentation Lasts

You know what doesn’t last? Employees. Now, I love the idea of hiring for the long-term and developing your employees, but I also know I’ve quit a lot of jobs. But I try to approach each job with the aim of making myself replaceable. That means documentation of responsibilities, strategy, tools for ongoing management, and reports of project success or need for improvement. Because when that employee is gone, so is their knowledge. Make a habit of documenting that knowledge for the sake of the organization, long-term.

Documentation Doesn’t Need to Be Difficult

Very few people enjoy documentation. They prefer checking the box and moving on. I’m the same way. But if documentation becomes a routine part of your process, you end up with templates, and updates to past documentation that are not longer a process of ‘re-inventing the wheel’ every time. This is important so that documentation doesn’t become a drag on productivity, but an investment toward future productivity.

In the interest of proving documentation doesn’t need to be difficult, below are examples and links to helpful tools to begin your documentation journey.

Examples of Documentation

Brand Guidelines & Brand Templates

You have a logo, but does everyone have tools for applying your brand appropriately. Make every employee a brand ambassador with an effective brand guidelines document. Find brand template here. 😉

Social Media Grid

Social Media Marketing is a possible black hole of funds and effort if you are not planning and reporting on your strategy. Get started with a grid for managing your posting strategy and calendar. If you’re not familiar with Hootsuite, check out their awesome tools.

Marketing Strategy

Digital marketing channels are often have shared ownership across an organization. But you need to be sure the left hand knows what the right is doing, correct? Here’s a great post on what to include in your strategy document.

Job Descriptions

At a bare minimum, any person who has been delegated a new project will likely need to update a job description for future reference. This should be a yearly routine for any organization to be sure all job descriptions accurately reflect responsibilities. These descriptions will also likely point you toward further need for documentation related to specific routines of your team. Here is a resource for getting going on this at Workable.

Yearly Reporting

Are you making progress on your goals? How do you know? Make sure all yearly reporting not only relates directly to broader organizational goals but is tracked year over year consistently and documented together. This can take the form of an Annual Report or even a live Dashboard.


Hopefully these resources get you on the path toward documentation and you reap the benefits of the efforts! Do you have additional examples of effective documentation or brand templates? Comment below.

Image from UnSplash.

Scott Bothel

I'm a digital marketing consultant living and working in the Greater Seattle area. My passion is to help small businesses leverage web marketing to accomplish great things!