Why You Need a Knowledge Base

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Where does your knowledge reside?

When you are small, you can run and grow your business in your head. In the early days, it’s hard to think that you play many different roles because you do different jobs yourself. You can be the salesperson, accountant, marketer, product development manager, HR administrator and many other roles without calling these out as you move from task to task.

But, when your demand grows, you can’t do it all. You need more people to help grow the business and make your customers happy.

If you are under $1M, most of your effort should be on selling. If you are past $1M, you have to make the business work. Either way, your business is about knowledge. How things get done to create a customer and deliver your product or service consistently becomes harder when you scale up.

A knowledge base is a place that organizes the knowledge that’s in your head. It helps everyone on your team understand how to do their job clearly and interact with other people doing their respective jobs.

Furthermore, a knowledge base has the following benefits to growing a business:

1. Facilitates Onboarding and Training

It is a systematic way to help a new person get started and be productive in their hired job. It also provides professionalism, job satisfaction and clarity for new employees that could otherwise be disoriented, overwhelmed and frustrated in a new role.

2. Makes Information Sharing Efficient: 

A place that is structured and searchable makes it easy for your team members to get what they need, when they need it. If you have to keep answering the same question many times, rather than allowing people to find answers for themselves, you are the bottleneck in your business. It’s not a great use of time. Document it once and let it be consumed many times.

3. Increases the Value of Your Business

If you want to sell your business, what will you sell? Having systems that are clear and a methodology for growing easily and rapidly is extreme value to a buyer who wants to know how to operate the business. If you don’t have a knowledge base, then the information required to execute consistently is in your head. You can’t step out. You are the business.

4. Forces Clarity

How you do things now may change later. Having a system that is continually living and updated helps everyone stay clear for their own job. And information that is documented and does not make sense in context of your business goals or handoffs to other jobs can be debated, clarified and updated. You can push on refining your methodology as new realities emerge during business growth.

5. Helps You Lead

A large complaint of employees is that they see dysfunction from management or ineptitude. You can lead with clarity and conviction when your team sees commitment to systems, process and order. Furthermore, you can open up ideas and ways of doing things through continuous improvement to a knowledge base that should welcome better ideas and ways of executing from the people doing the work. Your leadership can center around knowledge rather than charisma. It takes the pressure off you and focuses it on business systems, where it should be.

Growing Your Business

The more people you get involved the more complexity you have to manage in your business. Clarity becomes a bottleneck to growing your business because you have to take time to explain, manage and oversee how things get done.

Furthermore, the jobs that have to get done are continually changing. You want the best ideas and approaches available and clear for everyone in a system that is repeatable and continually improving.

Here’s a resource to help you get started on building your knowledge base. It can help you start a critical piece to effectively growing your business.

Alignment as a $36M Running Value

The SaaS company WorkBoard announced it closed a Series B round for $23M to total out its fundraising to $36M to date. At this point with their revenues tripling year over year, they have market validation. With more complexity and faster growth, keeping the main thing the main thing is a core business challenge for many of today’s businesses. They are providing extreme value.

Even if you outline the steps and processes for your team, you don’t necessarily have alignment right away. That challenge of alignment is part of the continuous hard work of leadership. Having tools that align work with goals with strategic priorities is a giant help.

Business intelligence, Salesforce.com Dashboards, analytics and SOP’s are helpful tools to creating clarity on what needs to get done for team alignment. I think most managers have the responsibility to create clarity and then get alignment from their team members. It can be a grind. What’s in one person’s head as important may not necessarily be true for others on the team. That can create breakdowns or mediocre outputs.

Also, team members can be working on things that simply don’t matter or have much lower priorities.

Everyone I know that is growing their business has the problem of alignment and clarity. The problem is amplified by the speed of change and volume of information that clouds our thinking.

If you can be in the alignment business, which is largely the work today, it’s big money and opportunity. Knowing what to do, doing it well and doing it consistently with a team is often elusive.

We have plenty of knowledge, tools and connection. We need the leadership to make what we often know are important items work like a machine based on what we value as important.

Are you in the alignment business?

Big is Much Harder Than Small

Just because something is working on a small scale does not mean it will work on a larger scale.

You might be able to buy and sell a few computers or hardware but running a division of Hewlett-Packard or Dell is a different game altogether. The amount of resources to manage to get an output has layers of complexity that require deft juggling and trade-offs.

You can have an assistant providing customer service in your consulting, law practice, or professional services. This can alleviate the ongoing bottlenecks to deliver your work with quality and timeliness.

But if you have to scale up and go 10x in clients, data and information flow, by necessity, you will need more people. Now you are in the game of talent management and having to coordinate everyone to align, work and execute in a concerted and cohesive fashion.

Small works because the inputs and outputs are relatively simple. You can satisfy the requirements of your customers by simply working harder. You have a lot of room to make mistakes. You can be sloppy. It’s small, so tweaking how you deliver, sell, market, and support your customers can be done with quick decisions and actions.

If you are big, you have to move many more pieces. Your team is locked into a workflow. They learned to do their job within an architecture that takes more energy to turn should you change your mind. And you have to get them not only acting the way you envision but thinking with you on what is important and how their work matters.

This is why small can be appealing. You don’t have to run an efficient operation all the time. You simply have to stay ahead of customer expectations.

When you get big, you have to manage the team’s expectations and your errors can be more costly. It’s hard to shift to a new process, system or way of doing things when you have new information that you want to act on.

If you are small currently, you will have a challenge in scaling up. And it’s not trivial. The last thing you want to do is underestimate the costliness. Running a big operation demands more. If you’re not up for the hassle, then consider the luxuries of staying small.

Perhaps use the ambition and bandwidth to build something else small and run it in parallel. See if you can gain the net revenue with less hassle this way.

Have you found challenges in scaling up? Do you like small or big?

Your Business Systems Are the Product

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From Rich Dad’s Robert Kiyosaki’s B-I Triangle tools and resources.

If you are an entrepreneur or investor in a business, it is so critical to heed the advice and framework that Robert Kiyosaki shares in his appeal that systems, not products, need your focus.

Simply put, “Money always follows management.”

It’s takes a special person to be an effective entrepreneur. There are trade-offs and myriad problems to solve which get more complex the further you grow your business.

Sometimes, we can overemphasize an area because it might be a comfort zone. If you come from a legal background, you might take too much time on legalities and hedging risk. If you have been a salesperson, then it’s easier to pay attention to getting the next deal than aligning the communications and workflow. If you are a marketer by background, you may be tempted to obsess about the look and feel of artwork that is more than good enough.

I agree with Kiyosaki that having a good enough product with a stellar business system is much more important than the opposite. We have a world filled with amazing products. Every day we are presented with something awe inspiring. Yet, it’s hard to move us to buy.

Take a walk through a Brookstone, and you see innovation and creativity to the hilt. But they are considered novelties compared to what is familiar, reliable and fits within our worldview.

Heck, a boring product that people buy regularly like shoes can become remarkable because the business system behind it creates extreme value in reliability and delivery. Zappos did not get into trying to make better shoes. They made a system for delivering the shoes you like in an elegant way.

So, if you are trying to pursue that next great idea, consider where you put your efforts. Maybe increasing your product’s quality actually has a diminishing return.

What if your leverage and impact comes from improving your business systems, and that has a much higher impact on your revenue?

Some systems you can improve:

  • How you sell.
  • How you position.
  • How you communicate and collaborate internally and externally.
  • The enabling platforms and technologies for keeping your business going.

These are all important. Consider which of these systems require more of your time and energy and focus on them uniquely.

These business systems are the actual product.

How strong are your business systems compared to your product?