As business owners concentrate on building their business, they get so focused on doing the job that they never actually document how to do the job. As a business owner, you may be great at doing the job, but how do you educate your employees, franchisees or people that may buy your business in the future on how to do your job? The best way to compile all of this information is through checklists, how-to guides, and operating and process manuals.
When we started our business we found that we were so busy trying to attract and service clients that we had neither the time nor the motivation to document the processes and procedures on the different aspects of our business. Once we started employing staff to handle files and deal with clients directly, we needed to have processes in place that set out our expectations and requirements as to how staff members were expected to do those jobs correctly to ensure efficiency and consistency of service to our clients.
While it would seem that beginning this process in the Start-Up phase would be a good idea, we found instead that getting the newly employed staff to draft the manuals, checklists, how-to guides and other manuals was actually a better way. Why? Everyone thinks differently and we all have different ways to process information.
As a business owner, you want your staff to use and re-use these guides. You want the intellectual property for your business to be clear, concise, and easy to use. By explaining and educating your staff on what and how you want things done and get them to draft the guides that they will use themselves, you are ensuring the documentation will be written in a language that is easily understood by the users themselves. The exact layout of a how-to guide is a decision that you will need to develop in your business with your staff. When we first started, we drafted graphic flow charts that set out all of the steps that had to be taken.
However, what we found was that our staff did not like that format and wanted step-by step guides, like checklists with explanations on what had to occur at each step. If we did not do this, the staff simply would not use the how-to guides and there was no point in developing them. You do not need a lawyer to help you draft these documents, but you should consult with a business mentor or coach — if you have one — as to the different methods and tools you can utilise to build this intellectual property.
A patent is a specific legal right conferred on a business owner to protect an invention that they have developed from misuse by third parties. A patent is granted for any device, substance, method or process that is new, inventive and useful. It grants you, as the owner of the patent, the right to exploit the patented idea for at least 20 years. The invention needs to be dissected into its various parts and steps and documented accurately to ensure that the invention is properly protected.
Patents are complex to draft and require the advice of specialist patent attorneys who deal only with patents, applications to register patents, and protecting or disputing patents. If you develop an invention that you believe is unique, inventive and useful, you should seek the advice of a patent attorney to ascertain if the invention is worth protecting before proceeding further.
As your business grows, you are constantly developing intellectual property. Every business does this, even when they do not know that they are doing it. Your intellectual property may be the key asset of your business, which will become even more apparent if you decide to dispose of the business in the future.
It is your unique intellectual property that sets your business apart from your competitors and defines it in the marketplace. Protecting intellectual property is therefore crucial for any business and, whilst imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, it is vital that you take the appropriate steps to protect your intellectual property for the future.
By identifying and protecting your intellectual property you are putting the foundations of a successful and profitable business in place. Done properly, it means that your business is ready for the next phase, Maximising your Business / Bringing in Investors.
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