5 Tips to Creating an Effective Franchise Operations Manual

Once you have made the decision to franchise, your focus shifts to replicating your business. And in order to replicate your business, you need an operations manual that conveys all of the how-to information to the new franchisee. This makes sense. If the goal is to replicate the success of the business time and time again, the blueprint needs to be written down. But what makes for an effective operations manual? How do you, as new franchisor, know what to put in… and what to leave out?

There are 5 key guidelines to creating an effective operations manual.

 1.     Document everything that is critical, and nothing that isn’t.

Documenting too much is as problematic as documenting too little. Operations manuals have a “tipping point,” where the information becomes too cumbersome and overwhelming for the user. The key to a usable manual is to focus on what’s important. Spend time thinking about those parts of the business that you need to control in order to maintain your franchise identity. Does the facility/office require a certain look? If so, then document the requirements.  Are your franchisees and their employees expected to dress a certain way? If it matters, then document it. If not, then don’t address it.

An effective operations manual will thoroughly describe those aspects of the business that make you unique, the processes that make the business successful, as well as those aspects that you wish to control. These include:

  • The products or services offered
  • How services are performed, or how product is prepared
  • Company philosophy and approach
  • Sales and marketing strategies
  • Staffing and employee requirements
  • Company image

In most cases, a franchise operations manual should not document standard business practices, or those activities common to all businesses, such as accounts payable; if needed, these topics can be addressed through reference materials.

2.     Include the appropriate level of detail.

This is often a big stumbling block for business owners who are trying to document their businesses. With almost every activity, there is the potential to “drill down” to the minutia of the tasks. The risk here is twofold: (1) Too much detail can overwhelm the franchisee. (2) The more detail you include, the bigger the job of keeping the manual up-to-date. The rule-of-thumb is to keep it simple and to focus on the franchisee’s need to know. When documenting an activity, ask yourself: does the franchisee need more information than this? are the details self-evident? would not doing it my way prevent the franchisee’s success?  For example, suppose your franchise is a health spa and you are documenting cleaning procedures. You specify that all mirrors in the weight room must be cleaned every day. How much detail should you include? Only the details that you care about. If you believe mirrors should be cleaned at the end of the day, or using a certain product that has a specific scent, then document that. If your only concern is that they are cleaned daily, then avoid additional detail.

3.     Know your audience.

This is a difficult concept for most franchisors because the audience is always the franchisee and not the employees of the franchisee. You might wonder why this matters. Well, it does. In fact, it matters a lot. The operations manual specifies what you expect of franchisees. It is their responsibility to convey those expectations and standards to their employees. Make sure your Operations Manual is talking directly to the franchisee. In some instances, you may benefit from creating an employee training manual; but this is not needed in all instances.

4.     Document the big picture.

One of the most common oversights in many operations manuals is the need for the big picture. For example, let’s say you’ve carefully documented the four major functions within your business. Does your documentation show how these functions fit together? Your franchisees will need to know the how-to detail, but they also need to understand the work flow. You need to connect the dots. What does a typical day look like? Which activities have priority? By providing the big picture, you help your franchisee visualize a smooth day-to-day operation. It also conveys the message that “this is doable!” —even if your business is fairly complicated. 

5.     Put yourself in the franchisee’s shoes.

Because you know your operation inside and out, you may have the tendency to leave out critical information, to make assumptions about the franchisee’s knowledge or understanding. This is natural. Unlike point #2 (where you are putting in too much information), here you are skimming over details because the activity seems obvious to you. Always put yourself in the franchisee’s shoes. Try to imagine coming into a new business without any knowledge of its operation. What would you need to know? Remember to keep the language simple and strive for clarity. Don’t use a lot of inside terminology unless you provide definitions.

If you follow these five guidelines, you are well on your way to producing an effective operations manual that will help ensure the success of your franchise. Do you want to know how you should document a specific portion of your business in your operations manual? Ask and we’ll answer.


  1. We just went through this process – I’d add how important delivery is/ 3 ring binders are fast becoming a thing of the past and online implementation is critical. Good post!

  2. Thank you Scott! I will defenetily include this reminder in my next post how to use your OPS Manuals… We appreciate your comment!

  3. Thank you for another great post.
    I look forward to many more entries with high quality info.

  4. Really appreciate your posts. We are looking into possibly Franchising our Creperie located in Athens/Greece for the first time, however, I have to say that we are very inexperienced with this process. I have read extensive information and have understood the responsibilities of a franchisor. My question would be exactly how much financial information (if that) should be initially provided to a prospect. We have provided the initial investment information (low range to high range). Now the prospect is asking for a business plan including some more concrete figures in order to determine profitability of his initial investments.
    This made my alarms go off and I am very hesitant to provide any additional information until we have received an initial business plan from the potential franchisee to see if he is putting in the groundwork… Could you give me some hints on how much info should initially disclosed? Operations Manuals will only be provided after all contracts are signed, correct? Additionally, up to what level is the franchisor required to provide financial details?
    Would very much appreciate some input.
    Natalie Papoutsoglou

  5. This really helps me a lot for me to write down a manual. i like this site. please do post more and more. thank you.