Entrepreneur, CEO, or business leader. No matter your title, the success of your company is a responsibility and the weight lies squarely on your shoulders. In the beginning, increased control was an asset that brought you peace of mind. Now, without the structure your business needs to thrive, you’re overworked, overwhelmed, and unsure of the path ahead.
In The Business Playbook, serial entrepreneur, Chris Ronzio walks you through his proven framework for building a playbook. He shows you how to codify your culture and create a living document that allows you to let go of day-to-day responsibilities and empower your team to run the business without you. Chris is on a mission to help business leaders document and delegate so they have more time to focus on the things they love.
You’re listening to the Author Hour Podcast. My name is Benji Block and I’m honored today to be joined by Chris Ronzio. He is the author of a new book titled, The Business Playbook: How to Document and Delegate What You Do So Your Company Can Grow Beyond You. Chris, happy to have you here on Author Hour today.
Chris Ronzio: Awesome, thanks, Benji. I’m excited to chat everything Playbook.
Benji Block: Absolutely, I am too. For those who are unfamiliar with some of your work, Chris, tell us a little bit about yourself. Give us your background and what you’re up to these days.
Chris Ronzio: Sure, I’ve been an entrepreneur, running my own businesses since I was a little kid, 14-year-old in high school with a video production company. My background in amateur sports video is kind of a fun connection to the idea of a playbook for your business but it was really through growing my company that all the content of this book emerged.
It started with just me and a friend in high school. Then I went to college, started hiring freelancers, set up an office, hired my first employees, and within a few years, the company was doing hundreds of events all across the US. The way that we grew that business was by hiring contract videographers in every city that could potentially have events and we cared a ton about the consistency of how those events ran.
For anyone out there that’s running a business and trying to grow their business, they know that consistency is key. If you can’t make the same experience over and over again for your customers, it’s really hard to build trust and to build something that scales. This book is the breakdown of how to do that, how to write down, how you do what you do in your business.
Benji Block: Incredible, that’s great. Taking on a project of this size takes time and dedication. What kind of pushed you over the edge to work on The Business Playbook right now? Why is this the time to release it?
Chris Ronzio: I’ve been learning everything that goes into this book for years now and at first, it was building my company, then it was selling my first business— kind of going through every stage of that lifecycle. Then I started consulting for other small businesses, helping them develop their own operations manuals, training manuals, or what I started to call, The Business Playbooks.
Back in 2015, I came up with this prototype little software called Trainual and it’s really just a training manual smashed together; that’s where the name came from. The idea was just a simple place online to write down the instructions for your business. Everything that your team needs to know, your new hires need to know when they get started.
Over the course of a few years, I refined that product, tested it out with my consulting clients, and finally launched it as its own business. Now we’ve got thousands and thousands of companies in over 170 countries around the world using Trainual to build the playbook for their company and it was time to just take a step back and say, “What are the common denominators? What is everyone doing?” It just felt like the right time to put this out.
Benji Block: That’s great. Who are you imagining reading this book? Is this for the whole team or is this just for the business owner?
Chris Ronzio: Absolutely. It’s for anyone in the company that wants to delegate what they’re doing to grow out of their current role in their business. It starts a lot of times with an owner or a founding team and they build that next layer of leaders and managers. This book is for those people because if they want some upward progress in their own career, they have to become really good at delegating and training what they used to do so they can take on new responsibilities.
This book is really for anyone at any level of a company that is growing and wants to kind of take charge of their own path.
Benji Block: I imagine some of the pushback you might get is from business leaders who already feel like they have so much on their plate and they go, “Chris, this is a good idea but it just sounds so daunting to actually sit down and work on this.” Why do business owners need to spend the time, even with all the things they already have on their plate, to do this?
Chris Ronzio: Most of what’s on their plate is probably work doing the work in the company. You hear a lot of speakers in a lot of books say you need to work on your business. Actually, that idea came out of the e-myth back in the 1970s and Michael E. Gerber who authored The E-Myth wrote the forward to this book.
I think there’s this universal understanding that if you want to grow out of your small business being a burden to you, then you need to roll up your sleeves and put some time in to actually work on your company and making your company more mature.
I’m not here to convince anyone that they need to work on their business, there are plenty of books that teach you why you need to do it. This book is just the how. If you’re ready and you know you’re stuck and you’re just looking for that recipe for how do I actually get this done, that’s what this book is.
Profile, People, Policies, Processes
Benji Block: Exactly, that’s great. What size company should have this type of resource? If you’re small and you’re just looking to scale, this is for you. Is there sort of a size you need to hit before this resource becomes extremely helpful and necessary?
Chris Ronzio: It’s less about a hard and fast size— like a number of people— and it’s more about the consistency of the work you’re doing. You could be a team of one that is just doing the same thing every single day and you’re just finally looking to let go of baking the muffins, or mowing the lawns, or whatever it is that you’re doing and you’re hiring that next person so you have to show them, “Here’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years or five years.” It’s for that person but it’s also for a team of three people or five people that’s at least started to define different departments and now they’re looking to grow each of those teams.
Like I mentioned, at every stage of a business, people take on a ton of responsibility. They wear a lot of hats and to grow to that next stage involves you taking off each one of those hats and saying, “Here’s how you do this part of my job, here’s how you do this part. Let’s hire an intern or let’s hire a new person to take this on.”
Anyone that’s going through that and feels like, I need to write things down. I need to record things. I need to make sure that we don’t let things slip through the cracks because I’m so great at doing this and I need someone else to do it just as well.” It’s like that person, that pivotal time in a company.
Benji Block: That’s great. There’s two parts of the playbook that I’d like us to spend some time on and provide listeners with an overview of. There’s the content of what’s in the playbook and there’s the characteristics. Let’s talk about the content first. You say that a playbook is made up of four simple elements: the profile of your business, the people who work in it, the policies that guide it, and the processes that operate it. Your job is to document these four elements. Can you break down these four key components?
Chris Ronzio: Absolutely. This was distilled from just talking to tons and tons of entrepreneurs and saying, “If you needed to hand over the keys to your business if you were selling your company, if someone was taking it over for you if you had a medical emergency and you needed to get someone up to speed, what is everything in your business that you would need someone to know?” It turned out that everything was able to fit into these four buckets.
The profile is the first one. This is like who is your company? What is your story? Why do you exist? Who is the customer that you serve? What are the products and services that you sell to them? What is your culture all about, your mission, your vision? These are sort of the things that every single person in your business needs to be aligned on and it’s where we recommend that people start when they’re building out their playbook because everyone that comes into your company needs to be on the same page when it comes to who you are, what you’re trying to do, why you exist in the world.
That’s what your profile is all about. In the same way that you’ve got probably a social media account personally and someone could go there and learn like, who is Benji? Or come to mine and say who is Chris? It’s like, who is your business? That’s your profile.
Then the next P is people because after you learn about who the company is, your next big experience working with any business is interacting with the people. Anyone that starts a new job is trying to learn who’s who, who does what, where do I fit in, what are the teams, what are the departments, what are the locations, and just get a sense for who is the people element in this business.
We go through a ton of exercises in the book about building out a directory and contact info, your org charts, and your roles and responsibilities but it’s really just mapping out that who does what, who is everyone?
Then the next P is policies. Every business, whether they want to or not has some form of policy or handbook. These could be legal requirements if you’re a larger business. This could just be cultural norms of what’s okay and what’s not okay to do with your business. A lot of times, when an employee doesn’t work out, it’s because they weren’t explicitly told things upfront that you expected of them. In the book, we go through all these different joggers, these ideas of how you can check the boxes on policies and really have a stance for what the rules of your business are.
Then the last one is processes. This is where people are often tempted to start because the processes— the standard operating procedures— that’s the how-to’s. This is how do you actually do something and a lot of people will start to frantically delegate responsibilities or tasks like this without the context of everything that comes before it.
The book walks you through this four-stage outline as a way to really solidify who your company is and what you’re all about.
Benji Block: I’ve got to tell you a quick story. When you talk about the org chart being provided in here and even the profile of a business, having worked several jobs, one, having a document where I could go and look at the profile of the business and be able to quickly — and we’ll talk about accessibility in a second — but quickly search through this thing and find out the history of the business I was now a part of. I’ve never been in a business I think, that had a document like that.
Then, the org chart, I remember a specific moment where I screenshotted a PowerPoint presentation because that was the first time I had seen the org chart, after working in this company for several months. When you talk about consolidating all these information for a team to thrive, it is so important that you have all four.
The process is what we are all so tempted to do. Here’s the thing I need you to do, here’s the task, go do it. As long as you’re doing the task, it’s probably fine. The context of having all four can really take your business to the next level. I think you nailed it, Chris, that’s awesome.
Chris Ronzio: Yes. Thinking back to my first company, my video company, if all we did was teach process like how to set up a camera and press record then there could have been so much missed. The people could have shown up wearing the wrong types of clothes and acted out of line with our values and made customers angry and you can’t scale a business just on process alone. It really takes going through intentionally, going through these four areas to build a scalable company.
Benji Block: What for you is the hardest one when you are writing your own playbook to really focus in and get through? Is there one that sticks out that was particularly difficult?
Chris Ronzio: For me policies. One of our core values at Trainual is “no red tape” and so it’s funny as a company that’s all about documenting your policies and processes, we really don’t want bureaucracy, we don’t want red tape. I had to relearn what policies were all about because it has this negative connotation to it. I didn’t want to have a bunch of rules in my business but what I learned is that your policies are a guide to people and it’s almost like a safety net.
That when they come up with circumstances or situations that are uncomfortable and they don’t know what the company is expecting of them, they can reference back this guide and it actually really matters as you grow a business with more than just a handful of people.
Make Your Company Vision Accessible To All
Benji Block: Awesome, so let’s move to highlight the key characteristics of a successful playbook. I’ll highlight a couple and you can speak to them. You talk about this playbook being accessible, searchable, collaborative, instructive; these are important characteristics for someone to have access to it. Talk to me about the key characteristics of the playbook now that it’s written. You got the resource, now what?
Chris Ronzio: These characteristics came about as I was just looking at the landscape of how do people try to define what their companies are all about. A lot of businesses just never do this work and the content is stuck in their head. We have a phrase we use at Trainual, get your business out of your brain. I have been saying that since the very beginning but that’s what it’s all about. It’s how do you get your business out of yours and all of your people’s brains?
If you do this work— maybe you start writing things down on paper or binders or maybe you pull together some Google docs or you’ve got some Dropbox folders. Sometimes people will spin up checklists or maybe they’ll invest in these one-off course sites or course programs. I looked at all of that stuff and said, “Those things solve little pieces of the problem but if you are trying to actually solve this for your business, you actually need to check the box on these seven things.”
Making it accessible just means that people can access it from anywhere and the one that really doesn’t check that box is paper. If you’ve ever worked somewhere that had like a paper checklist or manual, you just can’t get to it and it is hard to update.
The searchability aspect, that’s like if you have ever gone through a course— if you went to college or high school and had courses— you’re there live in the moment but it is hard to reference back. You can’t search through a textbook and often you can’t search through a course you are assigned but if you are building a playbook for the company, it needs to be searchable. It needs to be a resource that you can look up what you need at any time.
You know being collaborative and fluid, this is about things being easy to update. Everyone being able to contribute to it. Being structured means it really follows the pattern of the four P’s that we went through and isn’t just a blank slate that’s hard to write down.
Then the last piece here, trackable. This is one that is probably the most important because if you write down what your company is in a document and you fire it off to someone and you have no idea if they’ve read it or no idea if they have seen the latest version of it, then it’s really hard to hold someone accountable for what you’re expecting of them. A good playbook software, a good playbook is keeping people accountable. It is recording when they went through this, recording the time and date stamps and so all of those things packaged together. That’s how you know that you’ve actually created one of these things in your business.
Benji Block: There is a common mistake in business. We outgrow our original system, we just kind of keep things running, we progress and then we never get the process nailed down, written anywhere. One of the things that you talk about is the necessity of fluidity within the playbook to where you are updating it consistently. How often are you looking at the playbook to update it? Is that something you set up quarterly or any suggestions there?
Chris Ronzio: Such a great question and there is a whole chapter at the end of the book about keeping your playbook up to date. Now, a lot of businesses will set out to document their how-to’s or create their SOPs and they think of it like it’s a quarterly project or something and then they get this work done and they think that they’ve reached the finish line and now, this project is done for the company. But the reality is that your business is always changing.
You are always coming up with new and better ways to do things. You are always introducing new people into the business. You are creating new roles as you grow. You’re shifting roles and responsibilities. So, if you leave this thing on the shelf and don’t touch it for a year or two years, you’ll look at it and say, “Wow, that is 100 percent out of date and this is useless. Why do we even do it?” Such a big part of making this work is building it into the culture of your business and keeping it fluid, always updating it.
The way that you do that first is making sure that different people in your business own different parts of the playbook. Whatever area department team they’re responsible for, that is where the buck stops in terms of something staying updated, the best practice being in there, being captured. This isn’t something that any one person needs to tackle and put on their shoulders, it really is a team effort.
In terms of how often should you do it, it depends on the size of your business. If you have a small company, five or 10 people and you are not hiring very frequently, maybe it is an annual exercise to just look through this and say, “Is this still our mix of products and services? Has our market changed? Has our team changed?” and you update it kind of on the fly. If you’re a bigger company, if you’ve got 25, 50, 100, hundreds and hundreds, thousands of people, then you’re in here all the time because you’ve got so many people to help that they’re in there may be daily or weekly updating their best practices for their teams. It depends, I know that is a tough answer but it really is all about the size of your company.
Understand The “Why”
Benji Block: Yeah, that’s good. You mentioned different owners, right? Different people needing some access and documenting their procedures. Let’s say there is a certain level of apprehension taking on the creation of a playbook. There is a certain level, maybe a fear on the team. What does it look like for a team to really take on this project together?
Chris Ronzio: The first thing, most importantly, is you’ve got to paint the picture of why you’re doing this. I remember when I was consulting before Trainual, I went into this one business and I used to interview all the employees about what they did because I was looking for ways that we could automate and delegate and make the companies more efficient.
I was interviewing this one woman and I sat down in the employee break room with her and she looked at me with this stark face. Just totally blank and I said, “All right, I am going to interview you about your roles and responsibilities at the company.” And she said, “I’m not telling you anything!” And I was like, “Well, what do you mean?” She looked down and pointed at this little wire that is coming out of my pocket. Now, I’ve had type one diabetes for almost 30 years and have a little insulin pump but she thought that this little wire was like I’m [was] from the CIA or something and I’m recording the conversation basically to get rid of her in the business.
The problem was she had no context for why I was there and how I was there to make the business better, to take things off her plate so she could take on bigger and better responsibilities. The first thing is share with your team why are we doing this and what does it mean for you. Why do we want the company to be more efficient? Is it we’re opening a new location next year? Is it we’re going to bring on another 10 people? Is it we want to give you a promotion and we’ve got to get some stuff off your plate in order to do it? There are tons and tons of reasons but if you are not open with your team, they can come at this from a scarcity mindset, which doesn’t help anyone.
As long as you paint that picture, give them that context, then it is just about kicking off the project and setting some timelines and saying, “Here is what you can help with. Fill out your own bio, put your own roles and responsibilities in there. Meet with your manager to make sure that it’s what they think it is. Then let’s cherry pick a couple of the to-dos, a couple of the responsibilities that we expect you to be delegating in the next three months.” It really is a crowd-sourced effort but the book walks through all of that.
Benji Block: Typically, as we start to wind down the conversation and come to the close of the podcast, I would ask what’s one to two things you want readers to take away from this book. Clearly, we want readers to actually create their business playbook. If you’re in a situation where this would be the next right step for your business, we want you to actually create it. I want to change the question a little bit for you, Chris; how do you want people to feel once they’ve created their playbook? What would you give you satisfaction to go, “This was the outcome of the playbook” now that it is in all of these different people’s hands and they’re reading it and they’re creating this resource for their team?
Chris Ronzio: I want them to feel relief. This is the way to create like an insurance policy for your business. If someone doesn’t show up one day, can someone else easily click into that person— see what they do, make sure nothing slips through the cracks and fill in for them? If someone puts in their notice, are you scrambling to try to figure out what person did in the company, or do you already have it written down because you’ve been working on this project? If your business is growing and you need to hire two to three or four or five sales reps, are you confident that they have the instructions to close at the same rate, or is it really just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks?
The idea of doing this work is being proactive about organizing your business so that it doesn’t feel like such a burden and if you do it well, if you write this down, all you’re doing is capturing what already exists.
Everyone that’s listening has process, policy, a profile, and people. You have all of that in your business, you just maybe haven’t collected it in a centralized place. This is really just a guide to doing that, to collecting what’s already in your brain, what’s in everyone’s brain so that you can feel good about it, sleep a little easier at night.
Benji Block: That’s great. So, besides checking out the book, Chris, how can people stay connected with you? Where can they find you and your products online?
Chris Ronzio: Yeah, so Trainual is just trainual.com, like a training manual. My website is chrisronzio.com and you can find me on all the social channels, Instagram and LinkedIn are where I’m most active, just @chrisronzio.
Benji Block: Well, thanks for spending some time to talk with us about your book here on Author Hour, and best wishes as this resource gets out into the world.
Chris Ronzio: Thanks so much, Benji.