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The Living, Breathing Document Every Self-Storage Operation Needs: A Policies and Procedures Manual

Self-Storage Policies and Procedures Manual
A well-crafted policies and procedures manual is like gold to any business, and you absolutely must have one for your self-storage operation. If you aren’t sure why, this article will remind you, plus give you ideas for what it should include and how to put it into practice.

A policies and procedures manual is a vital tool for every employee in your self-storage operation. Designed to keep your business running as expected, this governance document is invaluable. It not only helps guide new hires through the onboarding period, it creates ongoing consistency for all team members. Here are a few things a well-crafted handbook provides:

  • Company expectations for how you expect your business to be operated and portrayed
  • Facility-specific rules
  • Instructions for how to how to complete regular tasks
  • A reference for policy-related questions
  • A guide for when staff are unsure about how procedures should be followed
  • A safety net to help your team avoid costly mistakes
  • Insight to common challenges employees are likely to face, with guidelines for solving them

Your manual can also act as a record of acknowledgement and understanding, which is important if an employee ever winds up violating a policy and needs to be disciplined. All team members should sign an acknowledgement-of-receipt page that states they understand what they’ve read and don’t have any questions regarding job expectations or the material provided. You can use this page when conducting corrective action.

Now that you see how very critical this written document is in self-storage, let’s talk about the difference between policies and procedures, what your manual should contain, and how to make the best use of this precious resource.

Policy vs. Procedure

A policy is a rule you expect to be followed. For example, you might set a policy that all self-storage rent is due on the first of the month, or that you don’t allow refunds, or that all past-due tenants should be contacted at least once per week but no more than three times. In contrast, a procedure is a guideline for how to achieve work responsibilities. For example, you might set step-by-step instructions for how to execute a unit rental, conduct a facility walk-through or complete the lien-sale process.

When I work on my company’s manual, I like to start with the policy, provide the reasoning behind it, and then list the procedures that align with it. This helps the document flow and provides employees with an understanding for why something is done a particular way, which leads to consistent results.

Contents

Ultimately, your self-storage policies and procedures manual is a central repository that helps your team perform their jobs and do them well. It should be easily accessible to all employees, so it can be referenced when needed. We keep a digital version on Google Docs, so it can be edited when necessary, and then any new information is immediately available.

Again, the manual should include company rules and expectations, step-by-step instructions for completing key tasks, and anything else your team needs to know. Following is a sample outline of content and how it might be organized. You’ll notice there’s a section for every aspect of the business. Each should contain information on how, why and when something needs to be done as well as an overview of situations that may not occur frequently but are still important to note.

Company Overview

  • Introduction to the company
  • Introduction to self-storage
  • Confidentiality notice

Day-to-Day Operation

  • How to open the store
  • Daily tasks
  • How to close the store
  • Time clock and schedules
  • Tasks that should be completed weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually
  • How to file paperwork
  • How to create a reservation
  • Reservation policies
  • How to conduct a rental
  • What to do when you receive an online rental
  • Insurance requirements
  • Autopay requirements

Tenant Issues

  • How to handle collections
  • Lien laws and lien-sale process
  • Auction checklist
  • Bailments
  • Documenting tenant contact
  • What to do when a tenant needs to change their contact information
  • How to transfer a tenant to a new unit
  • Moving a tenant out of their unit

Marketing and Engagement

  • Marketing to other businesses in the area
  • Specials, discounts and promotions
  • Handling online reviews

Site Upkeep

  • Routine property maintenance
  • What should be inspected and when

Employee Roles/Discipline

  • Job descriptions
  • What to expect during a site audit
  • Corrective action
  • Evaluations

Risk Management

  • Common legal issues and how to handle them
  • Safety and security information
  • Preventive measures
  • How to conduct an investigation

Training and Acknowledgements

  • Staff training and development
  • Acknowledgement of receipt

Putting the Manual in Play

There are many ways for self-storage ownership, supervisors and staff to leverage the usefulness of a policies and procedures manual. One of the ways we use ours is as a guide for site audits. We go over multiple sections of the manual during each property visit to see if employees have questions or concerns. When inquiries arise, we direct staff to the section of the document where the answer can be found and ensure they’re comfortable with the information.

In fact, our audit reports contain a section regarding policies and procedures, and the person conducting the review checks for compliance to ensure they’re being followed. If an employee is in violation, we follow the steps outlined under the corrective-action section, and discuss what can be done to help the person or team complete their duties correctly.

Any time an employee has a corporate-level question, we direct them to the manual. If the issue hasn’t been addressed there, we’ll update the document right away, so it contains the most current information. We then let staff know there’s been a change. We also perform a complete review of our manual annually to ensure all the contents are still accurate and we haven’t missed anything along the way.

If you’re just building a policies and procedures manual for your self-storage operation, start small and use an outline. It took me four months to write our version, as I wanted to ensure it was accurate and comprehensive. If you have difficulty getting started, many state associations offer a template you can edit to fit your needs.

A well-crafted handbook is essential to any business. Keep it up to date and make good use of it. It’ll help you train new employees and ensure consistently positive performance from existing team members. Happy writing!

Allicyn Bowley is director of policy and procedures for Self Storage Science LLC, a provider of auditing, consulting and property-management services. With 10 years of industry experience, she’s responsible for minimizing liability, ensuring policies are up to date and overseeing the company’s Colorado locations. To reach her, call 720.707.9277; email [email protected].

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