By Magen Smith
Policies and procedures keep your self-storage business running smoothly and profitably. Policies are the rules of the company, and procedures explain how the job gets done. Both should be spelled out in your facility’s operation manual.
If you haven’t updated your manual lately, you should. While the basics of operating a storage business don’t change much, you’ve likely adopted some new practices since your handbook was originally created. For instance, your current manual may not include guidelines around texting customers or using electronically signed leases. Technology is changing every day, and your rules have to change with it.
If you don’t have a manual at all, now’s the perfect time to write one. It should include detailed information outlining everything it takes to operate your business successfully. The following explains the aim of sound policies and procedures, and provides guidance for writing the best possible manual for your operation.
What Will the Manual Accomplish?
A policies and procedures manual will tell your managers everything they need to know, from what to do after showing up for work on Monday to whether they can offer discounts to customers. These guidelines should be in writing and easily accessible to everyone in the company. As the owner, you need to clearly explain your rules and why they’re in place. Make them part of the company story. Repeat them until employees understand your expectations and are doing their job in line with them.
Some rules are set in stone and the same for every facility. For example, you would never allow an employee to change a lease, alter vendor contracts without approval or renegotiate bank loans. Maybe you don’t ever want employees to change rates, give discounts without approval or use concession plans. These may all be firm policies.
Managers need to know what’s absolutely non-negotiable and what’s up to their judgement. Most owners will allow employees to waive some late fees or offer discounts depending on the situation. While this is up to the discretion of the employee, you still need a guideline around these issues. Is there a limit on concessions that can be offered? Does anything above a certain amount require approval? Do managers need to file paperwork for concessions? Your job as the owner is to make sure your employees clearly understand what’s expected of them.
Policies and procedures should be designed to protect your employees, customers and business. Facility managers hear stories of woe from customers every day, and they need protection against these excuses. Your policies are their defense. For example, if it’s your policy to only accept full payments on delinquent units, then it’s easier for the manager to decline a partial payment. Sometimes it’s just simpler for an employee to blame the policy than make a tough decision on his own.
Policies and procedures also keep you mindful of your bottom line. For example, you may have a policy to never waive a late fee, which safeguards your revenue stream. However, you wouldn’t want to upset a 15-year customer who’s late one time, or the customer who referred 15 new customers to you and is late by a couple of days because he was out of town. So, sometimes it’s good to allow your manager to use his best judgment on rule enforcement.
Finally, good policies deliver excellent service to customers while offering security. For example, accepting packages on behalf of your tenants is a wonderful value-add service, but if you don’t follow the proper procedures, it can harm your business Know your state laws before you write a policy. Is it legal to enter a tenant’s unit to deliver a package or should he pick it up in the office? The written guideline will ensure all packages are properly handled.
Who Should Write the Manual?
Policies are the rules of the game. They should come from the owner or management company that oversees day-to-day operation. However, a manager can also write policies for the owner to approve. Some owners even hire a consultant to work with employees and write the manual.
What Should It Include?
An operations manual is a living, breathing document. It should change and develop as your business grows and new situations arise. With so much to cover, it can be hard to know where to begin. Many owners find the best route is to start with what happens Monday morning on the first of the month. Here are some tasks to cover:
- Opening and closing the office
- Accepting payments
- Answering the phone
- Executing move-ins, move-outs and transfers
- Documenting new tenant information
- Printing reports
- Handling common maintenance tasks
- Depositing checks and cash
- Checking and responding to e-mail
- Conducting property walk-throughs
The manual should also include important need-to- know items such as:
- Where keys are kept and what they’re for
- Login information for software programs and websites
- How to use the gate system
- Invoicing schedule
- Late-fee schedule
- Overlock schedule and process
- Lien-sale process
- Accounting process
- Deceased-tenant process
Your policies should also cover common human-resources issues including:
- Dress code
- Vacation and sick time
- Use of cell phones and mobile devices while at work
- Use of company assets
- Emergency procedures
This is only a sample of the policies and procedures to include in your personalized manual. Putting everything in writing should make it possible for a new hire to perform his job correctly, with only the handbook as a guide. It also ensures everyone follows the same protocol. When a new situation arises, understand what happened and why, and then draft new guidelines to ensure similar scenarios are handled properly in the future.
Policies and procedures can vary from facility to facility, and while you could simply purchase a pre-written manual, it’s much better to give some thought to this part of your business and get it right. You’ve invested energy and money into your storage company, so put some rules in place to keep it running efficiently and lucratively.
Magen Smith is a former self-storage manager turned certified public accountant. Her company, Magen Smith CPA LLC, helps self-storage operators have more time and freedom, and managers become fantastic at their job. Services include monthly auditing, financial management, operational improvement and training. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.selfstoragecpa.com.