How To Make A Trainual
An overview for creating the training manual, playbook, standard operating procedures, handbook or all-encompassing how-to guide for your growing business.
So, you want to build your business playbook?
We know a thing or two about documenting and training processes. Over the years we’ve helped thousands of people in 40+ countries around the world get work done with our platform.
But if you’ve seen our marketing, you know we have a simple philosophy. Do it, Document it, Delegate it.™
Before you create and deliver effective training, you must learn to do the thing that you want to train consistently. You experiment, you A/B test, you run through trial and error and eventually you settle on a repeatable process that’s worth scaling. Only then can you document and delegate, which is the real power behind Trainual.
This year, we’ve been working behind the scenes with customers in very non-scalable ways to perfect how we do what we do.
We’ve copy and pasted countless documents as our customers have migrated in. We’ve done Zoom calls, offered setup sessions, visited offices, hosted workshops — all to get a handle on how to consistently and universally build the best possible Trainual account.
What I can tell you is – we’re getting close.
We’re more passionate than ever about our belief that every growing company should have an instruction manual. We’ve been ramping up our customer success team, certifying and training outside partners, and refining our software every single week to solidify Trainual as the best place in the world to build a Training Manual.
That effort continues! But in the meantime, I wanted to compile this helpful guide as one simple place to reference our best practices and get started with our system.
Let’s build your playbook together!
If you were making an old fashioned three-ring binder style operations manual or training manual, you would put your name and logo on the cover. You just would.
When we released an update last spring that included a branding setup wizard, we saw a 20%+ increase in our trial conversions. Crazy, right? But that shows how emotional building the how-to guide for your business can be.
As an owner or manager, you take pride in making your documentation your own. As an employee, you feel like your company is more “official” when your onboarding and training experience feels customized.
So, we always recommend that you start with some simple steps.
Add your logo
Use a real logo with a transparent background (a png works best). Avoid using a photo or something that isn’t transparent, because this logo will appear in many places throughout your account.
Your logo will appear in your account header, on your login page, on user invite emails, on reminder emails, and on PDF exports out of the system. So, it’s worth taking the time to get it right!
Just select a file from your computer and modify sizing and placement to make it as close to the edges without going over.
Need help setting up your logo? Just let us know and we’ll custom brand your account for you. It’s that important!
Pick Your Colors
Next, you’ll select two colors: a custom background color (for the logo in the application and on your sign-in page), and a secondary color for the buttons and links throughout your account.
If you’re not sure which colors to pick, we recommend using a tool like Colorfy. It will analyze your website and pull all the most frequently used colors, giving you a great idea of your brand’s theme.
When you discover your color, you’ll see the color’s “hex code” (a way of specifying color using hexadecimal values). It will look something like #ffffff (white).
Either paste those codes into the fields on Trainual, or use our color picker by clicking on the color square to open a color selection window.
Adjust Your Account Settings
When you first set up your Trainual account, there are a few questions to ask yourself.
- Do you want to allow discussions in the system?
- Do you want to allow your users to request access to material they are not assigned?
- Do you want to enable printing and PDF generation of the subjects inside your account?
This basic setup is important to make the account your own.
If You’re Not Using Trainual
Not a Trainual customer yet? No problem. Use the same steps above to create a document template in something like Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
Be sure to add your logo, establish your brand colors, and set some default formatting for fonts and font sizes (this is done automatically in our system).
Decide What to Tackle First
Perfect, now that you’re set up with either a fully branded Trainual account or your own paper template, let’s get started with documenting what you do.
When we work one-on-one with customers, the most important thing is to decide what you want to document first.
Some customers have a role in mind, such as Training and Development Manager. Maybe you have an upcoming hire and you want to document everything in one central place to make their onboarding as seamless as possible.
Other customers have a process in mind; one specific thing that you want to get off of your plate and delegate to someone else.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you begin the process:
- What’s the most important position to document?
- Where is your company making the most mistakes?
- Where is the easiest place to make mistakes?
- What position are you hiring next?
- What position has the most turnover?
- Which position is the more vulnerable to your business staying alive?
- What position will you hire for the most in the next year?
- What responsibilities are you trying to take off of your plate?
- What new position are you trying to create?
Do you have something in mind?
Or, maybe you have existing documentation and just need to copy it into Trainual! That’s even easier. We’ll cover that shortly.
Create Your Outline
When you’re working on paper, one of the last things you end up creating might be a table of contents. But, this outline gives you a fantastic snapshot of what is included in your manual, so we recommend starting with the outline, and completing each section in order of importance.
Unlike a term paper or something that you work on and finish, your training manual is a living tool that will change over time. So, as soon as you document one thing in your business, that thing is instantly assignable and useful, saving you time in the process.
Document by order of importance, but start by making an outline of everything.
Terminology: Subjects, Topics & Steps
In Trainual, we organize content into Subjects, Topics, and Steps.
Think of Subjects like a folder of policies and processes, that you can assign to one or many people based on roles in your company to learn. It’s important to understand that you assign content at the Subject level, so be sure that all material within a Subject is applicable to the group to which you’re assigning it.
You might create a Subject for something that applies to everyone, like “New Hire Orientation.” Or, you might create a Subject that applies to a department, like “Sales Playbook.” Since you can have unlimited Subjects, Subjects can also be very specific to a role, such as “Payroll & Benefits” or “Overview of our CRM”.”
A typical Trainual account has 15-30 Subjects, but many accounts have well over 100 Subjects. You can always break one Subject into multiple Subjects later on, so we recommend starting with larger categories, and splitting them out as you get more familiar with the system.
Inside of a Subject, you can create Topics.
Topics are the individual policies or processes that you want to document in the system. Examples of Topics include: Posting a Blog, Onboarding a Client, Processing Payroll, Creating a Google Analytics Account, Running Weekly KPI Report, Sending an Invoice… the possibilities are endless.
Our top accounts have over 1,000 Topics, but most accounts end up creating between 30-100 Topics.
Finally, each Topic consists of Steps. Steps are the sequence of the process you are communicating, or, when talking about more contextual topics like “Our Company History,” steps represent the outline of how you want to present the information.
Try not to get caught up in the terminology! The important thing to note is that you can organize content in Trainual three layers deep, you can create unlimited Subjects, Topics and Steps, and you can rearrange and re-organize everything at any time. So let’s start creating.
As a Trainual user, navigate to the “Subjects” page inside your account, and then click on the toggle for “Outline View.”
Working In Outline View
Thinking about the role or process that you’re starting with, create a general Subject name that relates. For example, let’s use the Subject, “New Hire Orientation.”
Click the “+ Subject” button, and this will create your first Subject. By default, the Subject is “Unpublished,” which means that only admins inside your account can see the material until you decide to publish it to your users.
Below the Subject title, you can create as many Topics (or tests, more on those later) that you’d like. Build an outline of all the Topics that come to mind when thinking about this area of your business. Again, for a New Hire Orientation, we might create a list that looks like this:
When you expand a Topic by clicking the “+” icon to the left of each row, you can populate all of the Steps with the Topic. As an example, here is how your “Company History” might look:
As you can see, content in Trainual is very individualized for your specific business.
For less procedural content, like an orientation, your steps will look like the chapters of a story (as in the example above). For more process-based documentation, you could have a set of steps that looks like this:
Creating outlines in Trainual is the easiest way to get started.
At any time, you can drag, drop, and rearrange your Steps and Topics. You can duplicate Steps or Topics that you want to reproduce elsewhere. And you can shift content between Subjects, or create new subjects to further subdivide your material.
Rules of Thumb
If you have more than 10 Topics inside a Subject, consider splitting them out into multiple Subjects. If you have more than 15 Steps inside a Topic, consider breaking them out into multiple Topics.
Of course, this is completely subjective, but we have found that when content is more bite-size in nature, it is easier for your users to consume. So, try to stick to these guidelines to help make your material digestible and easy to reference.
When you’re ready to edit, click the pencil icon on any Topic or Step to begin writing your content.
Writing Your Content
Now it’s time to get some work done! The way you create useful material inside Trainual is by filling out your Steps.
Just like you would create a Google Doc or a Word Doc in a more traditional operations manual, you write content in Trainual’s text editor. Here is a screenshot from inside our own account, describing one of our core values.
Engaging content is more visual, so be sure to incorporate photos where possible to help the user. But, Trainual goes one step further than standard documents with the ability to embed videos, audio files, or even full HTML code.
Using Video to Enhance Your Training
Recording and adding video to your account is the fastest way to make quick progress. Just turn on your webcam, use a service like Loom or Screencastify, and paste your video link or embed code into Trainual.
Your video will appear and play right inside Trainual alongside the rest of your text, screenshots, and file attachments, making the user experience as simple as possible.
As you create content, one thing to consider is whether you might like to test your users’ retention of what they have learned through simple knowledge checks.
In Trainual, you can create unlimited Tests, arranged alongside your Topics in any order.
Some users will create a structure in which every Topic is followed by a Test, but our recommendation is to create one Test at the end of a Subject after the conclusion of all Topics, similar to a final exam at the end of a college course.
How you structure your tests will ultimately depend on the amount of content you create. Click on the pencil icon to edit a test, and inside you will be able to create and rearrange questions, or edit the test settings.
Now that you’ve started to build out some of the material inside your account, it’s time to group your content by role in the organization, and assign it to your team.
Assigning Your Material
One of the problems with using Google Docs or Dropbox to store all of your process information is that you cannot effectively assign and track the material. At best, you can share a folder with someone, but likely the folders are filled with documents that are either irrelevant or outdated.
Our goal with Trainual was to fix this problem. You can assign content in two ways: Individually, or by Role.
Assigning Individual Users to Subjects
In your Subjects page, click on gear icon to open a window of all active users in your account. Here, you can select all applicable users to individually assign them to this material. Individual assignments or un-assignments will override your role settings, so this is a great way to be specific about exactly who should have access to what material.
When users are assigned to Subjects, there are a few things to note. First, they can only see the material if:
- The Subject is Published, or
- They have a permission level of “Creator” or higher
If your material is still unpublished, you can assign content to any person without worrying about general users being notified, since they cannot access the content yet.
But, in most cases, we recommend using the Roles feature for more efficient assignment across your organization.
Assigning By Role
Roles represent each unique position in your organization. In many companies, individuals “wear many hats.” Our recommendation is to create a Role for each of those “hats.”
A user can be assigned multiple roles, and this makes scaling easier, since you won’t have to break apart your content later as you grow.
To create your Roles, navigate to the Subjects page and click the dropdown menu for “All Roles.”
This will display any Roles that you created during setup. At the bottom of the list, you will see an option to “Create A Role.” Click this to open up a window and built a new role.
Inside the resulting window, select all Subjects that are applicable to this Role in the organization.
You can also set a Subject’s applicable roles from inside the Subject editor. When you edit any subject in “Admin” mode, a box at the bottom right of the screen allows you to manage which individual roles in the company should know this material, or you can select “All Roles” to signify that this material applies to everyone.
When you invite a user to your account in the Users page, you can select as many Roles as you would like for that user. Doing so will automatically assign all associated Subjects to that user, giving them instant access to everything that they need, and nothing more.
Finally, note that the order that you list Subjects in your Subjects page or Subjects Outline View will be the same order that those Subjects are presented to your users. So, we suggest putting onboarding and orientation materials at the top of your list to ensure a smooth first day for your new hires.
Note that you can filter the Subjects page by Role to see the exact order from your users’ perspective.
Get Advanced, And Keep Improving
We’ve only covered the basics in this guide, but Trainual can do so much more!
Perhaps you don’t need to track completions for a specific subject. We have a setting for that.
Maybe you want users to retake a Test or review a Subject on a regular basis. You can do that too!
From creating login restrictions, to generating PDF exports, to automating your workflows with Zapier, our Help Docs cover all the specifics to make Trainual a success in your business.
Check them out here, or don’t hesitate to send us a message and we can help get you started.
Remember, It’s Never “Done”
As we said earlier, your manual is never “finished,”so don’t look at this project as something to set and forget. Our Forum feature allows you and your users to discuss your processes and best practices, and our Reports show you which processes might be due for an update.
The more time you invest in creating repeatable processes, the more time you’ll save. And if there’s one thing that’s worth investing in, it’s more time.
We look forward to helping your organization scale through the years!