There are too many startups who don’t have a knowledge management system.
Sometimes, the company’s information is scattered across various platforms and it’s disorganized and incomplete. Others have no system in place at all.
Failing to build a knowledge hub will cost your startup time and money.
In this article, I want to talk about why, and how you should centralize company knowledge so that it’s accessible to everyone.
I will give my advice about the different tools and systems that could work for your startup.
What is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management is the process of centralizing all knowledge about the business into a single system, bringing all employee expertise together and making it easily accessible.
Startups need a consistent and trustworthy system. Employees at all levels should be confident that information they need is stored and accurate.
Lack of access to knowledge can result in lost sales, lost customers and employee turnover.
Even small startups will benefit from implementing a system and getting into the habit of recording and organizing all useful information.
Without this single hub of information, you might find you descend into chaos as you grow.
Internal vs External Knowledge
There are different types of knowledge management. We generally distinguish between internal and external.
External knowledge is customer focussed and includes resources available online, such as frequently asked questions and instructional content to help people use your product.
Internal knowledge is where you centralize all the company knowledge among your team, and includes things like standard operating procedures, onboarding and training materials, brand guidelines, forms for booking holiday.
Some crossover exists between the two. For example, in your internal knowledge base you should have a record of the most common customer questions and problems, and these should guide you in creating standard procedures in sales and customer success.
This article will focus on your internal knowledge system, though we will talk about how you can integrate both to inform your procedures.
Why do you need a knowledge management system?
If you don’t have a good system to manage company knowledge, you may have the following problems:
- Employees waste time searching for information
- Managers waste time answering the same questions over and again
- Processes are not standardized across the organization
- Onboarding and training of new employees is messy and inconsistent. Bad onboarding experience can lead to a higher turnover of staff.
- Information is hard to locate and things get lost.
- There’s chaos when a key team member takes holiday and no one else knows how to cover for her.
An effective knowledge management system promotes collaboration. Employees share their expertise and the company becomes greater than the sum of its parts
Having standard procedures to follow takes the mental strain out of constantly making decisions about simple things, so you can instead save creative energy for innovation.
Finally, it reduces disagreements about who is responsible for what, and how things are supposed to be done, because everything is documented and agreed upon in advance.
Tips for creating a great knowledge management system
I hope I’ve convinced you that every startup needs a knowledge management system.
Here are some tips to remember as you begin to set one up.
Treat employees like customers
You wouldn’t be happy with a complex blog or website which meant that customers couldn’t find what they needed.
Why should your internal system be any different? It should be easy to access and navigate, and organized in a clear, logical way.
Similarly, don’t neglect design. Choose clear fonts, use images, colours and a writing style that reflects your brand.
These are small details will help employees enjoy using the system, and align everyone with your brand and mission.
Make it inspiring to use, just as you would do with your website.
Aim for a complete system
Your goal is to aim for a comprehensive system which contains all relevant information.
However, you don’t have to add everything at once while employees are still learning the new software.
Building a knowledge base can be a gradual process, so start with the most crucial resources like training materials, guides and SOPs which employees need on a regular basis.
Later, you may integrate task and project management, contact lists, brand guidelines and more.
Be careful that your system does not become bloated and things are not added for the sake of it. When creating your system, don’t automatically transfer all information you have stored across various sources. Take some time to review what’s out of date.
Assign knowledge manager(s)
If everyone has the power to add, edit and delete important documents, that’s a recipe for chaos.
Assign specific people to manage the system who will be responsible for introducing new information, and removing or updating any old information. They don’t have to create all content, but there must be some approval process for content created by other team members.
Make it easy for knowledge to be updated and the hub to expand as knowledge grows.
You also need to restrict who can view certain things. Make sure everyone can see information that is relevant to their role, while restricting access to anything sensitive or outside the scope of their job.
Aim for compatibility
You probably have data coming in from various different sources that needs to be in your knowledge base, including things like customer support tickets, live chat conversations and website analytics.
These are important reference points for customer services, sales and marketing team members.
Ideally you will find a way to integrate these information sources, and import data or ensure that they are connected to the overall system.
Get employees engaged in the creation of the system. Find out what they need to do their jobs better and encourage them to add the system by sharing their expertise.
The knowledge management system does not have to be a single piece of software. However it is advisable to keep the information across as few places as possible with clear linking, to avoid information being siloed. I’ll talk more about tools below.
Organize information clearly
Think about how you want to organize content within the system.
As mentioned above, it’s important that information is easy to find and organized in a logical way.
You could structure information by:
- Department, such as marketing, sales and customer success.
- Phase in the customer journey, such as onboarding or cancellation procedure
- Document type, for example, procedures, forms, manuals etc.
Which system you choose will depend on the size and organizational structure of your company. You could ask the team which method they think would be most efficient.
Onboard employees into the new system
When you rollout your knowledge system, make sure everyone knows the date that the system will come into use. Make employees aware that creating and maintaining the knowledge base is a collective effort.
Incentivise them to take an active role in creating and sharing their knowledge. Encourage them to flag up anything that looks incorrect or out of date.
Clarify who is responsible for managing the system, training employees and managing the change to a new system.
Knowledge management tools
Many apps claim to be an all-in-one solution for knowledge management. However, I haven’t yet found one product that truly does it all.
Instead, you’ll probably need a combination of apps to collect data and centralize knowledge.
Here a few types of tool which I recommend using for your knowledge base.
Your wiki is a hub of documents and information that is easy to navigate and can be edited by whoever has the right permissions.
All three are great tools but I usually recommend Notion. I find it intuitive to use and I like the freedom it gives. The building block structure allow you to design a workspace from scratch to suit your needs.
An effective knowledge base also needs to centralise information about projects. Who’s working on them, what stage are they at and what tasks need to be completed next.
Another reason I love Notion is that you can create task and project management systems within the app. However,you have to build it yourself and it isn’t up to the standard of project management apps like Asana or Jira.
It comes down to personal preference. If you are using Notion as your wiki and you prefer greater centralization, use that for task and project management.
Customer Support Tracking
You’ll need an app for recording and tracking customer data. This is how you create your external customer help centre, but can also be a great way to turn customer support data into information for employees.
Zendesk Guide can help you capture customer data regarding support tickets and frequently asked questions. You can use this information in your internal knowledge base.
You can also use Guide build a self-service help centre for your employees, complete with chat feature and auto-suggested articles.
As well as formally documented information, it helps to have a trusted system for recording conversations.
You could do this within your company wiki if you’re using Notion, Confluence or Tettra. However, I also love Fellow, a tool for planning productive meetings and taking notes.
Slack is another obvious choice for companies who want to centralized all work chat between employees. Slack integrates with Notion, Tettra and Confluence so topics discussed in chat can be accessed from your overarching knowledge management platform.
To recap, here’s my advice for startups who need a cohesive system to manage knowledge:
- Keep the system organized, simple and user friendly
- Make sure it’s updated regularly
- Train your employees in using the new system
- Nominate knowledge managers to add or change data
- Incentivise employees to create content and share knowledge
- Use as few tools as possible to and look for compatibility