Matthew Michael on Writing A Table of Contents for Your Business

Matthew Michael

Monday, June 1st, 2015

I was recently reviewing a booklet we are designing for a client and my mind wandered while viewing the Table of Contents. I always start with some form of a Table of Contents, whether I am laying out an article, a design piece, or a website, because it provides structure to the project, and I'm a big fan of structure. While reviewing it I started thinking about the life of a business and how it can neatly and succinctly be communicated through a Table of Contents. 

Every business has a story (we've talked about that before) which means you also have a Table of Contents. Each chapter in your story identifies a defining moment in the life of your business, and I want to challenge you today to record your chapter titles. 

Most businesses have at least a couple chapters in common. The first chapter is all about the experiences that led to the idea of your business and the second chapter either deals with early struggles or fast growth. I love hearing business owners talk about the innovation that surrounded their idea and the fortitude that turned their idea into a business. This is what chapter one and chapter two are all about. 

Once you get to chapter three, the Table of Contents becomes more unique to each business - maybe you hired your first team member or landed a game-changing account, or maybe you formalized what you do better than anyone else. This chapter typically involves a turning point of some sort.

Five Benefits of Writing Your Business Table of Contents 

As I began to think about a Business Table of Contents, I immediately wrote out M&R's. I've thought through and written about our story multiple times but I had never written our story in such a condensed manner - it allowed me to really focus in on the most significant aspects of our story. 

Thinking through your story is great, but writing it out is even better, and this is where most of us fall short. Research shows that if you write out your goals, you are 42% more likely to keep them*. 

Writing your Table of Contents will benefit you in five ways:

Cause you to step out of your day to day and focus on your business goals
Force you to analyze your business from a big picture perspective
Encourage you to learn from your failures and celebrate your successes
Allow you to cast vision for the chapters that haven't been written
Produce a guide for you and your team to reference when you need a bit of motivation or when you need to re-align with your vision

What's Next? 

After I wrote M&R's Table of Contents I envisioned what was next for our company and I wrote the titles to our next two chapters. It's the part of our story that hasn't been written yet but the groundwork had already been set. The titles closely matched the goals that my business partner and I established in a recent weekend strategy session. I asked Nick to write out our future chapters as well and his results were nearly identical to mine.

Casting vision is the life-blood of your business and you should consistently take time to evaluate the past and present and plan for the future. My favorite part of this exercise is writing the chapter titles to the part of your story that hasn't occurred yet. You get to dream a bit here and you also create accountability to make it happen.

Here's the M&R Table of Contents

Chapter 1: When an Idea on a Napkin Became a Business
Chapter 2: The Leap of Faith: Quitting Jobs, Losing Insurance, and Going Full-time
Chapter 3: From 2 to 10 - The Joys (and Pains) of Hiring and Growing a Team
(Unwritten): Chapter 4: Continue to Evolve our Service Offerings
(Unwritten): Chapter 5: Changing Roles: Spending More Time Working On the Business than In the Business

A Few Stories to Share

Writing out your Table of Contents is not a difficult exercise - it only takes about 15 minutes, it has a real value, and you'll enjoy the process. The difficulty is making it a priority.

I reached out to a few colleagues and invited them to try out the exercise and they responded pretty quickly with their Table of Contents and they gave me permission to share them. 

Read them here.

Get Started and Share Your Results

I invite you to create a Table of Contents for your business. This simple exercise encourages you to write chapter titles for your story. Maybe your story has 3 chapters or maybe it has 10 - it completely depends on the life of your business. You're not writing your whole story out, just the chapter titles. And here's the real challenge - after you've written out your Table of Contents write the titles of your next two unwritten chapters. This is where you begin to cast vision for how you'd like to see your company grow. 

I would love for you to send us your Table of Contents. I'll even look over it and send you feedback and advice on achieving the goals you've set forth in your two unwritten chapters.

*Source: Dr. Gail Matthews, Dominican University of California

About Matthew Michael

Matthew Michael is co-founder of M&R Marketing Group, a full-service marketing agency located in Macon offering website and graphic design, branding, SEO and SEM services, and social media. Matthew and his wife have three sons.