Do you want to get your business out of your head?
Regardless of the size of your business, standard operating procedures are an essential ingredient for successful outcomes. SOPs make running a business simpler for all involved, from contractors and staff to directors and government bodies, and most importantly clients/customers. They assist with providing quality, productive, consistent outcomes, efficient work practices, and training materials or friendly reminders to the small business owner juggling multiple tasks. They are a key ingredient to help scale your business.
So let’s look deeper into the what, when and why when it comes to creating SOPs.
What are Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)?
I mentioned that every business needs an SOP. And yes, it’s true. But what exactly is an SOP and why do you need one? An SOP is essentially a step-by-step guide for executing recurring tasks in your business.
It specifies when, how and why you do a particular function in your business. E.g how to perform a particular process, or how a system is to be used.
Examples of Standard Operating Procedures
For a small business SOPs might cover areas like:
- New customer/client onboarding: This will show the steps you take to bring on board a new customer/client.
- Updating your website: Branding guidelines, steps for uploading information, links, videos and photos, programs integrations, updates, changes to company policy or public notices to customers/clients, compliance updates etc.
- Sales calls: a guide to handling the tricky sales calls
- Invoicing and bookkeeping: steps from sending an invoice and the variables in pricing, to receipting payments, entering customers into the financial management system, reconciling accounts, and running reports.
- Blog management: Instructions on how or where to draft the post, searching for keywords, posting on your website, style and format of posting, frequency and time of posting, how to promote new blog posts
Once you have a collection of procedures for different business activities, you could compile them into a user manual for yourself or any contractor or employee you bring into the business to handle specific business functions.
7 Benefits of Standard Operating Procedures
As a small business, following standardised operating procedures can save you time and allow you (and your team) to be more productive. They reduce errors, and improve compliance with industry guidelines. Here are 7 reasons why every small business should have SOPs:
1. Setting standards and structure within your business
A successful business can act quickly on leads and opportunities, this can be done effectively if the relevant operational information is easily locatable, relatable and transferable.
2. Reducing error rate
Having a documented procedure provides a brilliant level of quality control. There is no ambiguity or creative divergence, a simple and concise process to follow. Train new employees or Virtual Assistants and other contractors knowing that a consistent approach will be followed.
3. Saving time
We all want our businesses to operate smoothly, and I’m not going to lie, SOPs take time to implement. This time, often many small business owners struggle to allocate. However, it can be done gradually, as you are doing the work, document as you go. Consider it a short-term time investment, for a long term gain. If left undocumented, your stress levels and time wasted trying to find how you wrote a particular sales pitch, or where you saved that file you urgently need, will continually hold you back from structure, efficiency, clarity and growth.
4. Preparing for delegating / outsourcing
Once you’ve drafted and tested your SOP, you can outsource work to a virtual assistant with ease. Or write that job description with clarity about the core tasks and skills required for the role. Outsourcing frees you up to go on that holiday you’ve been planning, or to do the higher level tasks to build the business.
5. Assisting with training
If you have a written SOP manual it can be used as a tool to help train and onboard VA’s, or a new employee. It will ensure consistency, and provide a starting point to introduce the business. It also serves as a reference tool when the information overload hits. While making it clearer where the responsibilities for each task lies.
6. Supporting high level customer service
Your customers/clients won’t see your SOPs, but they’ll certainly benefit from, and feel the positive impacts of you following them. They ensure each team member has clarity around expected outcomes. Customer service like ending with a positive phrase at the end of a phone call e.g. “Thankyou, for calling, is there anything else we can do for you today?” Or possibly its following an internal escalation process, to ensure the right person is handling the level of customer interaction, suitable to their role.
7. Leading a path to regular reviews, efficiencies and continuous improvement
By systemising or documenting your processes, you can then visually see where they fit together. This will likely lead to streamlining any processes which may overlap or seem superfluous. It may highlight areas where automation can replace repeated tasks. Because after all, maximising efficiency within your business is a genius move.
How do you document Standard Operating Procedures?
There are various ways you can document SOPs:
- From formal templates, with document registers
- Video demonstrating a process
- Steps in a checklist on a program like Trello
- Another option is to ask your VA to type the processes piecemeal as you are training/providing processes to them.
When it comes to documenting, no one size fits all. Find what works best for your business systems and resources.
To start you off, I’ve added a link to a free template you can use at the bottom of this blog. Feel free to adapt it and make it your own. I use this template with links to processes (e.g. on-boarding, marketing, blog writing, website etc) stored in Trello.
TOP TIP: Ensure consistency with your procedures. Font size, H1,H2, colours etc… This will (with hope) become your business handbook, and once all compiled, you’ll want it to appear uniform and professional.
When and where to start?
There’s no time like the present! Why not start writing your SOPs next time you do the actual task?
The other option is to start with the processes which you dislike the most, or the processes which take the most amount of your time, or are not frequently used but challenging or hard to remember. Simply open the template supplied below and start recording your processes. Save it to your SOP library. This is the beginning of your handbook or manual. It’s prudent to get someone else to test it and provide feedback. Update as required, and review every 6-12 months.
By documenting your processes and procedures, not only will a weight lift, as you start paying yourself forward. You’ll be more organised, reduce errors, make brilliant use of your time, be able to outsource or delegate and scale effectively, therefore increasing profitability and productivity. Sounds great doesn’t it?