Everything You Need to Know to Start an SOP Library

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Before you jump into the deep end of creating an SOP Library, you need to create a system for organizing them into folders, delegating them to team members, and prioritizing their creation.

Trust me when I tell you that skipping this step in the process will lead to chaotic overwhelm. Not that I’ve experienced it first hand or anything.

*If you’re unsure what an SOP is, hop over to Part 1 of this series to learn more!

What Documents Do You Need in Your SOP Library?

The most important document in your library will be the SOP Master List. This is a spreadsheet you’ll use to track every SOP, the people who have worked on it, and the dates they were updated.

An SOP Library isn’t something you just create and you’re done for life. It needs to be used, maintained, and updated regularly. The master SOP list will help you do that.

The rest of the documents, as you might expect, will be your SOPs. You will need one SOP for every recurring task necessary to keep your business running. Depending on the size and scope of your biz, this could be 20 SOPs or it could be 200.

The only way you’re going to find out… sit down and make a list. Yes, it will take some time and brainpower. But you’ve got this! You may want to start by listing the systems (A.K.A. tools) that you use to help you generate ideas.

Set aside some time and get started. Write down everything you did today. And everything you did yesterday if you can remember. Write down the tasks that you have to do every day, week, month, quarter, and year. This about all the various aspects of your business like marketing and your website.

You will need to update this list periodically as you think of more tasks, so stash it someplace that you can access it regularly.

How Will You Categorize Your SOP Library?

Before you set up an organizational structure for your SOPs, you’ll need to know how to label each folder. To do that, you’ll have to create a category for all of the tasks that you or your team members routinely do for your business.

Divide the task list you created into groups of related items. Here are some suggestions that you can use to get started:

  • Admin
  • Blogging
  • Customer Service
  • Email Marketing
  • Events
  • Financial
  • Graphics + Design
  • Metrics
  • Operations
  • Organization
  • Sales
  • Social Media
  • Website

Where Will You Store Your SOP Library?

If you are already using some kind of cloud storage (Google Drive, One Drive, Dropbox….) then you’re off to a great start. Here’s a gold star just for you — ⭐

If you aren’t using a cloud storage service yet then it’s time for you to choose. You can check out my cloud storage comparison for help deciding on the right service for your business..

The basic organizational structure for your SOP Library won’t really change regardless of which service you use. The important thing is that everyone on your team can access the files any time of day.

You will also need to make sure that you are backing up these files. While we all want to believe that Google will never die, it could happen. I mean, did you see Live Free or Die Hard? Yikes!

Just like your website, make sure you are regularly backing up your cloud storage. You can use an online backup service, back it up to an external hard drive, or put it all on a thumb drive and stash it in your stepmom’s gun safe. Not that I’ve ever done that either.

Some of you may be tempted to print your SOPs, but I want to encourage you not to do that for a few reasons:

  1. Please, stop using paper. It’s the 21st century. Nobody likes a tree killer.
  2. What happens when it’s time to update? You scribble a note on your paper copy. Then you lose that copy. So you print it again and add more notes. Then Karen prints a copy and adds her notes. But Karen doesn’t tell you about the new steps and suddenly you can’t get anything done because the software you’re using has updates you don’t know about and you waste 3 hours cursing at your computer screen…. 

Just keep it on the cloud, ok? Live updates, everyone has access, and you don’t have to cuss at an inanimate object. Or Karen.

How Will You Organize Your SOP Library?

Let’s take a look at a possible organizational structure for your Standard Operating Procedures. Keep in mind that this is only my recommendation at a basic level. You will need to customize this to best fit your small business.

  • Primary folder — [Business Name or Abbreviation] SOPs
  • Secondary folders — One for each task category
    • Include a spreadsheet called [Your Business Name] SOP Master List with 4 columns
      • A — the names of all of your SOPs organized by task category and link to each document.
      • B — who the SOP is assigned to. 
      • C — the date it was last updated.
      • D —  name of the person who last updated it.

Alternatively, you could keep your master list in Trello or a similar program.

Within each task category folder, you will save the matching SOPs in alphabetical order with clear titles. You will need to decide on a naming convention for your SOPs, but I recommend something simple like SOP — [SOP Title].

If you run or work with multiple businesses, you should also add the business name or abbreviation to the file. 

For example my SOPs would be named SOP — Sending Emails in ConvertKit — TheOrgCEO.

Who Will You Delegate Each SOP To?

If you’re a solopreneur, you might be tempted to skip over this bit, but I want you to stick with me because I may have some very good news for you.

When you discover that some tasks that are taking too much of your time or you aren’t comfortable doing them, then it’s time to pass those on to someone else. If you already have a team then that’s easy enough. But if you don’t, it may be time to consider getting a little help. 

You can start by hiring a virtual assistant. Most solopreneurs feel like they can’t afford to hire anyone (it’s actually really affordable!), but once they do they ALL say the same thing… “I should have done this sooner!” Give it some serious thought. Maybe start with just 2 hours a week and see how things go.

For this part of the process, you need to mark each task as:

  • Do it yourself
    • Tasks you love to do
    • Tasks you need to do
    • And tasks you want to do
  • Delegate it
    • Tasks you hate
    • Tasks you’re not good at
    • And tasks you don’t know how to do
  • Eliminate it
    • Tasks that have little return
    • Tasks that don’t help meet your goals

Which SOPs Should You Create First?

We’ve finally gotten to the juicy bit! This. Is. Crucial.

You may have a list of 50, 100, or even 200 tasks in front of you. Maybe you hate me a little because I’m supposed to be reducing your overwhelm, but now this list is giving you heart palpitations. And not the good kind where you’re like “OMG, did I just see Jason Mamoa in Target?”

Deep breath everyone. It wasn’t him.

In order to decide which SOPs you should create first, you’ll need to mark each task using this scale:

Here are my guidelines to make this less daunting:

Highest Priority Tasks

The very first SOPs you should create are the ones you need for training and delegating. You need to clear tasks off your list as quickly as possible so that you can free up your time.

Once you’ve created those, and thus have a branded SOP template, you can start delegating the creation of more SOPs! 

Of course, you’ll want an SOP for creating SOPs if you’re going to do that. Yeah, I realize that makes me sound like I use a pocket protector. I’m ok with that.

High Priority Tasks

Any tasks that are time consuming, tedious, or require a lot of knowledge need to be focused on next. They are the most likely candidates for mistakes!

When someone performs a task over and over again, like on a factory line, accidents tend to happen because we become zombies. Basically. And when tasks are more complicated than our typical work, it’s easy to miss steps.

Mid Priority Tasks

Mid priority tasks are the ones that generate a lot of income. We’ve gotta pay those bills, right?!

Making money may sound like the highest priority to you, but the best way for you to start generating more income is to free up some of your time so you can focus and to improve your business’s quality.

Once you take care of those things, move on to the money makers!

Low Priority Tasks

Next, you’re going to focus on tasks that are critical to your daily operations. What are those boring things that must get done for your business to run like a Kenyan in a marathon?

They are absolutely important, but since they typically get done no matter what, you don’t need to rush to create SOPs for these tasks.

Lowest Priority Tasks

Whatever is leftover.

Take Action

Now that you know how to organize, delegate, and prioritize your SOPs, it’s time to take action! Reading this article is great, but it’s completely useless unless you decide to do something about it.

Once you’ve listed ALL of the recurring tasks for your business, you’re ready to move on to organizing, delegating, and prioritizing each task so that you know which SOPs to create first and who will be creating them.

You’ll do that by

  1. Organizing all of your SOP folders within your business’s cloud storage service.
  2. Delegating each task to yourself, an employee, or a contractor (It’s ok to mark a task as delegate even if you haven’t hired someone yet!).
  3. Prioritizing each task so you know which ones you should create first.

In the next step of the SOP Series, you’ll finally start building your own SOP Library!

Ready for the next steps? Check out these posts:

Part 3: The Best SOP Template for Online Businesses

Part 4: How to Write an SOP That Will Save You Time

And in case you missed it,

Part 1: 8 Reasons Why You Need SOPs for Your Business

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