Standard operating procedures. Mmmm…. That is sooo sexy. Right?
When you hear those words you can probably feel every muscle in your body tighten, and not in the good way. It brings to mind images of big, sterile corporations with cubicles and data nerds and vending machines full of stale peanuts.
It’s everything that we in the small business world are fighting against.
So why would I tell you that you need SOPs?
What are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)?
Let’s start by figuring out exactly what Standard Operating Procedures are —
VERY SIMPLY, an SOP is a document that contains the step-by-step process you use to complete a recurring task.
You’ve probably seen some ugly, formal, not-at-all-right-for-your-free-spirit-business SOPs. You may have even written some. Ick! I’ve done it too. It’s painful and boring.
Luckily, we’re well into the 21st century. SOPs no longer have to look like the yellowed refrigerator manual that your grandma stashed in the junk drawer. They can be creative, sassy, and they should absolutely be branded!
A common element among successful businesses is that they have an SOP library. It’s a HUGE deal. If you have plans to scale your business, you need to get on board.
Having a collection of SOPs at your fingertips will provide you with extensive benefits and opportunities for growth.
What are the benefits of SOPs?
And why should you spend all that time creating SOPs when what you really need to do is SAVE time?!
You have to think of this as a long-term investment in your business. Just like taking a course or going to a conference, once you have an SOP, you can use it over and over and over again (although I do recommend updating them regularly).
Training Employees + Contractors
Whether you’re bringing on a new team member or teaching an old one to do new tricks, SOPs will be your best friends!
When you have each step carefully documented, it’s easy to hand things off and let someone walk their way through the document. They might be slow the first few times, but they’ll catch on quickly.
Something I always recommend adding to your SOP is a link to a video where you demonstrate the process. You can use a free tool like Loom to record your screen. This way you have written and visual instructions since everyone learns differently.
Anyone Can Follow Along
A well-documented SOP is basically foolproof. As long as your employee or contractor has some basic computer skills, they shouldn’t have any trouble following along and accomplishing the necessary tasks.
You can even include screenshots for any steps that you think might be confusing or complicated for beginners.
Delegation + Outsourcing
If you’re a solopreneur who is ready to cut out the tasks you hate, can’t handle, or don’t have time for, then your very first step should be to create SOPs for those tasks.
As soon as you find the right person for the job, you’ll be able to hand over the keys to your SOP Library so that they can dive right into the work. No more wasting weeks of time on orientation!
Reduce Back + Forth Questions
When you have employees or contractors learning how to complete various tasks, SOPs can help reduce, or even eliminate, the barrage of questions people might have. Those questions, while important, interrupt your flow and slow down the entire business.
Pro Tip — If for some reason you still get questions, add the answers to the SOP so it doesn’t happen again!
Set Clear Expectations
“Remember, all frustration is based on unmet expectations” — John Lund
It’s pretty much impossible to meet expectations when… you don’t know what they are!
An SOP gives a precise, detailed expectation for anyone following it. They know each and every step they must take to achieve the desired outcome. They probably even know how long it should take them to successfully complete the task.
What happens when someone gets sick, takes a vacation, or quits? Who will take over their responsibilities? And will they know what to do?
We can’t stop changes from coming, but as CEOs we have to be prepared for them. Productivity shouldn’t slow down, or come to a standstill, just because someone takes a couple of weeks off to get married in the Bahamas. With SOPs in place, your business will continue to operate as normal.
No matter who is completing a task, the results should always be the same. By the time they reach the end of the SOP, they will have accomplished the goal with few, or hopefully zero, mistakes.
Even if you hate doing it, employees and contractors MUST be evaluated on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean you need to torture them with self-evaluation forms or long lists of 1-10 rankings, but you do need an overall idea of how they are doing.
One way you can assess their work is to compare their outcomes to the SOPs they are using. Are they skipping steps? Do they make frequent mistakes? Are they playing Candy Crush instead of meeting expectations? An SOP Library can help you answer those questions.
Now that you know what Standard Operating Procedures are and how they can benefit your small business, it’s time to take action! Reading this post is great, but it’s completely useless unless you decide to do something about it.
Building an SOP Library is no small feat, but I’ve got a guide that will walk you through the process step by tiny step. The first thing you will need to do is… get prepared!
Evaluate your current processes so you will have a clear starting point on your journey to building the SOP Library of your dreams. Here are the first steps:
- Do you have any SOPs currently?
- If yes, what is working or NOT working with your SOPs?
- How do you handle routine or recurring tasks without SOPs?
- What is your “why” for wanting to build an SOP Library?
Ready for the next steps? Check out these posts:
Part 2: Everything You Need to Know to Start an SOP Library
Part 3: The Best SOP Template for Online Businesses