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So you’ve read all about the benefits of implementing Standard Operating Procedures within your business and now it’s time for you to get down to it and begin creating your first SOP! Here I’ll give you the considerations you need to make and the steps you need to take to create a flexible and usable SOP structure within your business.
Choosing Your Standard Operating Procedure Format
This is the very first decision you need to make when creating your SOPs. There are four main formats; written, video, flow chart and checklist and the great news is, you don’t have to stick to one! Different formats suit different businesses, different situations and different learning styles, so here are the pros and cons to each to help you decide.
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- Most flexibility for detail inclusion; you can keep it as high level or as detail-orientated as you like
- Quick and easy to update small sections of it
- Images can be easily included to add clarity
- Generally, the most time consuming to create
- It can be easy to go into too much detail, which can make it laborious and overwhelming for others to follow
- The quickest of all the types to create
- Great for demonstrating a complex process with a lot of steps
- Difficult to go in and update a small step within it without creating the whole thing again
- Can be tricky to find the exact step in the document you are looking for, you will need to skip around a bit
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for video editing software for creating SOPs, try Loom. They have a free version which should be sufficient, but for more complex tasks you will need to upgrade to their Pro subscription.
Flow Chart SOP
- Simple and quick to create and amend
- Great for demonstrating processes involving decision making
- Very high level as there is little space for text
- I really recommend this type for business owners struggling to delegate to their teams
Pro Tip: My go-to for creating great flow charts is Lucidchart, again, they have a free programme that can create up to three flow charts for free, after that you need to upgrade to one of their paid plans.
- Simple and quick to create and amend
- Useful for preventing errors by people who are familiar with carrying out a process as they can check they haven’t missed a step with a quick scan of this document
- Quite high level as it generally needs to fit on one page (but more space for text than a flow chart)
- If you are struggling to find the time to flesh out a full SOP, start with a checklist
Another element of consideration is learning type, particularly when it comes to written and video SOPs. I love written and struggle to follow video, whereas I have worked with people who are the complete opposite.
If you’re currently still working in your business solo, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need SOPs. Not only will it make the process of hiring a team in the future SO much easier (even if it is just outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant for five hours a week), it protects you in case you ever need to step away from your business, either for a holiday or due to a personal emergency. You can read more about the benefits of SOPs here).
Why You Should Consider Outsourcing the Creation of Your Business SOPs
Each one of these types has their place and aren’t necessarily a direct replacement of one another. Personally, my best and most robust SOPs have been a combination of all four.
Before you roll your eyes as you were trying to figure out the time to create just one type, hear me out! I always start with a checklist or a video as they are the quickest to make. I would then suggest outsourcing the creation of a written version based on the checklist or video you have made.
Not only does this free up your time, but having someone create the SOPs that has not been doing the process has some pretty great advantages. A fresh set of eyes allows for better identification of opportunities to streamline and optimise that you may not as easily see as you have been in the detail of it.
Additionally, you may well find that having an outside person create it improves the understandability, particularly in regard to written SOPs. As they have recently come from a place of not knowing the process, they will be better placed to identify which bits need less detail and which need more, whereas adopting this mindset is more difficult for someone already familiar with the procedure.
There is also no better training tool for someone just coming in to work with your business that creating SOPs, as it creates a really great foundation and understanding of your business.
Creating Your SOP Template Structure
When it is time to actually begin making your SOPs, create a template structure first. Not only does this maintain consistency, but they become easier to understand and unifies your brand for your team.
This is the exact SOP template I use for my own and my clients’ businesses.
1. Cover Page
A cover page gives an element of authority, consistency and professionalism to your document and the process it details. Include the title, your business logo, original creation date, the department, owner of the document, tools the user needs to be able to complete the SOP, the date the document was last modified and which version it is (e.g. V2.2).
2. Contents Page
Essential for quick navigation to a particular step.
Give a brief summary of what the process in the manual achieves and how it ties into your core business goals (great for team motivation and retaining clarity on purpose). Also include the position of the person in your business responsible for managing and completing the process, as well as keeping the SOP up to date.
4. Written Step-by-Step Process
The main body of the document needs to clearly define guidelines and steps. Add ordered lists wherever possible and include images where appropriate for clarity.
5. Loom Video
Now you could have this instead of your written process above, as an accompaniment to accommodate different learning styles or to demonstrate a certain step in the process that is just too fiddly to try and write down.
You know those terms that were completely alien to us when we began working in our chosen field that we are now comfortable throwing around with little thought? Assuming the team you hire or outsource to understand the lingo is a really easy way to knock their confidence when they first start and makes communication really difficult. Eliminate this hurdle by creating a glossary that defines any abbreviations or key business terms.
7. Contact List
Who are the key contacts that someone using this process could need? Don’t only think about other members of your team, think about support contacts for software or tech you use, particularly if it is a shortcut over going through the normal support routes (i.e. there is a particular person you always talk to that helps you out).
8. Resource List
What resources will the person completing this SOP need access to? What programmes do they need to have a log-on for, are there any helpful associated (internal or external) documents that can assist with certain parts of the process? This document should be the first line of troubleshooting when something isn’t going to plan, which helps your team become more self-sufficient and less reliant on you.
This isn’t always essential, but as with the resource list, can help increase the self-sufficiency of your team. Is there a common issue or question that comes up? It also allows you to communicate how you would like them to deal with a situation.
10. Flow Chart
This one is killer for allowing your team to feel confident making decisions and you to feel comfortable allowing them to. It also allows you to clearly demonstrate at what point you expect them to escalate an issue to you. If you are struggling to delegate, you need one of these; when created correctly it is very hard for anyone to get it wrong!
These are really great as a fail-safe, particularly when you have team members doing this process (at least partially) on autopilot. Rather than flicking through a document (which isn’t going to do a lot), they can glance at a page and quickly check they have done everything, or even better, check each step off as they go along.
Checklists are the number one essential when you have tasks or processes that have the potential to be passed between members of your team, for example, if you have different people doing different steps of a process. This ensures great communication and that nothing gets missed
Tips for Creating SOPs
1. Create your SOP while you are actually doing the task, you are much less likely to forget a step.
2. Be careful and intentional with the amount of detail you include. Too much and it is a terrifying document that becomes difficult to effectively use and with too little, you will get too many questions. When in doubt, keep it simple and you can always add more complexity in later if it isn’t quite right.
3. Stay away from training on specific systems within an SOP, it is about demonstrating how your business uses the system, not how the system itself actually works. If your team needs help on the system itself, have them refer to their help documents, they are usually very good and I would suggest not a good use of your time to try and replicate it yourself.
4. Try and use general team member positions (e.g. Virtual Assistant) rather than their given name, it keeps your company structure clear and you don’t have to go back and amend it as and when you hire someone new.
5. Even if you are doing a written SOP, include images such as screenshots to help reduce the amount of text and clearly illustrate relevant points.
6. Make really clear where the sign-off points are i.e. which steps need to be escalated to yourself or management for approval? This helps clearly define responsibilities and a second set of eyes reduces errors.
7. After an SOP has been created, it should be reviewed by someone else. It is the kind of document that will need tweaks to ensure it is easily followed by others. The goal should be that a brand new team member can pick it up and follow the process with minimal (or no) support and it is a great way to test out just how robust your SOPs are.
8. Ensure you have a dedicated cloud-based folder for saving all your business SOPs that can be accessed by the whole team. This ensures that nothing falls down if you have someone who leaves suddenly or goes off sick, as someone else can easily access the SOP and follow the process. State in each SOP exactly where it should be saved.
If you are not quite sure where to start with your SOP, here are some examples of processes within your business that would benefit from one. SOPs are most effective for operational processes that need to be repeated.
- New Client Onboarding and Offboarding
- Product Launch
- New Team Member Recruitment and Training
- Content Creation (e.g. blog posts, social media, email marketing etc)
- KPI and Analytics Report Creation & Distribution
That’s A Wrap! Creating Standard Operating Procedures
Hopefully, this has given you a very good idea about where to start when you want to go about writing SOPs for your small business. They are truly an essential foundation for ensuring consistency, robustness and laying a solid foundation from which to achieve your business goals.
If you would like some help implementing SOPs within your business, check out our digital shop for a suite of SOP templates to get you started quicker.
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