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SOPs For Beginners – Standard Procedures For a Better Business

Processes & Productivity

A simple mistake in a business operation can disorient workflow and lead to lesser quality output. That’s why organising procedures is important for any business owner. Creating and documenting procedures avoids mishaps and provides a more structured organisation.

What is an SOP?

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is a set of instructions, or documentation, that outlines the actions for a task or routine activity. The structure of an SOP should be linear, easy to read, concise, with simple and clearly outlined steps.

These are procedures and rules your business needs in various operations. Employees should consistently adhere to the standardised rules established by businesses.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking SOPs are for big business. As you will discover, having SOPs in place even helps startup business owners create a more efficient business.

Why should your business document SOP?

An SOP is vital to your business for the following reasons:

  • Efficiency: Does your business struggle with staff turnover? SOPs allow a smooth onboarding process for new hires by helping them understand various procedures in a simplified, well-explained, and consistent way. Performing tasks with guidelines to follow helps people accomplish more in a shorter time.
  • Consistency: Everyone follows the same procedure so tasks are done correctly. No need to rack their brains trying to remember the next steps.
  • Accountability: SOP gives you insights about employees which can help in judging their performance objectively and fairly.
  • Safety: Ensures employees perform their work in a consistent manner.
  • Preserve: SOP chronicles the knowledge and skills from older or previous employees. It can also serve as a factual basis for revising a process. When staff leave or go on holidays recording the how, what, why and when of how they performed their daily tasks makes it easier for their stand in.

SOPs aren’t just about the staff. All of the above reasons also apply to how your business onboard new customers; how and when to follow up past clients; your marketing processes and more. Literally, every repeated activity in a business should be recorded as an SOP.

How to create your SOP

Developing an SOP is about systemising your processes and documenting them. It is taking note of the steps taken to perform a specific activity and recording it. It should be documented in such a way, that anyone can step in and follow the steps to produce the same outcome.  

Try the following steps and see how you can create an SOP that fits your business:

  1. Define the scope, audience, and consider their knowledge about the subject
  2. Name the process and write the description to provide context
  3. Process boundaries – identify the starting point and end result
  4. Define the input (what sources will be used) and the output (what was produced in the process)
  5. Process activities – brainstorm the directions with experienced individuals regarding the subject
  6. Organise everything in a logical sequence
  7. Identify the people involved and roles (use job title instead of names)
  8. Expand the process – write exceptions, possible hazards, troubleshoots
  9. Visualise the process to make it easier for everyone to see how it works
  10. Review and test the process – can be tested other than the original writer
  11. Accept feedback and adjustments

For best practice:

  • Make it accessible to all employees
  • Make it scan friendly – use concise and readable words,  bullet points, headings, and subheadings to break longer tasks
  • Create a template/format that writers can follow for consistency
  • Use checklists to ensure that steps are followed in an organised way
  • Revisions should occur at least every 1-2 years
  • Maintain an archive of your SOPs (indicate the name, date, author, status, and other necessary information relevant to your process)

Tools for creating SOP

Take advantage of the myriad of software tools you can use for creating SOP, delegation, monitoring, and documentation. It saves you time and it’s more accessible compared to hard-copy SOPs.

Here are some tools you can use:

  • Trello.com – a free project management tool. It can be used to document SOP by creating a new card per step and adding the details in the description. Checklists can be used for tasks and subheadings. Trello also allows users to attach files and comment on boards. This is convenient for monitoring progress in one area.
  • Process.st – use Process Street to provide diagrams, videos, and companion files alongside your checklists. You can also reuse the template each time a process starts, create schedule workflow with automatic start schedules. There’s a dashboard where you can monitor how each task is going.
  • Loom.com – a work communication tool that you can use for documenting processes. It captures on-screen activities and records a video/audio explanation simultaneously. It’s easily shareable to anyone through a link.

Types of processes your business can document

Here are some categories where you might need an SOP:

Employee onboarding – It’s helpful to have a template and documentation for new hires to have a common ground. Some of the things you can place in SOP are:

  • Descriptions
  • Expectations
  • Medium of communications used in office
  • Passwords/access to important documents drives and such
  • Do’s and don’ts
  • Organisation chart
  • Weekly checklist or recurring work templates

Client onboarding – Your first interaction with every client is crucial, so having an SOP can help you get and retain them. SOP for client onboarding may include:

  • Template language for emails or calls
  • FAQs
  • Common issues with clients and how to resolve them
  • Next steps for new customers.

Product launch/projects – SOP for projects such as product launches is helpful as it could happen several times per year. Revise according to the project. Make sure there’s an SOP for all of the product launch processes (pre-launch, launch, delivery, and follow-up).

Helpdesk manual – Handle client queries systematically by having an SOP. You won’t need to compose answers every time a question is asked, and you can respond to clients needs immediately and calmly.

Routine activities – create an SOP for other repetitive tasks in your company to avoid wasting time. It helps everyone to function quickly and efficiently.

When to start documenting SOP

If you don’t have an SOP yet, you should consider creating them now. It’s tempting to start later in your business but the efficiency and consistency it returns are crucial. Don’t wait until you’re “established.”

Creating SOPs provides a better structure and organised operation for your business. See how you can create one that fits your business and remember to check it annually for updates.

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