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Five Tips to Get You Started on SOPs

Picture a scenario where you find yourself in a position to hire your first employee. How will you train them? Do you have any formally documented procedures to assist you in the training process?

Or perhaps you have had employees for several years and your longest tenured employee has decided to leave the company. Did they leave a playbook of their daily responsibilities behind? Do you remember enough of the day-to-day operations to be able to train their replacement?

There are multiple scenarios in which formalized Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) can prove to be invaluable to you and your business. SOPs can be thought of as the “instruction manual” for your business; they articulate required steps, help to provide consistency in processes, serve as training tools, can be used to identify process improvements, etc. Well-documented SOPs will benefit everybody in your business, all the way to your customers and clients.

If the instruction manual to your business lives in your head, there is no better time than the present to develop formal SOPs for those essential business activities.

The following steps will set you on your way to formally documented SOPs for your business:

1. Make a list of the business activities and tasks within your business. Even if you think an activity might be insignificant, include it on the list. Minor processes and tasks can be weeded out in a later step. Examples of the business activities could include:

  • New customer onboarding

  • Sales workflows

  • Expenses workflows (submitting expenses, receiving bills, bill pay, etc)

  • Recordkeeping

  • New employee onboarding

  • Payroll

  • Industry specific activities such as product release procedures, inventory handling, customer service procedures, etc.

2. Select the most critical business activities. From the list developed in Step #1, pick what you feel are the 2-3 most important activities in your business and focus your efforts on documentation of those activities only. It is okay to start small - there is no need to put SOPs in place for all business activities identified in Step #1. If you are struggling to select which business activities to prioritize, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What business activities align with your goals?

  • Which tasks could benefit most from detailed, outlined procedures?

  • What activities do you not enjoy and are hoping to pass to somebody else? Could having detailed procedures in place assist you in passing that responsibility to an employee?

3. Collect information needed to document each procedure. What information is needed in order for you to successfully document the selected business activities? What questions or issues have been raised in the past? Consider what the user of the SOP will need in order to successfully carry out the procedures outlined. If you have employees it might make sense to enlist their assistance in gathering information on the business activities that they are responsible for.

4. Start writing out clear procedures. Now that you have gathered the pertinent information needed, it is time to start documenting. Decide upon a clear, consistent outline so that there is uniformity between SOPs. Perhaps you start with an overview or summary of the business activity being documented before breaking said activity into individual steps. Consider writing out your procedures as you are working through the actual task, starting with the main steps and eventually layer in sub-steps where appropriate. It is important to keep your SOPs short and concise. Utilize checklists, bullet points, graphics, flowcharts, etc.

5. Continue to revisit procedures periodically. SOPs are meant to be dynamic documents that will need to be updated and revised. Your business is bound to grow and change so it is important to ensure your procedures are updated to reflect those changes. Make sure to revisit SOPs at least annually.

The formalization of SOPs in your business does not have to be a daunting task. It is important to keep in mind that even simply outlined SOPs will benefit you and your business. Not only will SOPs help in maintaining control and consistency throughout your business, they will also help to identify process improvements which save money and give you back time to focus on what you enjoy most.


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