The Strapped-For-Time Guide to Standard Operating Procedures

Business.com / Education / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Creating SOPs might seem like a time consuming task, but it could actually save your business countless hours and dollars down the stretch.

One of the things I failed to do early on with my marketing agency was document everything I did so that I had some standard operating procedures. This made onboarding and training new employees difficult.

It also meant I would need to spend even more time answering the same types of questions. Ultimately, not having standard operating procedures makes it very difficult to remove yourself from the processes. Now that my latest startup LeadFuze has taken off, I started creating standard operating procedures right from the very beginning.

Let me show you a way of doing this which won't take much of your time. First, I'll share the tools you'll need and then I'll explain the steps.

The Tools

  • Word or Google Docs (or really any equivalent word processor)
  • Jing - free video recording of up to five minutes. Your SOP's should not be longer than this anyway.
  • Skitch - for taking quick screenshots
  • SweetProcess - Starts at $29/mo. This is optional, but it can be beneficial having everything organized nicely for your team.

Step 1

Open a Word document (or you're word processor of choice) and keep it open. If you haven't started an SOP document yet, then you'll want this open at all times so you can make entries into it regularly.

Step 2

Whenever you do something for your business, write the exact steps you took as you do them. This is important, because if you do it after you're going to make assumptions or just flat out forget things. 

If you are interacting with a user interface, you'll want to make sure you make note of what options to select, what buttons to press, etc. You can try starting the document with all the various things you know and do, but it's best to just start with a blank slate and only add to the SOP document as you do them. This way, your descriptions are as thorough as possible.

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Step 3

If you're doing work online or at your computer, you should try and record your screen using Jing.

This helps make it extremely clear what you are wanting someone to do. You should try and keep your videos to 1 to 2 minutes to make it easier for the person viewing it. You should break down one long recording session into several small sessions. Each task that you input into your document that involves being on the computer, you should have a video recording next to it. 

One thing to keep in mind is that if you update procedures, or the interface of the application you are recording changes, you might need to record an updated version to reflect those changes. This is so that the person watching the video is seeing the same things on their screen.

Step 4

As you start accumulating more and more information into your document, you'll want to organize them to make it easier on yourself and your team reading it. Use big headings to break up different sections for now. Later you might have chapters, or you may want to put key tactics into their own document. If you break things into several documents, just make sure they are all in a "Standard Operating Procedure" folder.

This will make it easier for you to find the exact task you're looking for and it allows you to send just those specific tasks to a virtual assistant or new hire without overwhelming them and telling them to find it.

Step 5

Update as often as things change.

Whenever you, or your team, revises or improves the process then the SOP document needs to be updated. Keeping it up-to-date with your latest tactics ensures new people will be doing things properly. It's pointless to have an SOP document that's outdated.

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Use Cases

When I say you want to document everything, I mean EVERYTHING.

  • Different types of phone calls
  • Operational procedures
  • Reporting
  • Sales processes
  • Onboarding (new hires, employees, etc)
  • and on and on

There should even be a section on how to update your SOP document. You might not want your team updating and changing things without your (or a manager's approval) beforehand for example.

That in itself is a process. So you would title an SOP something like, "How to Update an SOP". Inside of this document, you would explain the process the user must follow when a change is needed to an SOP.

Standard Operating Procedure Example

Here's a walkthrough of setting up your SOP document.

  1. Open document and keep open save it as "Standard Operating Procedures - 1/25/2014"
  2. Save it to a new folder in your Dropbox or desktop or somewhere.
  3. "How to add something to the SOP"
  4. If the process has not been written, start writing exactly what you're doing. Fire up Jing and take a recording of it.
  5. Get managers approval by sending an email with your task description outlined and include a video to the link. Also include what section the procedure should be added to.
  6. Maybe at that point, you or a manager, would go and add it to the document. You may just want them to add it manually themselves and save you the hassle. However you want to do it, just make sure your team knows how it should be done and that they NEED to do it.

You may even want to incentivize them or say they need to look at a process every week and try to improve it, or refine it. This keeps them focused on continuously improving your business not just going through their day.

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Now What?

Once you have the document, then and only then should you start thinking about delegating tasks which are in the document. You can't just expect new hires to come into chaos and be successful. Let them know this is the process, but you expect them to look for ways to improve it and add to it.

Conclusion

By having an SOP document, you'll find that you'll start to have more time. Hiring someone new won't be such a massive headache. You'll have faith in your team knowing that will be doing things the way you want them done more consistently.

The most important benefit though, is that having an SOP makes it so much easier for you to replace yourself from doing the work while you focus on the bigger picture.

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