If you’ve never worked with an assistant or a team before, you likely have all your business’s daily operating tasks stored away in your memory. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and like there aren’t enough hours in the day, hiring an assistant might seem daunting.
If you have to spend countless hours and weeks training someone to do everything, isn’t it just easier to do it yourself? Sure—the first time, it probably would be easier to do it yourself. But what if you documented the steps of a specific process once, while doing it, and then you never had to do that thing again?
You might have spent two hours doing something that should have taken one, but now you’ve got one more hour available each day for the rest of the year. That one extra hour spent just gave you 50 hours back! You just taught yourself to create and use SOPs (standard operating procedures), a powerful strategy for maximizing your productivity.
What Is a Standard Operating Procedure?
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is the established or prescribed methods to be followed routinely for the performance of designated operations or in designated situations. This is the documentation you need to delegate low-level tasks off your plate so that you can focus on doing the things that help your business grow.
Before we dive into what to include in your SOPs, it’s important to understand what they should accomplish. Creating standard operating procedures for your business will help you systematize, streamline, and scale your organization. It’s especially important to document your processes when you’re working with other team members or assistants so that you can delegate tasks for efficiency.
Anything within your organization that needs to be done the same way more than twice should be documented. This will help reduce errors and promote efficiency. By following a document or training video, the person responsible for the process can simply check off a list to be sure that everything’s done promptly and correctly.
SOPs are also a valuable tool when training new team members. What may have taken a few months and a minimum of two team members to learn now requires simply following the process document. Additionally, a well-documented organization will automatically increase the value of the business.
Standard operating procedures should always be detailed, clear, and concise. They should be written in plain language, not company jargon or industry slang.
Make sure they’re easily readable by any new hire that might need to learn the process. In most cases, this means that they should be written by the person who has completed the process more than twice, not by the supervisor that is responsible for the process but hasn’t ever actually completed it from start to finish.
It’s important not only to document how a process should be completed but also why it needs to be done a certain way. This can help the person learning a process for the first time and can also help them make a suggestion for improvement or a judgment call on details that might need to change (because of a technology glitch, etc.) in the middle of the process without causing delays for approval.
How to Create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
Now that the basics are clear, let’s break down the step-by-step process you’ll need to create and use SOPs.
1. Create a Template
You’ll want each of your process documents across the organization to look similar. That way, your team members will glance at them and automatically recognize the document as an SOP.
Additionally, working from a template creates a familiarity factor that comforts the reader. Depending on the style of your organization, you might only need a specific title, font, and image at the top to distinguish the document, or you may want something more technical like a summary table at the top of each procedure.
2. Complete the Process and Write It Down
There are two ways to document the process efficiently.
The first is to open up a blank process template as soon as you start a new process and document each step after you complete it in real-time. This is likely the most efficient way for solopreneurs who don’t have a team or assistant to help create process documents for them.
For example, let’s say you need to run payroll. Open up your payroll tool in your browser, and then write that down as step one, then continue the process.
The second option is to install a screen recording tool like Loom and record the process from start to finish. This is a great option for business owners that have a team or an assistant to support them in the documentation process.
You can complete the process on a video recording and then pass it to someone who can write down each step as they watch. During the recording, it’s helpful to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, so the person completing the document can capture all the nuances of the process and include why it needs to be done a certain way.
3. Automate and Delegate Where Possible
As technologies change, opportunities to automate different pieces of a business process may arise. Perhaps you’ve been sending out invoice reminders manually, but your invoicing tool just implemented an update that allows you to schedule reminders to send automatically. Take advantage of automation in order to increase efficiency.
Finally, after the process documentation is complete, decide if it’s something that can be delegated to a lower-level team member so that the time spent is more cost-effective for the business.
4. Maintain Your SOP by Analyzing and Updating Regularly
It’s important to schedule process review time. It might be worthwhile to include a review as one of the last steps each time the process is completed, or perhaps schedule an overall process review quarterly. Either way, don’t let the process get stale and outdated, and don’t ever forget to update the document when the process does need to change.
Did you switch to a new payroll tool? Update the process document! Maintaining efficiency is always the goal of living documents like SOPs.
Pitfalls to Avoid
There are a couple of pitfalls we see all the time with clients who inadvertently sabotage their own efficiency, and I want to be sure to point them out here.
- Exceptions are not routine. Once you’ve created the process document, don’t make significant changes or special considerations each time the process needs to be completed. Adjustments are good in small doses, but completing a task that follows only about 20% of the documented process each time only slows down the efficiency and actually increases the probability of a mistake. The point of a system is that it runs smoothly and nearly identically each time.
- Keep it updated. If you do need to change the process, don’t forget to update the SOP! The document will be useless when you need to train someone new if no one has touched it in a year or more.
- Be clear. It’s important to spell out small details so that no assumptions or miscommunications come from the document that might result in a major error upon completion.
- Share the “why.” Don’t forget to share the reason “why” with the person who is responsible for completing the process. It’s important to remember that why something needs to be done is just as important to the end result as how it needs to be done.
Deciding to create and use SOPs will not only elevate efficiency and cost-effectiveness for your business. It will also help you systematize, streamline, and scale your organization for increased productivity and profits.
Do you need help creating SOPs? Talk to us about hiring an assistant to help you level-up your business today!