Are you tired of the chaos and inefficiency of managing your small business? Do you ever wish there was an easy way to streamline your operations and ensure your team is on the same page?
The pain of watching your hard work get tangled up in miscommunication, or errors can be frustrating!
Hi! My name is AJ. Over the last decade, I scaled and sold my business for multiple seven figures. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were a game changer for my team and I!
I started Small Business Bonfire (SBB) to help other small business owners like you confidently grow your business.
In this guide, I’m here to share my tried and true strategies for creating, implementing, and managing SOPs in your business. Let’s dive in!
What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are written procedures that outline the sequence of steps to be followed in specific situations.
SOPs tell employees:
- How they should complete a specific task
- The resources and tools they need to use
- Policies or guidelines that must be observed
It’s not just a list of basic steps but an organized and systematic way for employees to carry out tasks.
These SOPs should describe the process clearly and concisely so anyone can use them repeatedly, accurately, and with minimal effort.
SOPs ensure consistency among different teams and departments within an organization.
Purpose of a Standard Operating Procedure
The primary purpose of having a standard operating procedure is to ensure that everyone in an organization follows the same set of instructions and processes.
No matter who is working on a task, you have the same outcome! Think of it like a recipe book – it helps you create consistent results each time.
This helps to:
- Reduce errors
- Increase efficiency
- Save time when dealing with routine operations
- Help employees get up to speed quickly
If you owned a bakery, you wouldn’t want your staff to randomly guess the ingredients and measurements for each cake. By having an SOP, everyone will produce cakes that look and taste the same.
Benefits of SOPs
There are dozens of benefits to SOPs, but here are the ones that I consider the most crucial.
Standard operating procedures can save a lot of time by removing the need to keep repeating instructions to different employees.
Your employees only have to follow the SOP once, and they will be up-to-date on all the tasks they need to perform.
As everyone is already following the same procedures, this eliminates the need to give individual instructions to each employee.
Having standard operating procedures in place can also help to save money.
Because everyone follows the same guidelines, you don’t need to hire extra hands to oversee the processes.
SOPs also reduce the number of mistakes employees make, which can help save money in the long run.
Increase/Enhance Employee Autonomy
Employees familiar with a set of procedures don’t need to wait for directives from their supervisor.
SOPs provide employees with the information they need to do their job independently, resulting in greater autonomy and fewer distractions.
Having a standard operating procedure in place ensures that everyone is following the same set of guidelines.
SOPs foster organizational consistency by:
- Ensuring all tasks are performed similarly, regardless of individual personnel
- Standardizing the training process for new employees
- Minimizing variability in end products or services
- Promoting a cohesive brand image across all departments and locations
Ensure Adherence to Best Company Practices
With SOPs, you can ensure all your employees follow the same best practices and procedures.
This will help keep everyone on the same page and ensure that nobody cuts corners or fails to follow company policies.
By setting up guidelines for everything from customer service to sales, you can ensure that your company runs efficiently.
QA (Quality Assurance Check)
Having standard operating procedures helps to ensure that all employees are following the same set of quality standards.
This will help to reduce any discrepancies or errors in your end products or services, ensuring that you have a uniform level of quality.
It also helps to make sure that everyone is aware of the QA policies and procedures, which can help streamline the entire process.
Better Onboarding and Training
Standard operating procedures serve as an excellent tool for onboarding and training.
SOPs help you:
- Clarify job roles and responsibilities for new hires
- Provide detailed instructions to reduce the learning curve
- Set clear performance expectations for transparency
- Support self-paced learning for different styles and speeds
- Instill confidence and independence, enhancing job satisfaction
Preservation of Organizational Knowledge
Standard operating procedures are a great way to preserve organizational knowledge as they document the processes and tasks within an organization.
This is especially useful in case a key employee leaves, as it allows other employees to take over their role without having to learn everything from scratch.
Reduction of Misunderstandings
Having SOPs in place helps to reduce misunderstandings among employees.
Since everyone follows the same set of instructions, it eliminates any confusion that might arise due to different interpretations.
This can help foster a better working environment and ensure all employees are on the same page regarding company policies and procedures.
Ensure Compliance & Safety
Standard operating procedures are also essential in ensuring compliance with safety regulations.
By detailing the necessary steps that employees need to take to ensure safety, you can:
- Ensure that everyone is aware of and follows the relevant protocols
- Protect employees from potential harm
- Help your organization stay compliant with all applicable laws and industry regulations
What Should be Included in an SOP?
When creating a standard operating procedure, there are some key elements that you should include.
Let’s check out the list of things I include in my SOP documents and why each is important.
The first page of the SOP document should include a title page with the following:
- Document’s name
- Date of publication
- Any relevant contact information
This helps to ensure that everyone who accesses the document knows the specific version they are looking at.
This page should indicate what department the SOP applies to and who is responsible for maintaining it.
The department head’s name, contact information, and signature should also be clearly indicated on the SOP.
This is important for accountability and ensuring the department head agrees with the document’s content.
Employee Responsible for SOP
The employee responsible for the standard operating procedure document should also be clearly indicated, as they are tasked with ensuring that it is up-to-date and accurate.
This ensures that someone can always answer any questions about the SOP or provide clarification when needed.
Date of Last Update
It’s important to include the date of the last update in the document so everyone knows which version they are working with.
It keeps everyone on the same page and ensures no one is stuck using an outdated SOP document.
The purpose section of an SOP document outlines the main objectives and gives a clear idea of why the procedure is essential.
It should concisely explain the procedure’s intent and identify the expected outcome of the process.
The expectations section of SOP documents outlines what you expect from personnel regarding adherence to the procedure.
This section should:
- Outline the importance of following the procedure correctly and consistently
- Specify expected outcomes (customer satisfaction, cost savings, etc.)
- Detail consequences for not following the SOP
How to Guide
The how-to guide section should provide detailed step-by-step instructions on how to execute the procedure.
This section of the SOP document should:
- Outline the exact step-by-step procedures
- Include any relevant graphics, images, or diagrams when necessary
- Provide timelines for each step (if applicable)
- Explain any exceptions to the procedure (when and why they may occur)
- List any resources needed to complete the process (forms, documents, etc.)
When you write standard operating procedures, it’s essential to make sure they are easy to understand and follow.
How to Write an SOP
When writing a standard operating procedure, it is important to remember that the document should be detailed and comprehensive yet easy to understand.
I have listed step-by-step instructions below to help you write an SOP document that meets these requirements!
Step 1: Use a Great SOP Template
Before you get started, I highly recommend finding an SOP template online.
Standard operating procedure templates will help ensure all key elements are included in your document, saving you time in the long run.
Step 2: Determine Your SOP Goals
Before you start writing, it’s important to determine your SOP goals.
To create an effective SOP, consider the following:
- Determine the processes or tasks to be covered
- Define the expected outcomes from following the procedure
Step 3: Determine the Stakeholders/SOP Creators
Once you have determined the goals of your SOP, it’s time to determine who is creating it.
This could include department heads, employees assigned to the task, and external consultants or writers if necessary.
Step 4: Define the End SOP User
When writing an SOP, it’s essential to remember the end user.
You should consider who will use the document and tailor its contents accordingly.
Step 5: Gather All the SOP Information
Once you have determined who will create the SOP and who the end user is, it’s time to gather all relevant information about the process.
- Any existing documents related to the procedure
- Notes from interviews with stakeholders or subject-matter experts (if applicable)
- Any relevant graphics, images, or diagrams
Step 6: Outline the SOP
Once all the necessary information has been gathered, it’s time to outline the SOP.
When you create standard operating procedures, they should be as detailed and comprehensive as possible.
As we talked about earlier, this should include the following:
- Title Page
- Department Head
- Employee Responsible for SOP
- Date of Last Update
- How to Guide
Step 7: Test & Revise SOPs
Once you have written the standard operating procedure, testing and revising as needed is important.
Try following the SOP yourself to ensure it’s easy to understand and complete. Have your colleagues review the document and provide feedback.
This will help to ensure that everyone understands and whoever needs to use the SOP document can do so without confusion.
Step 8: Train Employees on SOP Usage & Standards
Once the SOP is finalized, you need to train employees on how to use it.
This includes providing instruction on:
- How and when to use the document
- What steps should be taken if a process needs to deviate from the procedure?
- How often should the SOP be reviewed and updated?
Once employees are trained, they should be required to review and sign off on the document.
How to Implement an SOP
Once you have written and tested your standard operating procedure, it’s time to implement it in your business.
More steps to follow! I know it’s a lot, but bear with me(I promise it’s worth it.)
Step 1: Create an SOP for Keeping & Updating SOPs
The first step to implementing an SOP is to create a process for keeping and updating the documents.
This includes establishing the following:
- An official place to store all SOPs in your business (e.g., a shared drive or online system)
- A procedure for how often each document should be reviewed and updated
- A procedure for who is responsible for writing, reviewing, and updating each SOP
Step 2: Review SOP Training with Employees
Once a standard operating procedure has been created for keeping and updating SOP documents, it’s time to review that SOP with your employees.
This should include:
- A review of the procedure for using SOPs (as outlined in Step 8)
- An explanation of why they are essential and how they help make processes more efficient
- An overview of the expectations for following them correctly and consistently
- A discussion of any consequences for not following the SOPs
This should be done regularly to ensure everyone is familiar with the documents and understands when and how to use them.
Step 3: Test Employees on SOP Implementation
To ensure that employees understand the standard operating procedure and how to use it correctly, it’s a good idea to test their knowledge periodically.
This is a great way to identify areas where further training may be needed. This could involve simply having your employees demonstrate how to perform a task following the SOP.
Step 4: Require Calendar Dates for Updating/Reviewing SOPs
Setting calendar dates for when SOPs should be updated and reviewed is essential.
This will help ensure that procedures are always current and up-to-date and people aren’t relying on outdated documents.
It can get frustrating if processes change and SOPs are not updated to reflect those changes!
Step 5: Make SOPs a Part of Your Employee Reward System
Finally, making SOPs a part of your employee reward system can be a good idea.
By making employees accountable for following procedures correctly, they will be more likely to use them.
This can be achieved through:
- Rewarding employees for following procedures correctly
- Providing incentives for completing tasks quickly and efficiently
Employee buy-in is essential for the successful implementation and use of an SOP.
By making it a part of your employee reward system, you can ensure that your SOPs are used correctly and consistently.
Step 6: Have Employees Create Individual Department SOPs
Once you have a system for keeping and updating SOPs, ensuring each department has its own SOPs is essential.
Each employee in charge of a department should create their own SOPs tailored to their team’s needs.
This will help ensure everyone clearly understands what is expected regarding workflows, processes, and procedures.
SOP Format Ideas
You can format your standard operating procedure document in a few different ways.
Let’s take a look at the most popular standard operating procedure formats.
Step by Step Written Format
A step-by-step written SOP format is perfect if you want to provide detailed instructions on how to perform a task.
It’s also great for complex processes that require multiple steps.
Step-by-step written formats are usually the easiest to read and follow, making them the ideal choice for most situations.
Situations where you might not want to use this format, include non-linear processes that require more of a visual approach.
Visual/Flow Chart Format
A visual or flow chart format is the perfect choice for non-linear processes.
This type of SOP format uses visuals to represent steps and can be easy to understand, even if a process is complex.
Visual formats may take longer to create but are often easier to follow and comprehend.
Hierarchical formats are used when you want to group related tasks or processes (i.e., have one primary process and then several sub-processes).
It helps show how different processes work together. It also allows for easy navigation, as each process is grouped into its own section.
This SOP format would be good for businesses with multiple departments, as it allows each department to have its own processes.
A flowchart is similar to a visual or hierarchical format but uses symbols to represent processes.
It’s great for presenting complex processes in an easy-to-understand way.
This type of SOP could also include process mapping and decision trees to help people understand how a process works.
A checklist format for standard operating procedures is simple and highly effective, especially for linear processes.
This SOP format:
- Allows for quick reference
- Ensures no steps are forgotten
- It can be quickly ticked off as each task is completed
The video format for SOPs is excellent if you have very complex processes that require visuals.
This type of SOP allows people to quickly see how to perform tasks and provides a reference they can refer to.
If you choose this SOP format, ensure the videos are short, and to the point, as long videos can be boring for users.
The course format is excellent for businesses wanting in-depth training on a topic.
This type of SOP can be used for complicated processes or topics that require detailed explanations.
It also lets you track employees’ progress and ensure they understand the materials.
Things to Consider with SOP Formats
Each format listed above is excellent on its own.
However, try including several formats throughout your SOP!
Try a checklist with a video, a flowchart with a course, or a step-by-step with images.
The more detail you add to your SOP, the easier it will be to follow.
Challenges (and Solutions) I've Seen with SOPs
While building my last business, I faced a few challenges with standard operating procedures.
I found some solutions that worked well and want to share them with you!
SOP Storage & Employee Accessibility
The first challenge I faced was where to store SOPs and how to ensure employees had easy access to them.
If you aren’t consistently naming and storing the SOPs appropriately, it can be difficult for employees (and you) to locate the documents needed.
I suggest using Google Drive (or a similar cloud storage system) to keep all SOPs.
Once I consistently started storing SOPs in Google Drive, finding and organizing them was much more manageable.
It allows for easy access by anyone with permission, and you can organize them into folders by department or process.
Employee Buy In
I found it necessary to get employee buy-in when it came to standard operating procedures.
I did this by:
- Asking employees for input on the procedures
- Explaining why they are important and how they benefit everyone
- Making sure everyone had easy access to them (see above)
- Making it a part of our reward disciplinary system
Everyone needed to clearly understand why SOPs were being used and how they would help the business.
Lack of Management & Maintenace
Another challenge I faced was in the management and maintenance of SOPs.
If you don’t have a system for regularly maintaining your SOPs, they can quickly become outdated or irrelevant.
I also recommend making this a part of your reward/disciplinary system.
This helps ensure that SOPs are updated regularly and that employees are held accountable for changes.
It also allows you to track which SOPs must be reviewed or updated easily.
Finally, I found that compartmentalized SOP development was not great for a business.
In other words, each department was developing its SOPs independently of one another.
This led to a lack of standardization and communication between departments, which was not ideal.
Collaboration between departments during the SOP development and updating process is key to your business’s success.
Here are some suggestions:
- Schedule time for employees to collaboratively work on SOPs, fostering investment in the process
- Provide incentives for working together on SOPs, both within and between departments
- Make sure there is a straightforward process in place for updating or changing SOPs so everyone is aware of changes
- Encourage employees to ask questions and provide input on SOPs
These strategies can help create an environment where collaboration is encouraged, and SOPs are constantly updated and maintained.
Industries that Use SOPs
Standard operating procedures are used in a variety of industries.
I would also wager that EVERY business can take advantage of SOPs.
An SOP can range from simple steps, like a restaurant’s food preparation process, to a complex manual for operating high-tech machinery.
Any industry that has a repeatable process can benefit from SOPs.
Here are some examples of the most popular industries that use SOPs:
- Health care
- Financial services
- Educational institutions
SOPs are also used in more specific fields, such as inventory management, customer service, and safety.
The important thing to remember is that SOPs can be tailored to fit any business or industry.
Standard Operating Procedure Example
I’m sure that you want to see some standard operating procedure examples.
Here is an example of a simple SOP for opening a retail store:
- Check the storefront and surrounding area for any damage or security threats.
- Unlock all windows and doors.
- Turn lights on in the store, the back office, and the stockroom, if needed.
- Open cash registers and make sure they are operating correctly.
- Check the inventory and restock shelves if needed.
- Prepare display areas with new products or promotional material.
- Set the store’s temperature to 72 degrees.
- Place any signage around the store needed for customer information or advertising.
- Make sure all employees are present and ready to start their shifts.
- Greet customers as they enter the store.
By following this simple SOP, you can ensure your store is opened quickly and efficiently each day!
Moreover, if (let’s say) the store’s temperature drops to 68, you can refer that employee back to the SOP!
Standard Operating Procedure Template
I recommend using a template if you’re looking for a way to create and maintain SOPs easily.
SOP templates are an excellent way to ensure that your SOPs are organized and consistent.
I have created a general SOP template that can be used for any business or industry. You can download the SOP template here.
SOP Wrap Up
Creating and maintaining SOPs is an essential part of running a successful business.
Not only do they help you train employees quickly, but they also ensure that tasks are completed efficiently and correctly.
Standard operating procedures can be used in any industry, from retail to healthcare to logistics.
By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can create SOPs that are effective and easy to maintain.
If you have any questions about SOPs, let us know in the comments below! Good luck