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Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Having standards of operations and procedures (SOPs) is important for a self-employed individual who wants to have a business that runs without their physical presence.

What is Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Standard Operating Procedures also known as SOPs are a set of detailed written instructions to achieve consistency in key areas of your business. A well written SOP is an essential part of scaling your business.

SOPs should be created with a long term perspective. The goal of SOPs is not to turn your business into a machine but to standardize frequent processes so they are not a hindrance to future growth.

The table below compare long term thinking to short term thinking.

Short term thinkingLong term thinking
Customer satisfactionSOP is built to provide a service or product as quickly or cheaply as possible.SOP is built with the customer in mind.
Employee satisfactionSOP are sequence of tasks that drains employees of their capacity to thinkSOP are well broken down into standard tasks and outlines. Every business needs a fundamental basis for delivering a product or service. But there should still be an allowance for human thinking. For instance calling a customer service rep who solely reads from a script is never fun.
Business cultureSOP are built solely to complete tasks irrespective of culture.SOPs should be built around your business culture. If you are a virtual business, your SOP should accommodate that.

 

Businesses that build SOPs with long term thinking stay around longer.

Steps to developing a SOP

SOPs must include all members of your team if it’s going to be followed. Below are steps you should take in developing your standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Understand how you deliver value to your customers

Understand the value chain model. Study the current processes used in delivering value to the customers in your business. Here are some steps you can follow to study processes:

  • Interview employees and customers to see where value is delivered in your business
  • Document your finding.
    • Identify top level breakdowns of the business value chain
    • Identify the sub-layers of each branch of the value chain
    • Develop a visual layout to aid the development process of the SOP
    • The SOP must keep the user and customer in mind (remember the Keep It Simple rule)
    • Develop details for each branch and sub branch of the value chain

Assign tasks to employees most affected by the procedure

Once you have your outline, delegate tasks to the appropriate parties. Involving those involved in execution is a way to increase buy-in. All participating parties should be required to follow a template. The template should have the following elements:

  • Numbering system
  • Effective date
  • Expiration date
  • Title and Purpose of the section
  • Scope of the section
  • Procedures related to the section
  • Any reference that will enhance clarity

 

Administer, Distribute, Revise and Implement the SOP

Once the SOP are developed you need to figure out how to distribute the standards so it is readily available to all who need it.

  • Identify the different platforms available to distribute SOPs
  • Using your platform of choice, distribute the SOP so all affected parties can test its effectiveness
  • Create a discussion forum to address questions that arise in the implementation of the SOP
  • Revise the SOP to include any changes suggested during testing
  • Develop training notes for the SOPs

 

Refection

Finally, reflect on the SOP you have created and assess your effectiveness in delivering value to the end user. Reflect on ways the SOPs can be improved to keep up with the ever changing face of business.

While SOPs are a great tool to grow your business, care has to be taken to ensure the human elements are not completely stripped away from your business.