How to Write Standard Operating Procedures For Your Business In Only 4 Steps

Standard operating procedures are the secret weapon for running your business smoother, increasing brand consistency, and ensuring you never lose organizational knowledge.

Figuring out how to complete business tasks in the most efficient way is a huge part of running a profitable business. It’s so important that businesses spend a lot of time and money to optimize their processes.

But often times businesses skip an important step once they figure out their process... they forget to write it all down in a repeatable way, that can be shared with both internal and external parties.

What happens more often than not is only one person knows all the steps to a process, but this leaves your business vulnerable to a few issues.

First, if the person who knows the process goes on vacation, becomes ill, or quits, you're stuck trying to reverse engineer their process.

You also have a lot more room for human error. It's an easy way to set your business back by having an inconsistent experience for your leads and customers.

​Making changes to your brand should be intentional and tested, not a mistake made when someone new takes over a task in your business.

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That's why it's better to build a document that shows the reader the whole process, these documents are called standard operating procedures (SOPs for short).

Even though this term evokes the image of sweaty workers on an assembly line, it's actually something that will drastically improve your brand consistency

In business, consistency and quality is crucial to maintaining brand integrity. Making changes to your brand should be intentional and tested, not a mistake made when someone new takes over a task in your business.

Not only do SOPs build in 'knowledge redundancies', safeguarding your hard learned processes from being lost, but they also allow business owners to smoothly assign tasks to other team members..

Today I'll show you how to put together an SOP for any process you use in your business. 

Before You Start

Before you start laying out your process, you have to consider who your creating this SOP for. 

Audiences typically fall into two camps, internal and external.

Internal is pretty self-explanatory, these SOPs are meant to be used by someone within your company to maintain brand consistency.

For today's example we're covering a basic SOP on creating blogs, it'll be for internal use.

The second option is external SOPs. These documents are used when partnering with other businesses, working with contractors, or conscripting freelancers.

Typically, external SOPs will skip portions of the process that are more technical. For instance, when we bring on guest writers for our blog we may forgo instructions on putting the piece into WordPress and optimizing SEO - we'll do that step ourselves, changing the overall process.

Know Your Audience's Experience level

When considering your audience, make sure to gauge their knowledge of each aspect in the SOP. If you're handing off an SOP that includes something technical, you may have to add extra steps that walk them through that section.

If your audience is brand new to every part of your SOP, you'll have to create a much more detailed document. This happens when creating external SOPs designed as lead magnets.

Tip: Make sure not to fall into what's called into the curse of knowledge trap. Where you forget that most people wouldn't know a specific term or technique.

​Building Your Standard Operating Procedures

Step 1: Big Picture Outline

When you first sit down to write your SOP, start with a high level approach. 

You'll want to mentally walk through each step of your process and create what is essentially a workflow. 

This workflow can be as simple as a series of basic explanations that flow into each other, like this:

Look at promotions calendar> Brainstorm blog idea around planned promotions> Choose relevant topic> Research topic> Pick keywords> Create SEO friendly title> Put In Featured Image Request>  Write Outline> Request Further Images> Write first draft> Edit and place in images> Add links> Get peer review> Final edit>Put blog into WordPress> Publish Blog> Send blog to social & email list

You can also do this in a visual way by using flowcharts. Don't be afraid to put in any 'if' statements at this stage like so:

SOP decision Map

I like to use Lucid Charts to create these with relative ease but either technique will work for creating a big picture process map.  

Step 2: Breakout & Add Detail

Now that you have a big outline you need to break down each entry into the actual steps. This will seem familiar since you'll typically follow outlining techniques that you used in school.

At this stage you're going to want to be as specific as possible, I suggest you physically go through your process making note of every detail.

You'll find that you may have to breakdown some of the steps into smaller separate tasks.

In the case of our blog example, here is the first step broken down:

SOP breakout

Step 3: Add Examples & Screenshots

Some people will stop at step two but if you want your SOPs to be more useful you should add examples and screenshots of the actual processes in action.

This gives your reader context to your directions and let's them know they're executing the steps properly.

Here are some examples included in our blog SOP:

Examples SOP

Here are some screenshots from one of our blog SOPs:

Screen shots SOP

Notice how easy it is to follow directions when you give your reader clear context.

Step 4: Adapt Versions For Different Audiences

As previously mentioned, you may have multiple versions of your SOPs depending on who's using them. Each kind of user should have their own version relevant to their level of knowledge, whether they're internal or external users, and the intention of the SOP.

If you are attracting leads with a beautiful PDF that walks someone through how to build their first blog, you're going to take time to explain each step and stick to general descriptions.

For instance, you wouldn't put a section about WordPress setting in this kind of SOP because they be using something like Medium.

The easiest way to create multiple versions of the same SOP is to start with the most detailed version (often referred to as a master SOP) and cut out the parts that don't apply to your various audiences. 

Follow Up Steps

After you've put together your SOP, make sure to test it on your intended audience. 

Have them execute the intended task, keeping track of parts that slow them down or questions they ask. Those are sections you should revisit and clarify in your SOP.

It's also important to note that SOPs work better as living documents. Due to many processes having to change slightly overtime, you may have to tweak elements of your SOP.

Your best bet is to have the SOP living on a shared space like Google Docs. That way you can progressively update the document as needed.

I suggest every time there's a change made you make a copy of the current version to archive in a shared Google Drive.

SOP making a copy

Then you progress a version number at the top of the document.

Standard Operating Procedures Version Change

These practices will ensure everyone is using the most current best practices for your business.

More Ways To Increase Brand Consistency

There are documents you can use to add even more brand consistency and quality assurance like style guides, logo usage, checklist, and communication guides.

These tools act a little like SOPs but have slightly different goals.

They don't follow a step by step pattern but act as a reference for specific usage and have the same goal of encouraging consistent quality across your brand.

Here's part of Alienware's style guide:

Alienware Style Guide SOP

I Love NY has a great example of logo usage, something that you would share externally with partners so you can have brand consistency in the marketplace:

I Love NY has a great example of logo usage, something that you would share externally with partners so you can have brand consistency in the marketplace:

Logo Usage ILNY SOP

These SOP cousins pair well with your official standard operating procedure documents. Often times you'll link to these resources within the document themselves.

In conclusion, any task that follows a repeatable process can (and should) be turned into a SOP.

Now that you have the exact steps for creating these valuable documents, you're safe from knowledge loss.

Every time you train someone, hire a contractor, or work with a third party you're going to love having these documents.

Do you currently use standard operating procedures in your business? Let us know about it in the comments below.

Bryan Culver
 

Bryan is the Copywriter at Performance Marketer. He has years of marketing experience with a heavy focus on content creation. He lives to create, entertain, and share valuable insight.

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