What Is an SOP?
A standard operating procedure, also referred to as SOP, is a document that provides clear, concise, and actionable directions and instructions for how employees within a business should perform specific tasks. Unlike a simple procedural document that overviews the process, an SOP offers an “on the ground” explanation of the steps that must be followed to guarantee the proper execution and successful results of a specific process. It allows small business owners to streamline their processes, ensures all team members are on the same page, maintains the effective operation of their company, and facilitates long-term growth.
Why Should a Small Business Owner Start Using SOPs?
Using a standard operating procedure in your small business has a number of benefits. They:
- Maintain adherence to best practices
- Make processes easier and more automatic
- Improve efficiency by reducing the likelihood of error
- Preserve organizational knowledge
- Support accountability of team members
- Reduce miscommunication and misunderstandings
- Provide instructions for addressing safety concerns
- Eliminate unnecessary steps that do not add value
- Improve the quality and consistency of results
- Make it simpler to monitor and measure organizational proficiency
- Enable onboarding and training of new hires
- Serve as a guide for expanding your processes in new settings
Neglecting to create SOPs leaves your team at risk for not understanding their expectations, how to fulfil their responsibilities, or what to do if they encounter an issue. This not only hinders the productivity of your company, but also compromises the safety and security of your workplace and can result in being deemed noncompliant with organizational or regulatory requirements.
How to Create Your First SOP
Step 1. Define the Process
SOP generally follows one of three formats:
- Step-by-step list- A step-by-step list is a numbered or bulleted list of steps your employees or virtual staff can follow when completing a process, such as logging in to an online platform or providing instructions for proper, safe use of equipment. This format is simple, straightforward, easy to follow, and difficult to misinterpret, but it does not offer much detail and is not helpful for making decisions.
- Hierarchical list- A hierarchical list is a more detailed version of a step-by-step list in which each step requires additional details to complete a specific task. It allows team members to understand both the entire process and the specifics of each step and is best suited for tasks such as onboarding new employees or reconfiguring a workstation.
Flow chart-A flow chart illustrates a standard operating procedure in a graphic that allows employees to determine the potential outcomes that may arise during different steps of the process. This format is ideal for decision-making, as it shows a logical flow to the process and helps employees know what to expect after completing each step.
Depending on the specific procedures you are documenting, you must determine which format will be most successful in sharing necessary information with your team members. Choose the simplest format you can to meet your needs. If the chances are low that your employees will encounter difficulties or contingencies that require additional explanations, a step-by-step list is likely the right choice. However, if stages of the process could result in multiple potential outcomes, a flowchart is best suited for your SOP.
Step 2. Determine Your Goals
After you decide on the right format for your SOP, the next step is to determine your goal for creating the document. Common reasons for an SOP are allowing teams to work more efficiently, helping them better serve clients, and giving them the tools to improve the company’s bottom line. Setting smart goals ensures you can develop the best practices, anticipate how implementing the SOP will impact your organization, and know factors to consider when assessing the effectiveness of the SOP.
Step 3. Clearly Outline the Procedures
Develop detailed instructions for your employees to follow, ensuring you use clear, specific language to fully communicate information and minimize any potential for misunderstanding. In some cases, these steps will be sequential, while in other cases they will involve more detailed sub-steps, recursive processes, or other variables that require further explanation. You can include diagrams, illustrations, photos, or other visual aids to support your SOP, or combine aspects of more than one format to create the best representation of the process.
Step 4. List Needed Tools
Your employees will likely need specific tools, equipment, technology, and other resources to complete the procedure outlined in the SOP. You need to define these resources in the document and provide information to help your employees know where to locate them in your facility, how to properly use and store them, and how to report issues if they arise.
Step 5. Implement the SOP
Before fully implementing the SOP, gradually put it into action in a simulated environment so your team can become familiar with the new processes. You can create different scenarios and have team members take on certain roles or simply review hypothetical situations that give them the chance to verbally walk through the steps. Make sure they approach these changes with a growth mindset, meaning they understand that the SOP will continually evolve based on changing needs, goals, and priorities and that they must be prepared to accommodate these changes in the future. After they become more knowledgeable about the SOP and confident in their abilities, you can implement the SOP in full.
Step 6. Develop a Process for Continuous Improvement
Ask your team members to make note of positive or negative experiences they have following the SOP so you can monitor the success of the project and make improvements. Hold regular meetings to provide an opportunity for them to revisit the SOP or discuss options for moving forward. You will notice significant improvements in efficiency and productivity, while also maintaining flexibility to update your processes as factors change in the future, such as consumer needs or advancements in technology.
How a Virtual Assistant Can Help You With Your SOPs
A virtual assistant can perform a wide variety of tasks to help your business, but they can be particularly valuable in the creation and implementation of SOPs. Writing SOPs tends to be a complicated, time-consuming, and repetitive task, so the best approach is to hire a virtual assistant to handle this process.
Experienced virtual assistants understand the challenges of entering a new position without proper SOPs in place and they can explain whether or not specific procedures make sense for new staff members joining the team. They can ensure your SOPs are clear, consistent, easy to understand, actionable, and measurable. Then, they can implement SOPs throughout your company for maximum effectiveness and test them to determine if they are meeting your goals. Finally, because SOPs often become outdated without regular maintenance, virtual assistants can monitor and update SOPs to ensure they reflect important changes in your company.
Having a virtual assistant assign SOPs online allows you to enjoy several benefits compared to creating paper SOP documents:
- Increasing efficiency- Everyone keeps their phone on hand and can easily access cloud-based storage to check SOPs, ask questions, and complete tasks on schedule.
- Improving quality control- Employees can perform operations correctly, consistently, and quickly, leading to more reliable results.
- Enhancing employee skills- Keeping employees fully informed, updated, and trained on new procedures allows them to be more productive and efficient members of your team.
- Aiding decision making for operations and management- Virtual dashboards offer vital information that makes decision-making easier, such as job performance, time spent on task, and other useful metrics.
- Saving time- You don’t need to completely reinvent the wheel when a change needs to be made to an SOP, but simply make an easy edit from your phone or computer that is immediately accessible to everyone.
- Assisting with audits and inspections- Having your SOPs stored digitally allows inspectors to easily determine whether you are adhering to best practices.
Why You Should Hire a Virtual Assistant From Virtual Latinos
When you hire a virtual assistant from Virtual Latinos, you gain a skilled, motivated, and hardworking professional that will manage the entire process of creating your SOPs, from development through implementing and testing. Our virtual assistants have extensive experience developing these types of documents for businesses of all sizes and industries, and offer affordable, flexible services to meet the unique needs of your company. We utilize a strict selection process and accept only 7.5% of applicants to ensure our clients receive the highest quality virtual assistant services. Unlike other companies with staff members in Asia or India, our team works in your time zone, meaning they are always available when you need them, and you never have to worry about a delay impacting the successful operation of your business.
Contact Virtual Latinos Today
If you are ready to improve the efficiency and productivity of your team, contact Virtual Latinos today to find a virtual assistant that can create SOPs for your small business. Our virtual assistants work remotely from locations throughout Latin America, including Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Peru, and Venezuela. Visit our website to join our community and learn more about how our virtual assistants can improve your business with SOPs.