According to Wikipedia, a standard operating procedure is “a set of instructions having the force of a directive, covering those features of operations that lend themselves to a definite or standardized procedure without loss of effectiveness.” Exciting stuff, eh? Maybe not, but it’s something we need to know about.
It’s been two years since I took a teleclass with Yvonne Weld, author of The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Thriving Business, and learned that standard operating procedures, or SOP, are just as important for one-person, home-based businesses as they are for large organizations. Even if you are the only person carrying out the work, if you don’t document it, how do you know you’ll do it the same way each and every time, ensuring consistency of service? And how will you remember how to do it if several months go by before you do that particular task again? Most importantly, how will someone else know what has to happen in the event that you’re unable to work?
Creating standard operating procedures for my business has been on my “someday list” ever since I took that teleclass, and now that there are two of us, it has become increasingly important to have a procedures manual. For that reason, when I saw that one of the workshops at the recent Forum on Virtual Assistance (FoVA) was Standard Operating Procedures – the Who, What, Where & Why you should have one for your Virtual Business, I was eager to attend.
The workshop was facilitated by Kristi Pavlik, who is known in VA circles as the Systems Chick. (Kristi appears in the above photo with her very own Systems Chick which was presented to her at FoVA.) She explained that an SOP has two main components: a system, which is the overall picture, and the process documents, which provide the specific instructions for each task.
To illustrate a system, Kristi supplied us with a copy of the mind map she uses for her business. The business name goes in the middle, and each broad area of the business goes in a bubble around it. Next to each bubble is a list of specific activities related to that business area. Each bubble then gets its own mind map. As I began to fill mine out, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it actually was. Furthermore, I realized that creating a procedures manual for my business is not all that different than the procedures manuals I created in my past jobs.
I’ve always had a problem wrapping my head around mind maps, so for my systems, I decided to make a list using outline mode in Outlook instead. I then used that outline as the starting point for my process documents by making a copy of the file, switching to normal view, and copying and pasting all the procedures that we have already documented. The rest will get filled in over time until it’s complete. I’m actually not sure if it will ever be complete, because we’re always making changes and introducing new procedures, but this is certainly going to make it a lot easier for us to keep track of everything.
Because this is so important, I decided to invest in Kristi’s e-book, Systems of a Successful VA, and was pleased to find it full of visuals, step by step directions, templates and added resources which should be very helpful as I move through the process.
I think getting started just may be the biggest step. Although there’s still a lot of work to be done, it feels really good to see how much has already been documented, and especially to see it assembled in one place. It’s also much easier to see now what sections still need to be completed.
If you don’t yet have an SOP for your business, I strongly encourage you to get started as soon as possible.