Standard Operating Procedures (also known as SOPs).
It’s a term that oozes corporate lingo, overwhelming business jargon, and, to be frank, doesn’t sound especially exciting.
And as a creative business owner and solopreneur (meaning you run the show all on your own!) I bet you see the acronym “SOP” and, without hesitation proclaim,
“Yep, hard pass!”
But what if I told you these three letters could be the difference between feeling overwhelmed and frantic in your day-to-day work OR proactively stepping into your role as CEO with confidence and organization?
Maybe you’d give it a try?
Because SOPs aren’t just for ginormous organizations. In fact, you don’t even need to have a team at all to start implementing SOPs and reaping the benefits. I actually think outlining your Standard Operating Procedures now as a one-person show is the best time!
SOPs are a smart business, plain and simple.
They ensure you never have to reinvent the wheel in your work and allow you to create consistency in your business, the key to achieving the long-lasting results you want.
In this blog, we’ll explore what SOPs are, why they can significantly improve your work as a solopreneur & beyond, and how you can start outlining them in your business to reclaim your time, energy, consistency, and capacity.
SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure. SOPs are incredibly granular. They are straightforward, detailed instructions on how to carry out your systems. SOPs are often in the form of a checklist and include each step, timing, and who is responsible. SOPs are helpful in business because they ensure quality and consistency each and every time.
SOPs leave nothing open to interpretation and ensure that each task is delegated and reproducible. Even if you’re a one-person operation, SOPs help you stay consistent which can save you time and energy every time you approach a similar task or project. This is a huge help when you’re juggling all the things! Keep up with everything without sacrificing your standards.
Plus, If you decide to outsource tasks or bring in a team member later, clear SOPs will help you hand projects off without worrying about a lack of quality or consistency no matter who is doing it or when it’s happening.
COO Tip: If you’d like to learn more about SOPs, be sure to check out my previous blog post, where I dive deep into all things systems and operations for creative businesses. It’s a must-read!
I hear resistance from solopreneurs about this topic quite often. This process of documenting all of the tasks and responsibilities in your creative business may sound daunting, time-consuming, and even frivolous.
But I have full confidence that once you understand the short and long-term benefits of creating and maintaining SOPs you’ll be ready to hop on the bandwagon!
Consistency is the key to most things in life and business. It’s not about doing more, more, more. It’s about showing up day after day and doing the things that matter, really WELL, every time.
As a creative business owner, you will want to build as much consistency into your business as possible, and SOPs help you to do that.
A built-in bonus is that as you record your SOPs, you are forced to think through the entire process. As a result you will be more thoughtful and intentional in how you work.
You’ll quickly see opportunities for improvement and areas where there may be gaps! Recording your SOPs lets you approach your business and each task proactively, rather than reactively, so you can finally stop putting out fires left and right!
Plus, when you are consistent, you can optimize. You can try things, experiment, and hone your processes, until you find the RIGHT way. The ideal way. The streamlined way FOR YOU.
This is not a one-size-fits-all process after all!
What works for someone else’s business may or may not work for yours! By creating a standard process and only changing pieces one at a time, you can see the true impact of anything you adjust, add, or streamline in your work. You can ask yourself questions like: “What is helping? What is hurting?”, and have a clear way to confidently answer these questions and make necessary adjustments!
Then, you can double down! Optimize what works, and shed what is no longer serving you, your business, or your clients. You’ll never find yourself saying, “we do it that way because it’s the way we’ve ALWAYS done it.” Instead, you’ll know what you do and why you do it that specific way! It’s all about being intentional!
Brand consistency leads to brand loyalty.
I believe the client experience is EVERYTHING when it comes to building, running, and scaling a thriving creative business of any size. Client experience influences all aspects of your business from your marketing efforts to your retention rates and so many things in between!
The best way to create this incredible experience for your client is to ensure they have a cohesive, consistent, and positively memorable experience with you each and every time.
This is where SOPs step in to save the day.
Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t spend too much time in the Mickey D’s drive-thru line these days. However, I’ll be the first to admit, there’s something truly comforting about McDonald’s.
Back in college, I studied abroad in France. I had a fabulous time, enjoyed the culture tremendously, and learned to love the unique cuisine (especially those buttery, flaky CROISSANTS, ammiright?!).
Despite these great experiences over several months in France, I understandably got a bit homesick.
I remember stealing away to McDonald’s with my American friends to pick up some McNuggets, milkshakes, and fries! Yes, the French McDonald’s menu was a bit different, but the staples I knew were always there.
And they tasted exactly as I remembered them back in good old Pennsylvania!
How could that be?!
It’s because McDonald’s has remarkably consistent SOPs for their food, service, and even the restaurant’s interior design. You always know what to expect when you walk into a McDonald’s, no matter where in the world you are.
And this doesn’t just apply to McDonald’s! We see this principle in so many other situations. It’s the reason you’re willing to drive the extra 5 miles to the nearest Starbucks for your grande double espresso mocha latte rather than take a chance on the local small town “cafe’s” mystery sludge just a half mile down the road.
SOPs can provide your workflows and client deliverables with the same structure, consistency, and predictability so that the impeccable service and results you deliver are something your clients come to know, appreciate, and expect!
When your SOPs are dialed in, your clients will develop an unwavering trust in you, your services, and your brand as a whole!
When you’re running the show and maintaining ALL of the behind-the-scenes operations all at once, you need to learn to work smarter, not harder.
Efficiency is the name of the game.
Right now, you probably keep all those teeny tiny (but massively essential) details stored in your head. Much of your work feels second nature, so you probably don’t feel the need to write it all down.
After all, you can practically do it in your sleep!
For a time, this may work. But as you get busier, take on more client work, and start scaling your business, this “I’ve got it all up here” approach may reveal some flaws.
There’s only so much space and precious real estate in your brain! And while you may know things inside and out and upside down, tasks will probably start falling through the cracks sooner or later.
If you don’t have transparent, reproducible systems in place to help you manage your tasks, deadlines, and workload, you’re on an express train…destination: burn out!
With SOPs in place, you can increase your capacity, reduce your mental fatigue, and focus your energy and attention on the things that matter while spending more time in your zone of genius instead of barely keeping up with the volume of simple tasks on your to-do list.
Often this sheer overwhelm leads many solopreneurs to outsource or hire – prematurely!
You see, if you can’t quickly and clearly hand over your processes and expectations to another person, taking on a new team member may actually BACKFIRE and cause you more stress and overwhelm instead of the ease and relief you were looking for.
That’s why I recommend ALL solopreneurs document and outline their SOPs BEFORE they build a team or bring in outside help. You may find that you can maintain your solopreneur business structure. Or, if you do decide to bring in reinforcements, you’ll be able to transition them into your workflow seamlessly.
If and when you DO decide to hire, SOPs will make onboarding seamless. Your new team members will be able to quickly and easily pick up EXACTLY how you do things in your business. They’ll know and understand your expectations.
From there you can decide what flexibility or freedom you build into each SOP individually to allow your team members to put their own stamp on it.
Creating SOPs now for a team in the future is an investment. You’re setting your current and future self up for success!
Finally, one of the biggest benefits I’ve seen in my business and in my client’s companies is that SOPs can help you emergency-proof your business!
If you ever have to step away unexpectedly, your SOPs can become a reliable backup plan. It lets you bring in a “pinch hitter” if ever you need to so the entire operation doesn’t shut down just because you need to be OOO (out of office) for any amount of time.
This peace of mind is priceless and acts like built-in insurance for your business operations.
Now, the most important question of all that’s definitely BURNING at the forefront of your mind:
“When am I supposed to DO all of this, Erin?!”
I get it.
You’re SO busy! You’re juggling at least 20 different balls at once. Adding “create SOPs” to your already insane to-do list sounds like a recipe for disaster.
However, small efforts add up.
Make this simple and easy. I do not expect you to map out all of your SOPs at once. I actually don’t recommend that at all because it will probably distract you from your more important work and bog you down, leaving you MORE frazzled instead of less!
Instead, build your SOPs up over time as they arise. Make it a low lift for yourself. Let it fit into your work and document the processes as you are doing them.
Over time you’ll be able to chip away at the myriad of different tasks, timelines, and responsibilities on your plate. You’ll look back after a few months and see that all those details you’ve been storing away in your head are neat, organized, intentional, and ready to be used or improved!
COO Tip: You can use a Google Doc to create a checklist. Record a Loom video of you doing a specific task in real time (it’s a two birds, one stone situation). However you choose, keep your SOPs all in one place so they’re easy to find, review, and share!
Consider your to-do list this week and look for any repeated tasks (things you do often). Just choose ONE and create your SOP. You might outline the who, what, where, why, and when for the process you use to write a blog post, how you approach updating your finances, or how you create marketing materials and social media content for your IG page!
Start small, get granular, and save it somewhere you can easily access. Then, each week look for opportunities to create more SOPs as you’re working through business tasks. In just a few months time, you’ll look back and be amazed by what you have accomplished!
Then, set rhythms to check-in on your SOPs. What’s working? What’s not? Can you streamline anything to make it easier, better, or more efficient? Change one thing at a time and track your progress. I like to set these as quarterly rhythms, but feel free to find a rhythm that makes sense for you and your unique work!
Make sure you’re on my email list! Not only will you be the first to know when my weekly blogs are LIVE, but you’ll also get bonus business tips, resources, and info directly from me to you, delivered straight to your inbox. Click here to add your name to the list!