Do you feel like you’re constantly behind in your online business and never have enough time to get anything important done? If you’re anything like me, a solopreneur with an unpredictable schedule (and a little one), juggling the demands of your online business can leave you feeling overwhelmed and out of control of your time. You can conquer your overwhelm and save some time while you’re at it, by creating an effective framework with Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs for short.
Conquering overwhelm with an SOP-based framework – What we’ll cover in this article
The good news is, you can ditch the overwhelm and retake control of your time with the right framework – and standard operating procedures (SOPs) can help with just that. By integrating SOPs effectively into your business, you can create an organized and functional framework for your workflows and processes, and take (at least some of) the chaos out of your workday.
SOPs can help you reduce the amount of time it takes to manage the operations side of things, free up time for other projects, and help you save your focus and brain power for more creative, impactful and/or important work to be done.
In this blog post, we will discuss some of the challenges of being a small online business owner, outline the benefits of leveraging SOPs in your day-to-day routine tasks, and share what you need to know to start creating and using SOPs. I’ll also share some time-saving tips to help you create those first SOPs, tips on how to implement and leverage your SOPs for yourself or with your team, and resources to help you get started. So let’s dive in!
The Challenges of Being a Small Online Business Owner
Running your own business is not an easy feat. Some days can be challenging to keep up with day-to-day routine tasks, manage the money-making aspects of your business, and still find time to get into flow for some deep creative work.
You have to juggle customer service inquiries, sales of your products (physical, digital or services), manage your bookkeeping and accounting, onboarding new customers, and more. You also have to stay on top of all the necessary administrative tasks, whether that’s answering emails, writing and sending emails, and everything involved with marketing your business.
And if you’re a solopreneur with little kids, you have to manage the added challenge of juggling childcare and home life. It’s easy to see how you may be feeling overwhelmed.
If that’s the case, you’re not alone. Many small online business owners are in the same boat. But there is a way to make your life simpler and your business more efficient: by creating and leveraging Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). SOPs are a great way to streamline your routine business processes and workflows, and save you some time along the way. SOPs allow you to create a framework for how to manage your business and can even reduce the stress of decision-making (aka decision fatigue). By having a solid framework like this in place, you can more easily keep up with the mental demands of your business, have more focus for intense work, and generally keep your business running more smoothly.
What the difference between a checklist and an SOP anyway?
One of the most effective ways to keep things running smoothly is to leverage Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). But you may already be using checklists in your business for tackling your day-to-day tasks, or even some of your workflows. So what’s the difference?
An SOP is a set of step-by-step instructions that outline how specific tasks or processes should be performed in your business. It also explains “who” is responsible for the task (this is always you if you’re a solopreneur), “what” needs to be done (the outcome of the task), “when” it should be done, and “how” it should be done. Let me explain…
Think of an SOP as a roadmap that guides you (and your team) on how to handle various operations and workflows in your business, ensuring consistency, quality, and effectiveness not only for the process, but more importantly for the end result. When you know what the expected outcome is for a particular task, you can keep your eyes open for improvements along the way while always ensuring you’re still accomplishing the end goal in the way it’s intended.
An SOP also states when it needs to be done (e.g. a new client means using the on-boarding process), so that your overall workflows stay consistent. This helps you be sure that no critical steps were missed at any point, for whichever outcome you’re working to get to.
Whether it’s onboarding new clients, managing your email inbox, or creating content for your online platforms (website, socials, podcasts, or any other), having an SOP in place provides clarity and structure to what you’re doing, helping you achieve optimal results each time you do it.
An SOP goes beyond a simple checklist by also providing detailed guidance on how to complete each step, including any necessary tools, resources, or specific instructions. These detailed explanations, guidelines, and resources, allowing you and your team to understand the reasoning behind each step and perform the task consistently and effectively, as well as helping keep it updated – which we’ll discuss in more detail further below.
Depending on the process or workflow that’s outlined in the SOP, it could also provide troubleshooting strategies, guidelines, or contingencies for handling challenges that may come up while you’re completing the task or workflow.
Last but not least, an SOP also outlines roles and responsibilities, clarifying who is accountable for each step. This promotes a sense of ownership and accountability among team members, fostering a collaborative and efficient working environment.
It’s important to note here that if something goes wrong, and the SOP was followed, that the fault lies in the process outlined in the SOP and not with the person executing it. The documented process in the SOP should be reviewed and updated right away.
The Benefits of Implementing an Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) Framework
Regardless of whether you’re a team of one or a team of many more, the benefits of using SOPs are numerous. Having (or building up) a comprehensive set of SOPs into a framework for your business can significantly improve your productivity across all aspects of your business. Here are some of the benefits of using SOPs in your business:
Writing out the process of a task helps to create clarity on the process itself, and gives you better accuracy, quality, and efficiency each time it’s done. This means that your tasks are consistently completed in less time with fewer mistakes. Using SOPs consistently also lets you streamline your processes and workflows; when you spot inefficiencies or ways to improve, you simply update your SOP. This saves you time, money, and mental energy in the long run.
Whether you’re working solo or as a team, SOPs help keep your workflow itself, and your result quality, consistent no matter who is executing the task or process. This means you can reasonably expect (and achieve) the same result with the same high standards every single time.
Better customer service
By having a clear, documented set of procedures in place for various customer service aspects of your business, you can improve the quality of said customer service, regardless of how much sleep you got the night before or if you’re having an off day. Some examples are requests for information like offer details or pricing (especially for services or variable offers), refund requests or bounced payments, and anything about your typical customer journey like onboarding and offboarding, progress updates, review requests… The possibilities are truly endless.
Reduced stress and overwhelm
With SOPs in place, there will be less confusion each time a task is done, and less need for you to micromanage a team. This will give you and your team more time to focus on the important tasks at hand. It also means you don’t have to focus on remembering all the steps and details required to do the task, you can simply focus on doing the actions themselves that are necessary to get to your desired outcome .
By breaking down the tasks, workflows or process into specific, detailed steps, SOPs are also a great way to teach people how to do a job and to manage the process. It is also a great way to save time and energy when onboarding new employees or contractors. And if you’re solo and suddenly find yourself in a “life happens” situation, you have a tool to hand to a well-meaning friend or partner to help you get the critical aspects taken care of, if needed.
This is my favourite benefit of using SOPs. Even if you’re a solopreneur, you can still reap many of the benefits already mentioned, regardless of whether you plan to build a team in the future or keep rocking it as you are.
The biggest benefit of using SOPs, especially as a solopreneur but also as a team, is that SOPs help you cut back on mental fatigue. SOPs remove the need to constantly reinvent the wheel each time you need to do something, because the steps are already outlined and documented. This frees up time and mental focus for other important tasks.
You won’t have to think about how well you’re doing each step of your task, and what comes next in the process, and whether you’ve forgotten any steps, and getting distracted part way through and forgetting what you’ve done.
Rather, you can focus simply on getting the task done by doing the next step on the list, and the next, until it’s done. It’s much easier to focus on the task at hand when you’re following an SOP, and if you do get pulled away it’s easy to quickly note the step you’re on so that you can come back to exactly the right spot when you’re ready.
Tips on How to Implement and Leverage Your SOPs
When it comes to implementing and leveraging your SOPs, the key is to start small and build gradually. The overall SOP framework in your business will come over time.
One of the best ways to get the most value out of your SOPs is to train your team on them and by getting in the habit of using them yourself. For a team setting, you can do this by creating an onboarding procedure, as well as setting aside time to review them with your team members, and providing them with ongoing training and support without waiting for help requests. This will help ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page about your SOP framework and that they understand how to use the individual SOPs correctly.
Another way to leverage your SOPs is to use them as a reference when creating new processes or products. This will help you to streamline your individual workflows or tasks by seeing all the steps for each process in one place. It will reduce your overall costs through saved time, and make it easier for your team to understand how to implement the new process or product.
Finally, you can use your SOPs as a tool for troubleshooting. Reviewing an SOP while comparing the expected result at each step along the way will help you to quickly spot and resolve problems, reducing the time and effort it takes to troubleshoot and fix issues.
Once you’ve developed and used some SOPs a few times, you may start noticing improvements that you can make to the process. This is where the impact and leverage really start to show. To keep your momentum going, you will want to review all your SOPs periodically to make sure that they are up-to-date and that they reflect the latest best practices, tech updates, and your business goals. By taking the time to both create and maintain SOPs, you can free up your time and resources from routine tasks to focus on other, less routine areas of your business like creative work, networking, or whatever makes sense for you.
Time-Saving Tips to Help You Create SOPs
Creating SOPs for your business can feel daunting and time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few quick tips to help you get started with creating effective SOPs quickly:
1. Start small.
It can be overwhelming to try and create SOPs for everything in your business all at once. Start by focusing on a few tasks that take up most of your time or are the most important. Then keep going in manageable chunks with other tasks as they come up in your normal day to day operations of your business.
2. Keep it simple.
Your SOPs should be easy to understand and uncomplicated. Our goal is to simplify, not complicate. Each process documented in an SOP should also be simplified at any point in the future when it makes sense to do so.
3. Be consistent.
Use the same formatting and style for each of your SOPs to ensure consistency. This prevents us from unconsciously focusing on the document itself and staying focused on the task at hand.
Start with the processes that are most important to your business. Build out your SOP framework from there, either in order of priority or as the “less important” tasks come up in the run of a day.
5. Involve your team.
If you have a team, get everyone involved in creating and maintaining SOPs to ensure accuracy and completeness for all aspects of your business operations.
6. Test and refine.
Test your SOPs after first creating them, and also get feedback from your team if you have one, to ensure they work properly. Refine them at any time that it’s necessary—they are “living” documents.
7. Review periodically.
Make a point to review all your SOPs regularly to ensure they are always up to date and still effective. This is especially important when tech changes, or if certain processes are done less regularly, like quarterly or annually.
8. Automate where you can
Look for areas in your business where you can automate processes using software or tools. This will free up your time and effort, and help to streamline your business operations overall.
9. Take advantage of resources
Take advantage of resources like templates and online tutorials. This will help you understand the SOP building process you’re setting up in your business, and to create effective SOPs that really do save you time and energy along the way.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or feel like you don’t have the time to create SOPs, consider outsourcing the task to a virtual assistant or consultant who specializes in creating SOPs.
The Time-Strapped SOPs Method teaches my process of creating and maintaining SOPs, with short, no-fluff, actionable tutorials and templates. The best part is that you can outsource this course to your assistant as well.
How to Keep Your SOPs Up to Date
So far we’ve talked about how SOPs are an important part of staying consistent with your routine tasks, and being efficient with your workflow for various posts of your online business. But, as we’ve briefly touched on, if you don’t keep your SOPs up to date, they can quickly become outdated and ineffective. To avoid this, it’s important to review and update your SOPs regularly.
It’s helpful to set up a regular review schedule for your SOPs – for example, once every 3 months. During your review, you can make sure that the tasks outlined in your SOPs are still relevant, and make any necessary changes. This is the perfect time to check whether there’s anything that you can do to make each of your processes more efficient in any way.
This review should be fairly quick and painless if you’ve promoted the habit of updating-as-necessary whenever an SOP is used, because the frequently used SOPs should already be up to date and this review would essentially be a quick confirmation of that.
You can also schedule a specific time to review any changes made to your online business setup, such as using new tools, or changes to your business model. This way, you can update your SOPs to reflect any changes. Again, this should be a quick exercise and mainly affect the SOPs for less-frequent processes in your business.
Finally, if you’re outsourcing tasks to virtual assistants or other freelancers, make sure to give them access to your SOPs. This will help them be sure that they are up to date with any changes you’ve made to any workflows or processes. It will also give them the opportunity to highlight any changes that need to be made if they spot anything outdated, though ideally they have the go-ahead to make the changes themselves to processes that they are responsible for.
If you want to use SOPs in your business but you either don’t know where to start, or you don’t feel like you have the time to fumble through the learning process on your own, The Time-Strapped SOPs Method can get you started quickly and easily.
The Time-Strapped SOPs Method teaches my process of creating and maintaining SOPs, with short, no-fluff, actionable tutorials and templates. I’ll even show you how you can outsource this course to your assistant if you have one, without sacrificing the quality or effectiveness of your individual SOPs or your overall SOP framework.
Conquering overwhelm with an SOP-based framework – in summary:
Whether you’re a small online business owner with a team, a busy solopreneur, or even a work-from-home solopreneur with little ones to care for during the day, it can be hard to keep up with all of the routine tasks that need to be done for your business to keep running smoothly. It can feel overwhelming and chaotic, with not enough time to do everything.
Creating a framework with SOPs can be a great way to conquer that overwhelm in your business. It’s an effective way to take control of your time, even if it’s only little chunks during the day, as well as to streamline your processes, and make the routine parts of your business more efficient.
Knowing how to create effective SOPs, without wasting time on the documentation process, is essential for successful implementation, whether your solo or part of a team. The Time-Strapped SOPs Method gives you the know-how to get started right, as well as templates to get you started fast.
If you have any questions or want to chat about this article, DM me on IG or TT @msclarissawhite.