Why you NEED Standard Operating Procedures

Note: This article originally appeared on my previous website back in 2013. I’m reposting it here because it’s still relevant.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the term Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), the first thing that comes to mind is BIG BUSINESS.  You know the type – inflexible profit-making machines with the personality (and customer service management) of a dead fish.  Not exactly an association I want to be synonymous with my small business.

But – and this is a HUGE but – Standard Operating Procedures are standard for a reason; they make running your business easier and smoother, which results in the one thing that we are all striving for (even if we don’t want to admit it): Profitability.

Despite the potential for increased profitability and decreased mistakes, many of the small businesses I have worked with are reluctant to create Standard Operating Procedures. Why? Because they don’t want to lose their small business “personality”. They are afraid that by adopting a set of standard procedures they will lose that personal touch that sets their business apart from their competitors.

However, adopting a set of SOPs is essential for the success of any and ALL business endeavors.  They provide an outline of your objectives and goals and give your clients and customers (and employees, if you have them) an idea of what to expect from your business.  They can also prevent mistakes and oversights.  There is no hard and fast rule that says that your procedures have to be written in stone, though. Being the proprietor of a small business gives you a little more flexibility in your standard procedures, but you still NEED them. And they need to be clearly written out.

I’m not saying that you need to sit down and write out a 75-page procedural document, but coming up with a basic guideline IS necessary. As is writing it down and keeping it in a location that is easily accessible to all your partners, employees and sub-contracts.  Consider it a checklist of sorts that tells a clear story of what you need to be doing to be successful.

Here is a list of some of the things your guideline should include:

    • Your standard business hours, including any scheduled downtime.
    • Policies for after-hours work
    • Your basic rate structure
    • Your operating schedule – when will tasks like invoicing, bookkeeping, returning calls & replying to emails, blogs, and social media postings occur?
    • Methods and timeline for handling customer/client complaints
    • Methods and timeline for handling overdue and delinquent accounts
    • A SOLID service contract (especially if your business is service-based)
    • And, if you want to be extra-diligent, your guideline should also include your business’ Mission & Ethics Statements.

If you are hesitant, changing your view of Standard Operating Procedures, or even changing the terminology to something that more reflects your business’ persona can help a great deal.  In reality, it doesn’t matter what you refer to your Standard Operating Procedures as, just so long as you have a set.