The Ultimate SOP Guide For Small Business Owners

Benefits of having Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Small business owners may believe that standard operating procedures only benefit large corporations. However, standardized quality control is vital to companies of all sizes.

Without SOPs, small businesses can suffer from inconsistent service and subpar products which damage their reputation and bottom line. 

Standardized quality control is important for any company, but it’s especially important for a small business owner who has limited time and resources at her disposal. By developing clear SOPs from day one, a company can create a solid foundation on which future success will be built upon.

When a building designer client of mine came to me, he had too many projects on his plate and was feeling overwhelmed with all the work. He knew he needed to hire someone but could find the time to make it possible. I challenged him to document his processes. After a few weeks of tracking how he did his work, my client was able to become significantly more efficient and this opened the door for him to hire a design tech and eventually a second. Now they are following his newly minted SOPs.

SOPs can help streamline business processes, improve employee safety, maximize efficiencies, and minimize waste. They are vital to avoiding unplanned shutdowns caused by inexperienced employees. 

In this PDF, I want to show you why you should use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), the benefits of them, and how to get started. Let’s go…


Top Benefits of SOPs

  • Streamline workflows and improve efficiencies by minimizing errors
  • Boost accountability across organizational lines 
  • Reduce miscommunication between employees 
  • Provide checklists for auditing the effectiveness of business processes
  • Create time for innovations in production
  • Successfully operate without the need to change any processes
  • Reduce risk of injuries at work and faulty products leaving your facility
  • Prevent errors that could cause problems with reputation or legal defense
  • Configure short, customized, easy-to-understand steps for employees

The International Labour Organization reports that 2.3 million workers worldwide are involved in work-related health and safety incidents a year, yet most of these injuries can be avoided by incorporating safety procedures into existing workflows. 

Digitized SOPs provide employees with how to complete their tasks accurately at any point during the day without delays. This leads to higher productivity and more time spent focused on business goals rather than operating internal processes manually.

Crazy stat: The American Management Association reports 30 to 50 percent of employees avoid taking responsibility in the workplace.

Standard operating procedures enable organizations to run like well-oiled machines while keeping workers safe! 


5 Key Parts of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

SOPs should contain some form of the following five elements:

  • Procedures: An SOP should both define a task and give guidelines for how to complete the tasks. 
  • Accountability Measures: The SOP should be designed in such a way to improve accountability by outlining the responsibilities of each person in an organization.
  • Responsibilities: The SOP should outline who performs the tasks and who to contact if problems arise. It also outlines the person in charge of its implementation, review, and updates.
  • Purpose: The SOP should define the purpose of the work and clearly outline its objectives. Describe the problems the SOP will solve, who the SOP is for, and where and how it will be used.
  • Scope: The scope defines the use and applicability of the SOP.


SOP Format 

Written SOPs typically consist of a title page, table of contents, checklists and procedures. While some are more detailed than others depending on the company’s needs, they often include steps or flowcharts that illustrate how to complete tasks successfully.


  1. Checklists

You can use Word, Google Docs, or an online tool to create standard operating procedures. SOP checklists make it easy for employees to follow company guidelines with minimal effort, and you’ll often find templates online that are available free of charge.


  1. Step-by-Step Checklists

The most important step in completing tasks is the instruction-giving. This type of document should be used when you need to provide instructions for a straightforward process and there are only specific steps that one needs to complete it. In this format, numbered or bulleted lists outline what each task requires without leaving any room for ambiguity; they’re checklists with accountability built into them!


  1. Hierarchical Steps

Hierarchical-steps SOPs are suitable for procedures with multiple steps, often involving complex decision-making. While a step-by-step SOP will bullet point steps 1, 2, and 3, a hierarchical SOP will include steps 1a, 1b, and so on.  

For example, say Step 1 instructs an employee to log in to their account. Step 1a may direct them to input their username, and step 1b may tell them to input their password. As such, hierarchical SOPs also can be formatted as checklists. 

  1. Flowchart Format

This may sound strange but imagine that you are a robot trying to make your way through an office building, each of the rooms is in different shape and size. You have no idea what will be waiting for you behind any one door or how it might impact which direction to take next. Fortunately, with a flowchart SOPs as illustrated below employees always know the right path forward so they can achieve consistent outcomes like running operations “like an efficient machine.


How Businesses Use SOPs to Improve Efficiency 

  • Troubleshooting Systems: A hotel guest notifies the front desk that his room’s air conditioning unit is broken. The hospitality worker jumps into action and quickly fixes it, providing him with a discounted rate for such an inconvenience following an SOP along the way.
  • Task Handovers: An employee is out sick. With an SOP in place, it’s clear what the specific steps are for someone else to take over the employee’s scheduled work orders. 
  • Standardization of Manufacturing Processes: A new piece of equipment replaces old equipment, and the maintenance is entirely different. Creating an SOP that clearly outlines the new manufacturing process will ensure things continue to run smoothly.
  • Quality Management Systems: A manager leaves his role. The company consults the previous manager’s written SOPs to streamline the onboarding process. The new hire quickly assumes their responsibilities with minimal disruptions and far more efficient training from day one.
  • Quality Assurance: An industry-standard on clean water changes. The new inspection must be performed every other day instead of weekly to maintain high-quality water. With SOPs in place, this new change will be noticed and documented.


Creating a Standard Operating Procedure

Small Business Owners need to think through each step in an SOP—even if it only seems small. Work Instructions should clearly state what actions are needed to avoid mistakes, inefficiencies, and downtime.

Step 1: Data Collection

The organization should first collect information on the procedure, process, and task. An expert on the procedure or an employee responsible for performing the task should provide a precise definition of what they’re looking to standardize.

The SOP’s goal should also be outlined at this stage. For example, an organization can develop a cleaning SOP to make sure.


Step 2: Format Selection

Organizations that have developed their SOPs in the past can rely on previous templates, while those developing entirely new SOPs or business processes can choose from any of the formats discussed above.


Step 3: Employee Involvement

The employees perform the tasks. It’s important to factor in their input when developing SOPs. This ensures that they’re on board and makes it easy to implement the SOPs. According to Balance, employee involvement is the key to change management. It’s also a way to make sure that all the necessary tasks are included.


Step 4: Scope Definition

The use and applicability of the SOP should be clearly defined. Outline the business processes that will use the SOP.


Step 5: Target User

At this stage, the organization should identify the SOP audience. Write the SOP specifically for this target audience. Factors to consider include:

  • Familiarity with the organization, procedures to be standardized, terminologies, and knowledge level
  • Language and comprehension skills
  • Level of experience in performing outlined tasks 
  • Roles and responsibilities if target users are spread across different teams and roles

Identifying target users also helps to assign appropriate tasks and responsibilities in the SOP document.


Step 6: Your SOP Development

Write your SOP to include the elements identified in this document. Refer to The Five Elements of SOPs section of this guide to draft your SOP. However, you may still have questions about how best to write an effective SOP.


Step 7: Review, Test, and Edit

In order to ensure clarity and accurate execution, the document should be sent around to all relevant personnel for their review and edits.


Step 8: SOP Implementation

Once an SOP has been approved, it should be accessible to employees for implementation. Employees should be adequately trained and equipped to implement the SOPs. Management should monitor compliance, enforce accountability, and measure the results. Reviews can be performed periodically or when necessary to capture changes to current procedures or make improvements.


Technical vs. Management SOPs

There are two different types of of SOPs – Technical vs Management

Technical SOPs detail how to perform and complete a task. They are often in the form of a repeating work order, a preventative maintenance work order, or an inspection. 

Alternatively, management SOPs outline the processes to define, document and implement standard operating procedures. It may sound silly, but companies often need management SOPs to manage their large number of technical SOPs! The documents are always useful for anyone performing a task more than once.



Management SOPs include information about:

  • How to write
  • Who approves 
  • Who revises 
  • Who implements and manages 

Put simply, SOPs will fail if management doesn’t create the process for them to succeed. Whenever procedures, employees, assets, or functions change, update and re-approve SOPs.

Even when procedures stay consistent a regular SOP review is valuable. SOP reviews ensure policies and procedures are current, cost-effective, and compliant with changing regulatory standards. 

SOPs Automation

Creating, tracking, and revising SOPs through a digital system ensures everyone has the latest version; it can be integrated into a task management system and monitored by the business owner or manager of the employees completing the tasks. 

Benefits of Assigning SOPs Digitally

  • Improves Quality Control: Operations are performed correctly, consistently, and quickly because questions get answered on the spot. 
  • Improves Employee Skills: Workers are more easily kept up-to-date and trained on new procedures.
  • Streamlines Audits/Inspections: Cloud-based checklists provide digital audit trails and are available for inspectors. 
  • Saves Time: Managers don’t need to reinvent the wheel when SOPs need to be modified. They can simply make a quick edit from their desktops or phones. 
  • Enhances O&M Decision-Making: Digital dashboards provide information about job performance, time-on-task, and other insightful metrics. 
  • Increases Efficiency: Processes are uninterrupted and completed on schedule because everyone always has their smartphone in their pockets. 

Additionally, complying with internal controls and business processes is easier when SOPs are digitized. This becomes especially important when a supplier or outsourcer, for example, is involved.

Your Next Steps


Take the time to review this document and choose a simple procedure you want to create an SOP for. Walkthrough each step of the process and complete it by having all your information documented digitally. After this, you can move on to create your next SOP and take the burden off yourself of always having to show people what to do and how. Free yourself to work on your business and not in it near as much. 

If you’d like direct support and help with implementing this process into your business, please don’t hesitate to connect with me on a discovery call.


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