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How to Write Effective SOPs

Whilst many businesses understand the need for effective SOPs, they often struggle with the best ways to approach them and how to ensure they are fit for purpose and stand the test of time.

At Whale, we specialise in helping businesses simplify and modernise your training approach and materials.

So what makes an effective SOP? Let’s start from the beginning.

What are SOPs?

Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, are easy to understand documents that create process workflows for performing defined tasks.

Within a business, this could refer to various different procedures, such as onboarding new employees or clients, managing worklists and tasks, or tracking project deliverables.

Having effectively developed SOPs in your business create increased levels of efficiency, and therefore profitability.

It can also reduce the risk of errors in your procedures and a standardised consistency in the products and services that you offer your clients.

Why do we need SOPs?

SOPs can benefit your business in a number of ways. Especially during periods of growth, well-written SOPs will provide you with an increased organisational and operational advantage, including in areas such as:

  • Reducing the time taken to train your staff
    Whether this is just for onboarding new staff or upskilling and developing existing staff, internal SOPs offer the ability to standardise and improve the training process, ensuring everyone gets the same information and opportunity to progress.
  • Reduce errors in procedures and processes
    Well structured SOPs provide your staff with easy to follow guidelines, which when followed, ensure a productive and operational workforce.
  • Ensure legal requirements are followed
    Your industry may require written SOPs with clear guidance around legal requirements, meaning that your employees and/or customers are aware of their obligations and cannot be held legally responsible if something were to go wrong.
  • Maintain a consistent brand
    Your brand is one of the most valuable assets that your business has, and it’s important to protect it. Providing clear SOPs around your brand guidelines can advise your staff on areas such as the correct use of logos, colours and fonts, policies for how they should correspond with those outside the business, guidelines for email formatting and sticking to the company’s tone of voice in all communications.

When you create clear and concise SOPs, you’re helping to ensure that the output from your business is consistent and predictable, giving your staff the best opportunity to work effectively within their role.


How do I write effective SOPs for my business?

When it comes to writing SOPs for your business, it’s important to always remember who they’re being written for - the end-user.

Making sure that they are easy to understand and make sense to the person reading them is absolutely crucial to ensuring they are fit for purpose.

Here are a few things to bear in mind when writing your procedures:

  • Use clear and simple language:
    Your SOPs need to be written in a way that takes the reader on a clear, step-by-step process from start to finish, using simple language without any ambiguous terminology.
  • Break your document up into logical steps
    Breaking your document up under logical headers and sections will help the reader to follow it and retain the knowledge you’re providing.
  • Make the important points obvious to the reader
    If there are any key pieces of information that the reader must know, make sure these aren’t hidden within the text and that there is no confusion over their purpose.
  • Keep your SOPs updated
    SOPs should be live documents that are updated as your internal processes and procedures developed. Make sure you schedule regular reviews to make sure they remain fit for purpose.
SOPs - real teamwork

Formatting your SOPs

We think the best way to structure your SOP is:

Header: A brief but clear title identifying your activity and any relevant keywords, plus your version number.

Purpose: Use this section to define the intent of your document in a clear and concise way.

Scope: This section will outline not only what is in scope for the document, but also what is not in scope. Ensure that nothing is left up to interpretation and that the reader has no doubt as to what the document will provide them with.

Definitions: Make sure that any terms which may not be familiar to the reader are defined – this includes abbreviations or industry terms.

Roles & Responsibilities: Clearly outline the roles responsible for carrying out the procedure outlined in the document.

Procedure: Make sure you’re only including steps that are required in order for the procedure to be maintained properly. It may help to break it down into easy to follow sections that can be easily followed and checked off as the reader goes through the document.

Appendices: Use this section to assist your reader in understanding the process, potentially with visual aids such as diagrams and process flows.

Version control: Keep a record of any changes that are made to the document over time, including the reasons why the changes were made.

Sign-offs: If your document requires sign-off from any particular area of the business, keep this at the back of the document so that the reader is assured that it has been approved as fit for purpose.


Different types of SOPs

The types of SOPs that you’ll create for your business will vary dependent on your industry, however, some of the most common areas to implement include:


Sales & Marketing

This will usually cover guidance on how the business presents itself in external communications; such as social media, press releases or advertisements, but can also extend to the preparation of sales quotes, service delivery processes, response times and resolution of refunds/exchanges and complaints.


Finance

Finance SOPs can define processes within billing and collecting, as well as accounts payable. This can help to provide clear instruction to clients and increase cashflow within the business.


Employee Onboarding

Bringing in new staff members can be a time-consuming procedure, however, having clear SOPs in place will ensure a straightforward and pain-free process for both you and your new employee. These can be put in place for anything from building job descriptions, inductions and training, performance reviews and corrective action.


Legal

One of the most common SOPs which you will encounter is your privacy policy. In line with regulations, your business must have a clear and explicit policy which specifies what information you will collect from your clients, what the data will be used for and how long you will keep it on file.


It’s important to ensure that everyone within your business, especially those who are customer-facing, is aware of your data policies and what customer information they need to be able to fulfill their role.

How can Whale help me build effective SOPs?

We hope this guide has been helpful to get you on the right path with writing effective SOPs for your business, however at Whale, we understand that the process can be time-consuming.

We’ve built our technology to assist businesses in simplifying their documentation process, delivering information to staff in bite-sized chunks when they need it, and will understand it best.

Please do get in touch with us to find out how we can help you to organize, build, and implement your business’ learning strategy.

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