Most business owners shy away from writing standard operating procedures (SOPs). They can be super tedious to put together, and what’s the point if you have to update them in a few months, anyway?
But we all know that SOPs are key to saving you time down the line and mitigating the effects of turnover.
So, this post will show you how to write an SOP that serves you, and how to do it quickly.
Each SOP that you create will be unique to its purpose. However, you can use a single format to cover a wide range of functions within your business. Below is the rundown of the major sections of a basic SOP.
The Introduction to Your SOP
This first section of your SOP will contain a:
- Title – The title should reflect the purpose of this SOP so that you can easily identify it
- Department – the department that will be using this SOP
- Revision Number – This refers to how many times you have updated this SOP.
- Date – This is the date your SOP was created if it’s the first one, or the last date that it was revised if it has been updated.
- Document Number – This number identifies the file for easy retrieval. It is usually 8 to 10 alphanumeric characters, but depends on what type of filing system you are using.
Customer Service Emails
Customer Service Department
Doc Number: CSE0002020
This second section contains the summary of each revision made to the document. It should note the SOP’s revision number, the date that revision was made, the nature of the changes made, and who approved those changes.
Revision and Approval
CSE0022020 – 07/03/2020 – greetings and closings for upset customers – [signed] John Doe, CEO 07/05/2020
CSE0012020 – 05/24/2020 – messaging standards– [signed] John Doe, CEO 05/25/2020
This third section is a brief description of what this SOP covers. It should concisely explain the SOP’s purpose. This means a single sentence that explains what it’s all about, including any relevant quality standards or regulations.
Based on our example, it should say something like: To establish guidelines for responding to customer email inquiries. All email customer service representatives are responsible for following this SOP.
If you include any specialized terms in your SOP, add another section under this one called “Definitions” to explain them.
This fourth section is a full description of what this SOP covers. Based on our example, it should detail the company standards of how to communicate with customers via email. This SOP must be able to teach any new email customer service representative how to greet customers, what to include or exclude in messages, and how to close the interaction.
For example, here’s a procedure to respond to customer complaints:
Customer service representative:
- responds to messages from upset customers first, then in the order they came in.
- greets all customers with “Hello, [first name],” unless the first name is not given.
- begins the interaction with a statement of apology; e.g. “I’m sorry you received our [item] with a missing [part];” or, “I’m sorry you received a damaged [item].”
- proceeds with the options for refund or free replacement, as follows “We can give you a refund for the item or send you a free replacement. Please let me know which option you prefer.”
- closes with “Thank you,”
Making SOP Writing Easy
No matter how big or small your company is, your SOPs must be clear and easy to use. This means that they have to be specific and relevant to the tasks that they address, and the people performing those tasks.
This is where it can get tedious.
Delegate SOP Creation
The most important rule of how to write an SOP like a pro is to assign it to someone who is already doing the task. This makes it easier on you, since you are probably out of practice, if you’ve ever done the task at all. It also makes it more likely that you will have an SOP that anyone doing the task can follow.
Give your best hire the above format in an editable document. This ensures that you will get an SOP draft that explains the process as it should be done. Following our customer service example, give the format to the customer service representative who gets the best results and has the happiest customers.
Then ask them to write out exactly how they perform the task, down to the last detail. Tell them to keep it for a few days so that they can update it as they actually perform the task. This helps them to make sure they don’t miss anything.
Have the SOP Reviewed by the Manager
When the draft is done, send it to the department manager to add their comments. They will have valuable insight to add on targets and improvements.
You don’t want the manager to edit the SOP directly, just add their input. This is because you want the person on the floor to be the most involved. This is the person in direct contact with the task and everyone else involved. Their raw input is invaluable.
Put in The Final Touches
In some cases, including supplementary diagrams or images can help make the content of an SOP clearer. They can summarize information or visually represent a long procedure or abstract concept. They can also help make the SOP easier to digest by breaking up long sections of text.
If an SOP refers to a related SOP, make sure that it is properly cited by document number and title. This is to make sure that anyone learning the procedure can easily get a copy of that related SOP to review. If there’s any sort of gap between the two, make sure that you add context so that there’s no misunderstanding or confusion.
Now all you have to do is read the SOP and note any changes you want made. That’s all the time input you need to dedicate. Then you send it back to the manager to make the changes, get your approval, and implement it.
Use this template and process to write every SOP like a pro. This way, you won’t spend too much time or energy on any of them. Before long, you’ll have a complete set of standard operating procedures for your entire business.