Nathan Sykes

March 15, 2021

Writing Standard Operating Procedures With Clarity

Today's post is a continuation of my writing on how to outsource effectively. On Sunday, I wrote about a simple exercise you can take yourself through to figure out an action plan of exactly what to outsource. On Saturday, I wrote about rationalizing outsourcing, and why you can't outsource every single task in your company (especially some of the higher level stuff).

One of the most important parts of putting the systems in place that you need to outsource your work is creating something called SOPs, or standard operating procedures. They're a step-by-step instruction manual on how to perform small, simple tasks. Together, those tasks make up the day to day operation of your business. An example of an SOP would be "how to handle incoming emails", or "how to package items for shipment to customers", or "how to schedule social media posts". They're recurring tasks that need to be executed either on a schedule (per day, per week, per quarter, etc.) or on completion of an action (a customer is added to the CRM, an order is placed, an email is received, a dispute is opened, etc.)


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Creating iron-clad SOPs is the way to effectively outsource your work. Without it, you'll either hire a bad virtual assistant, or you'll hire a virtual assistant who is pestering you at all hours of the day to make sure they're doing a good enough job. Neither situation is ideal. Here are Howdy Interactive's tips on creating awesome Standard Operating Procedures:

1. They shouldn't be complicated
Clarity is the key to success here. Cut the jargon and buzzwords, and make sure you're only giving the contextual information that your virtual assistant needs to complete the task. Note that in this case, complicated =/= detailed. They should contain enough detail for your virtual assistant to be able to complete the task without having to guess where to click, what to do, or where to go for the next step. It just shouldn't take a college degree to understand the task. If it does, the task needs to be explained in more detail or broken up into smaller pieces.

2. They should specifically cover one thing
You can have more than one SOP in a document (and call it something like a manual, or collection of standard operating procedures), but each specific SOP should cover how to do one specific thing. Let's say that you're creating an SOP for email handling, and one of the emails you get on a frequent basis are appointment requests. The SOP for handling emails, and the SOP for finding time to accommodate appointments on your calendar should be two separate things.

3. They should, if possible, be in video form
This is where the term "writing" SOPs gets a tad misleading. The best way to present information to your virtual assistants is by shooting a quick video. Use a tool like Loom or Cleanshot and walk through the task you're trying to outsource, step by step. Do it like it's the last time you'll ever do it (hopefully, you will!), so be sure to explain what you're doing and not cut any corners. In addition to any written documentation you provide your virtual assistant, this will give them the opportunity to actually see you do it, in context.

Let me take you through a Standard Operating Procedure we have established for one of our micro-companies, and I can point out where these three tips fall into play (click here for a hi-res of below image):

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As you can see, this is our collection of standard operating procedures for every small, individual task that goes into sending out the cold emails. It's not all grouped into one document. Where the red 2 is, you can see that we specifically put each SOP on its own page. Let's take a look at one of those SOPs now (click here for a hi-res of below image):

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This is what illustrates points 1 and 3. Our Standard Operating Procedure for data gathering is plenty detailed, but it's not complicated. Anybody can follow the steps that we've laid out there. Furthermore, each step is detailed in video. We actually walk through it. Our virtual assistants can use those valuable videos to complete the task that's assigned to them - they have a step-by-step walkthrough of how to do it.