This is a guest post by Cindy Bidar of CindyBidar.com.
I have always been a systems person, so it’s kind of a mystery to me when I ask about systems and processes and small business owners give me the side-eye.
Maybe that’s because, in my long-ago day-job, systems was one of my primary responsibilities. I understood early on that when you’re operating dangerous equipment and building air bags and brake parts for cars, you really can’t just wing it.
You have to have repeatable, trustworthy procedures in place to ensure every single part is identical to the next one, and that no one loses a finger in the process.
While an online business doesn’t require quite that level of detail, I did learn a lot about how systems and documentation help keep everything running smooth.
And as it turns out, your small business has a lot more in common with car manufacturers than you might think.
- You DO need to maintain standard operating procedures, so that you can effectively and efficiently get your work done.
- You DO need to be able to refer back to those documents and be able to use them.
- And you DO need to be able to share them with anyone else who needs them as well.
And yet, I talk to plenty of solopreneurs who haven’t taken the time (yet) to get organized.
SOP Excuse #1: I know what I need to do
For a lot of small business owners, everything they do is locked securely inside their head. I know, because I’ve been guilty of this myself.
The problem with it being all in your head is that you can’t easily hand those tasks off to someone else.
If you can’t work—or just don’t want to—no one can take up the slack. Your blog won’t get posted, your product won’t get launched, your social media feed won’t get updated. Or maybe it’s even worse. Maybe your client work doesn’t get done, or invoices aren’t sent, or hosting and domain bills don’t get paid.
Enough of that, and pretty quickly you’ll have a big mess that’s extremely difficult to fix.
Here’s how to make it easy on yourself.
First, don’t think of documentation as some big time-consuming thing you have to sit down and do all at one time, like your taxes. Instead, make it a practice to take notes as you go through your day, or even spend 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the day to write down what you did.
Also, don’t try to document every tiny little step. Just note the things that aren’t intuitive. Chances are good that anyone who needs to use your documentation will already have at least some understanding of how your business works, so stick with the important steps, and don’t worry about the minor details.
Think of this process as future proofing your business. This documentation of your procedures is what’s going to allow you to outsource the parts of your business you don’t love to do, and that will give you the time freedom you crave. And that right there makes it totally worth the effort.
SOP Excuse #2: It’s too complex and I don’t have time for all that
The second key thing about good systems is to keep them simple.
This was a big mistake I made when I just left my corporate job. I thought I had to document every tiny little step and have a checklist for everything I did. I wanted a beautiful cross referencing plan so that no matter what I was doing, I could put my hands on the document I needed in an instant.
It looked great on paper, but in practice, it was simply not sustainable. I just ended up making a lot more work for myself. When your documentation is overly complex and difficult to use, you’ll avoid it, and an SOP that no one uses is a waste of everyone’s time.
Keep it simple.
- Give your files names that make sense, such as “How to send a broadcast email in Convert Kit” or “How to create a redirect link in WordPress.”
- Use the right format for the task. Why spend hours writing a step-by-step process complete with screenshots when a 3 minute video will do the job just as well?
- Assume your team has at least a basic understanding of the task, and avoid documenting every link click. What happens when you do that is people start to skim, because they know a lot of what’s documented is not meant for them.
SOP Excuse #3: I don’t know how to start
There are dozens of options for creating and maintaining your business documentation. Tools such as Sweet Process claim to make it easier, while project management systems like Asana and Trello offer additional features such as deadlines and reminders.
Here’s the secret though: it does not matter which one you choose, as long as you use it consistently. In fact, you can even avoid all the done-for-you platforms and just use a file-sharing app to house your documents.
Try out a few, then pick the one that is the easiest and most intuitive for you, and stick with it.
Start small, with one or two key procedures, such as:
- Branding guidelines. What colors and fonts do you use for your social graphics? What size should your blog post featured image be? Where are your logo files stored?
- Hashtags and keywords. What terms are getting you found on social and in search results?
- Key contact information. Who are your clients and contractors, and how can someone contact them in case of emergency?
From there, think about the tasks you do every day, and start documenting them as well. If you have a team, make it part of their job to document their own processes and procedures, and to contribute to the shared business library.
I promise, once you get your standard operating procedures in place, your business will run more smoothly, with less stress, and your income will grow.
Want some help getting started?
I’ve created a starter set of templates and checklists designed just for online businesses. It’s the building blocks you can use to create your own standard operating procedures, and Indie Biz Chicks can download the entire set for just $17 when you use promo code SOPHELP at checkout here.