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What Are Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)? Definition + How to Guide

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Read Time: 15 min

When you add a new employee to your company or a new member of your team, you can't expect them to know everything from day one. And although you should certainly take the time to train them, time is always in short supply for training. That's why companies of all sizes develop standard operating procedures, or SOPs. 

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This tutorial will give you standard operating procedure definitions and show you how to create them.

Standard operating procedure documents contain the necessary instructions on how to complete work. Writing standard operating procedures ensure that a business can keep running smoothly as employees come and go.

Standard operating procedures create continuity in business. Employees, customers, and the workplace will change. SOPs will ensure that a standard set of tasks can continue to be completed while those all shift.

In this article, we're going to talk about the importance of standard operating procedures and how to develop them. Let's dive in.

What Is an SOP?

So, what is an SOP? And why should you use SOPs in your business?

An SOP, or Standard Operating Procedure, is merely a documentation of how a process works.

SOPs work best as a step-by-step list of procedures that anyone can follow with a bit of training. 

Companies develop SOPs for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is that SOPs help reduce the training time for new team members. Hand them a well-built SOP, and they'll have a considerable head start on completing the task at hand.

Once all the HR training and onboarding is complete, a well-written SOP can serve as the first point of introduction for new team members. 

Writing standard operating procedures helps to ensure continuity. Have you ever worked with someone who was crucial to the team's success because of their knowledge and experience? I've seen this type of person leave companies many times, and the process breaks down and can't be completed.

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SOPs ensure that a business can keep running smoothly. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

There's certainly no replacing top talent easily, sure. But SOPs help to ensure that crucial tasks are still completed even if key members leave for new opportunities. Even as team members change, a well-created SOP ensures that other employees can complete the task.

SOPs also act as important legal protection for a company. We operate in a litigious environment that's fraught with lawsuits. To protect your company, you need to create SOPs with documentation.

But standard operating procedures aren't just for big Fortune 500 companies. In my freelance practice, I've developed SOPs to outsource low value tasks. That includes tasks that I'd prefer not to do, like sending my clients invoices or even editing a document for publication.

Let's face it: if you don't have a process documented, you don't have a process. You've got some steps that you sometimes perform haphazardly.

Standard operating procedures are just that - standardized. They can be handed off to others without the process breaking down.

Create SOPs to Grow

Above all, consider creating SOPs to help you grow.

I'll bet that you didn't start your business because you love sending invoices. Most of the time, we're drawn to a certain type of work and are stuck with the administrative tasks that come with it.

But you also know that you can't merely neglect these business processes. Invoicing, for example, is crucial to maintain your business and continue your creative work. This is the ideal task that should have an SOP built for it so that it can potentially be outsourced or handled by others.

To grow from a solopreneur into a thriving business requires thinking about scale. SOP (standard operating procedure) documents helps you to outsource or hand off the work to other team members.

I'm sure that no one gets excited by the thought of writing SOPs. But growing your practice is all about putting scalable systems in place that can grow with your workload. Part of that is developing SOPs for these business-critical processes. Let's talk about how to build them.

How to Quickly Customize SOP Standard Operating Procedure Templates (For 2021)

Need to know how to give your SOP meaning in 2021? The perfect choice is to use a standard operating procedure PowerPoint template from Envato Elements. These are easy to use, and they can be customized in just five quick steps. Let’s learn how.

To follow along, download the Operate - Creative PowerPoint Template from Envato Elements.

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Build a SOP standard operating procedure slide deck with a premium Envato Elements template.
Let's get started:

1. Select Slides

A standard operating procedure definition helps you place processes in written form. A PPT template is a great way to do that. But chances are, you won't need every slide in the deck to give your SOP meaning.

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Choose SOP meaning slides with PowerPoint’s Slide Sorter.

When you’re working in PowerPoint, choose only the slides that you need most. Click on the View tab, then click Slide Sorter. Here, you’ll see each slide displayed in thumbnail form. Right-click and choose Delete Slide to remove SOP meaning business slides that you don’t need.

Once you’re finished, click Normal to return to the standard editing mode.

2. Customize Text

Your standard operating procedure definitions need to be clear and well-written. This, of course, begins with customizing your text. Premium Envato Elements SOP standard operating procedure templates have text placeholders built in.

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Customize the text in your SOP standard operating procedure template.

Customize these with your own words. Click into any text box and select the text inside. Then, start typing in your new text. Repeat throughout the deck, and you can give your SOP meaning in only seconds.

3. Edit Fonts

After you add SOP standard operating procedure definition text, you can customize it. Begin by selecting a block of text again. Then, go to the Home tab on PowerPoint’s ribbon. Just left of center, you’ll see the Font section.

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It’s easy to edit fonts with a standard operating procedure definition template from Envato Elements.

Here, you've got a variety of options in the dropdown menus and buttons. Click to add effects like bold and italics. Or open up the dropdowns to change the font size, design, and more.

4. Add Images

What are standard operating procedures without images to illustrate them? Thanks to Envato Elements SOP meaning templates, these are quite easy to add. Begin by browsing to any slide that contains an image placeholder.

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Add images to give your SOP meaning in 2021.

Then, browse to an image stored on your computer. Click on it, then drag it over the image placeholder. PowerPoint will import the image, sized and scaled to fit exactly on your slide.

5. Change Shape Colors

Standard operating procedure definition slides like these often include custom shapes. These have beautiful default color palettes, but you can always change these up. This is useful if you want SOP standard operating procedure slides to match your brand color.

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Change shape colors to add your own style to your SOP standard operating procedure PPT.

To begin, click on any shape to select it. Then, go to the Shape Format tab, found on PowerPoint’s ribbon. Color options live on the Shape Fill dropdown. Open it up, then click on any of the thumbnails to apply a new design to your slide. It’s that simple.

SOP for Small Businesses

Writing standard operating procedures isn't just for huge corporations. Any business that's seeking to expand beyond its current level needs SOPs to scale up. 

Let's use the example that I mentioned earlier, how to invoice for my business, as an example of how to write an SOP.

How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure

Standard operating procedures come in many formats. One popular format is s text document that includes a step-by-step list to follow. Let's build an example of an SOP (standard operating procedure) for invoicing.

1. State the "Why"

It's hard to get buy-in on making SOPs if the reader or preparer doesn't understand why the work matters. That's why I always start with why.

For my standard operating procedure example, I'll keep it simple. The purpose of creating invoices is simple: to get paid! Including the "why" will help anyone know that this process matters and is vital to perform each month.

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A simple text document like this one should open up with a brief description of the process and why it matters to the business.

Also, make sure to include some administrative details on who should maintain the SOP. That identifies who'll work on it.

2. Frame the Process

Where does the documented process fit into the overall business picture? When should it be performed, and what other steps are required before it can be completed? Many processes are dependent on other steps, so make sure that this is captured.

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Make sure to document the "When to Complete" part of the process so that everyone understands when to put the SOP into motion.

When is the task performed, and how often is it performed? These are all details that have to be captured in an SOP so that anyone can be followed by others.

3. Create Detailed, Concrete Steps

Now, we've arrived at the most important part of the SOP building process: simple steps that anyone can follow.

Document the steps involved with the process. Make them as simple as possible. For me, I find it easiest to write an SOP step list while performing the task for myself so that nothing is forgotten.

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Create simple steps that anyone can follow so that the standard operating procedure is repeatable.

It's possible that you may need to include conditionals in your list. It's okay to start with a step with "if...", as long as you address the scenario.

4. Add Illustrations and Screenshots

Many SOPs will benefit from screenshots that illustrate the individual steps of a process. Particularly if you're asking the user to use a specific app or project management system, it helps

For me, I typically use Trello for my freelancing practice. Screenshots that I would include an SOP would include walkthroughs of how to perform a task in Trello, for example. Keep in mind that the user may have never used the system, so more detail is always helpful.

5. Test the SOPs

Here's the best way to test out the viability of your standard operating procedures: try handing them off and see if they break.

When writing SOPs, it's easy to forget the beginner's perspective. You might have been doing the task for so long that you've forgotten what it's like to start with no knowledge of the process.

This is why testing is so important. You've got to put the SOPs into action to see if others understand them. Hand it off to a freelancer or another team member to see if it makes sense to someone new.

Most Importantly: Store and Review Periodically

After you've developed the SOPs, you've come to the most important part of the process: distributing and making them useful. Too many teams view creating SOPs as a one-time process that doesn't need regular maintenance. Well-created documentation isn't useful unless it's distributed and utilized.

First, it's crucial that you've got a place that you can store SOPs so that everyone who'll be impacted by them can access them. This could be a Dropbox share, a shared network drive, or even an intranet page. 

Above all, the SOPs should be accessible and stored in only one place. I've seen them become useless because everyone begins to maintain separate copies of the file and they soon become out-of-sync. Ensure that everyone is working from the same master copy so that SOP's maintain the usefulness that they were intended for.

Making SOPs "Living Documents"

I've worked in many situations where writing documentation and SOPs is a one-time process. Too often, a push for creating SOPs starts, but then the document ages poorly.

A big push happens from upper management to document active processes, and the team spends many hours documenting standard operating procedures.

Six months later, processes are evolving and changing. And the SOPs lag behind, not updated to match the reality of the new process. Pretty soon, no one is using the SOPs because they aren't representative of how the process works.

To combat this, you need to periodically update the SOPs so that they don't get too far out of sync. It's critical that standard operating procedures are reviewed regularly by the maintainer. 

Every SOP should have a process owner. This is a single point of contact who is accountable for updating and editing it periodically to make sure that it matches the current process. This is the only way that SOPs maintain their usefulness and are used by your team.

Use Screencasts for Standard Operating Procedures

Screencasts are one of my favorite formats for teaching, and they also work supremely well for documenting processes.

You may not have heard of screencasts, but I'm sure you've seen them in action. A screencast is just a recording of a digital screen with voiceover and annotated help text.

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A screencast is the perfect way to illustrate a concept by watching an expert perform a task.

Try out a screencasting platform like Screenflow or Camtasia to record a process. Even if it just supplements a written SOP, it can add another angle that's more illustrative than written instructions alone.

Callouts, for example, can illustrate and highlight specific elements in the video. Check out the tutorial below for an example of how you can use an annotation in Screenflow to create very specific callouts for details.

One of the other reasons that screencasts work well is that you can add extra details that don't fit a written format. I like to create "conditional" instructions in screencasts. For example, you can illustrate options such as "if the situation is A, click on this option; if the situation is B, click on this option instead."

Screencasts can serve as SOPs of their own. I've found that they're one of the most effective ways to teach others. Screencasts are easier to understand for most users. That makes them an ideal fit for creating standard operating procedures.

5 Top SOP Standard Operating Procedure PowerPoint Templates (From Envato Elements - For 2021)

Need to know where to find top SOP standard operating procedure PowerPoint templates? Your answer: Envato Elements. It offers thousands of SOP PPT templates with unlimited downloads. Let’s look at five of the very best:

1. Doreca - Learning About Game PowerPoint

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In search of the perfect way to give your organization’s SOP meaning? Turn to Doreca, a versatile PPT Elements template.

With five dozen slides, it’s a simple matter to customize this one to fit your needs. It's got colorful layouts that you can add your SOP meaning business definitions to. Plus, you’ll find that it’s built around master slide layouts. This makes bulk edits a breeze.

2. Fiesta - PowerPoint Template

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An SOP meaning business template benefits from flexible styling. This gives you the creative control you need to customize slides to your specific needs.

Fiesta is a great example. With 40 unique layouts inside, you’re sure to find designs that work well for you. And once you do, you can customize them with easy-to-edit graphics, animations, and much more.

3. 44 Clean Presentation

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What are standard operating procedures without helpful templates to bring them to life? With this in mind, turn to 44 Clean.

This is a flexible premium template with, you guessed it, 44 custom slides inside. Customize each one to add SOP meaning and standard operating procedure definition content. It’s a top choice for SOP templates in 2021.

4. Project Plan - A4 Vertical PowerPoint Template

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Project Plan is a sharply focused SOP meaning business template for 2021. It’s built with a sleek dark background and crisp pastel colors.

You’ll see an array of project-focused slides that you can add standard operating procedure definition text to. It’s built in a vertical layout that looks great on mobile devices too.

5. AROMA - Modern Business Presentation Template

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AROMA is a standard operating procedure definition template with ample room for imagery. This is great if you need to give your SOP meaning by adding photos. Choose from over fifty custom slides with many designs and layouts included. Free stylish fonts are used to bring your SOP text to life. 

Keep Learning Key Business Skills

If you've got growth aspirations for your small business or freelance practice, you need systems and steps that help you scale. We've just explored the question of what is an SOP. You've also learned the SOP definition. Plus, you've learned how to write an SOP. 

Putting efficient systems in place will ensure that you can add more employees to your team or take on more work as you outsource. Check out these three excellent business process tutorials to learn more:

Start Creating (SOP) Standard Operating Procedures Today

Now, you know the answer to: what are standard operating procedures? They bring sanity to your business with documentation for your processes. That makes your business repeatable, consistent, and easy to onboard new team members.

Don't forget that the best way to show standard operating procedure definitions is with pre-built templates. Use an SOP meaning template from Elements and just add your specifics to create SOP's in a snap.

You've seen this tutorial and know the SOP meaning business context, and now you're ready to create them too. Grab a template, add your key steps, and you're on your way to a fully documented business.

Editorial Note: This post was originally published on July 7, 2018. It’s been updated with contributions from Andrew Childress. Andrew is a freelance instructor for Envato Tuts+.

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