If you don’t have a procedure manual in your business you need to get one immediately. This tool will change your business dramatically and create an organization that is professional and profitable.
What should a procedure manual include? If you are not striving for quality, professionalism, efficiency and decent profit in your business then why are you in business? All of these things will help you to create a strong business that provides not only you, but also for your team and their families as well.
A Procedure Manual is a tool that is your ‘Business Bible’. It will help you operate your business. So, what should a Procedure Manual include? Passwords? People’s salaries? Phone numbers? Instructions? Well it depends on your business type.
A procedure manual should include a range of things depending on the type of your business what it performs how it operates and what industry it is in.
It really is going to make a difference on the type of business that you operate. However generally a lot of businesses have fundamental principles that can be replicated. As the old saying goes it’s not worth reinventing the wheel. You simply don’t need to when somebody has already done it before you.
Generally a lot of businesses have fundamental principles that can be replicated.
So today we’re going to take a look at five crucial things that you should include in your procedure manual or quality system. These five items should be generic in relation to your business type however they may not be specifically relevant. But read on down and see what you think and if you’ve got any comments please do not hesitate to leave the comments at the end of the text.
So let’s not hesitate any longer and get underway and check out 5 crucial things that a procedure manual should include.
Crucial Thing Number 1
Rules. OK, so crucial thing number one has to do with rules. If you operate a business and don’t really care about rules it is likely it’s going to turn into a mess quickly. Rules can come in any form including policies.
Policies are designed to not only keep your team safe but also level the playing field across your organization. Everyone needs to be treated equally and the idea behind policies is to set a foundation for equality. So policies are crucial.
It could be policies about bullying or policies about personal phone use or policies about travel. There are literally dozens of areas that any business needs policies for.
If you haven’t set up policies in your business yet then you should get started as soon as you can.
Crucial Thing Number 2
Essential Procedures. Procedures are important to ensure cohesive team all striving for the same goals. Procedures will ensure that team members are performing their duties the way they are supposed to be performing them. As business owner you know and understand how things need to be done correctly.
After all this is how you have built your business from scratch. You understand that quality and delivering it well makes a massive difference to the performance of your business and the importance of getting repeat work.
However your team may not know this or even may not care about this. It is your responsibility as leader to communicate this to them and provide the tools for them to follow. This is why this particular thing is so crucial. Procedures for everything you do in your business is essential.
Crucial Thing Number 3
Safety Requirements. You have a responsibility as business owner to keep your team, visitors and subcontractors safe.
Very last thing you need in your business is accidents or incidents or any items where people are injured or even worse lose their lives. The knock-on effects of things like this can be extremely devastating.
Putting things in place with the aim of avoiding accidents should be a priority for your business. This is particularly important for junior staff who have little experience in operating in the business.
Crucial Thing Number 4
Disaster Management. When something goes wrong are you prepared? Whether it’s a fire or a terrorist event or a bomb threat having these guidelines in place will assist people to move through these events. It’s important that you communicate what actions should be taken if such an event occurs.
You may not be able to cover all events however you can surely cover some of the most commonly known who ends based on the history of your location.
For example if you often receive hurricanes in your area been having these procedures and instructions in place is going to be fairly obvious. However it’s a good idea to accommodate many other events that could possibly not happen but be prepared just in case.
Crucial Thing Number 5
Vision, Direction and Values. If you don’t have any of these your business is like a boat without a rudder. Floating aimlessly in a sea of other businesses. Getting vision and Direction and values together is relatively easy and should be one of the first things you do when creating a quality or procedure manual.
No doubt you already have an idea of what you want to achieve with your business so modifying this to determine a vision should be reasonably straightforward.
It’s always good to aim high and underpin your business with something that produces good well for your community or your passion. For example you may support a local community cause. This provides meaning for not only your business and yourself but also for your team and give some confidence that they are contributing to something in the community that is bigger than them.
What should a Procedure Manual include in Your Business?
What items do you have in your procedure manual? Are there things that you see are absolutely crucial and you cannot do without? Are there things that you wouldn’t bother with?
Every business is different so any comments you put below are certainly going to help others in their business experiences. Join the conversation below and provide your best advice for others to help them as well.
You didn’t start a business to be tied to a desk or tied to your team. Ensure you set up systems so your team have a rule book to follow.
You likely started a business because you felt like you could either do it better, wanted to earn more money or desired more freedom. Or maybe it was a lifestyle choice?
So, if that is the case, then how will you make it actually work to achieve your goals?
Do you need to be realistic?
OK, notice I didn’t say total freedom. I said more freedom. If you think you can operate a business and not be involved – let’s get real. It is very difficult. In fact, I am not sure it is possible.
It sounds like one of those fantasies dreamed up by people trying to sell you nothing by pretending it is something. They are spreading around the internet like a massive rash.
Some of the dodgy ones look incredibly like ponzi schemes. A house of cards all ready to collapse and destroy a lot of people’s lives. Anyway, let’s not go there.
The truth is your business needs you. However, you don’t need to spoon feed everyone in your business do you?
How do you stop spoon feeding your team?
By using a procedure manual, quality manual or systems manual. Whatever you want to call it – these things are the best tool ever.
Because they show your team ‘how we do things around here’ and avoid the need for you to repeat yourself over and over again.
Apart from this there are many other benefits for having good quality systems that get updated on a regular basis. This is important – ensuring they are updated.
What are the benefits?
If you operate a small business you might find it overwhelming. It isn’t easy. Dealing with all the issues daily can wear you down really fast. Then, add people into the picture and it becomes a major challenge.
If you are passionate about your business and want to deliver to a high standard, don’t be shocked, it is likely your team probably don’t care. Well maybe not as much as you do.
This is where a system comes into play. A system ensures your team deliver to the standards you the business owner expect. If they don’t, then it is time for a discussion about performance. Maybe they shouldn’t be in your business if they don’t see the value of providing a top quality product or service.
The biggest benefit of getting your system sorted is that you can breathe a sigh of relief – just a bit. You will certainly be able to delegate better in accordance with the ‘rules’ and lead your team to be more responsible for the tasks they complete.
Having rules, procedures and guidelines in place makes a huge difference.
Are you building your system daily?
If you operate a small or medium business, one of your most important tasks is to build your procedure manual – daily.
This means adding content every time someone in your business asks you a question.
Sound like a lot of work? Well – it won’t be a walk in the park but it is achievable. You can also use your team to help you get your system together and achieve progress daily.
Depending on the complexity of your business, you may have a very extensive manual or a simple manual.
What does our manual have?
Our manual is extremely detailed. It has so much stuff in it, it is amazing. And it is constantly growing. Our business is highly technical and therefore requires a lot of information and steps for our team to follow.
You would take a month to read it. We have built it by adding a answer every-time a question is asked.
When new team members arrive in our business, that have a massive resource to refer to. This is so helpful in saving time and allowing the business owner to delegate tasks efficiently. It also improves the quality of our output.
Having a step by step instruction to follow for our team allows them to perform their role more accurately.
What a fantastic tool this really is!
What a fantastic tool
If you are not convinced yet on how good a procedure manual is, then think about your business if you have 10 or 20 team members. It will be very difficult for the business to produce consistent results. I encourage you to grow your business through your procedure manual.
This is steady regular and controlled growth.
What about you?
Where does your manual stand today? Does it have a few pages or does it have hundreds of pages?
What have you found that works and what have you found that doesn’t get used?
Are you searching for a specific manual based around what your business does? For example, if you own a hotel – hotel standard operating procedures. Maybe you own a manufacturing business and therefore require a manufacturing standard operating procedure template. Whatever type of business you operate, finding a SOP manual specific for your business is likely to be quite expensive if it is any good, or just not suitable for your specific organization.
This means you need to create your own from scratch and we all know how much effort that takes. It is a huge task. An alternative is to find a good quality generic template and customize it to suit your business.
Free or not so Free?
Difficult to Find Free Relevant Information
Finding a Free Standard Operating Procedure Template that is suitable for your business is going to be even harder. All we can suggest is to find a generic manual and tailor it to suit your business.
A lot of the free templates online are simple and basic and would need a significant amount of work to make them suitable for your business. Sometimes it could be easier to just start from scratch.
Heavy Customization Required
Remember, these types of templates and documents take a long time to develop. If you purchase a template, you want to be sure it is actually going to be useful for your organization. Either way you are likely to have to customize it to suit your specific team and processes.
These templates will allow you to get started at least.
System Manuals can require a lot of work
Comprehensive and Complex
Generally, system manuals are very comprehensive. Typically a Standard Operating Procedure Manual is a very detailed document. It is unlikely you are going to find the exact type of document for your business if you are looking for a free standard operating procedure template.
However, you can use a template and save a considerable amount of time. There are particular tasks that are similar for most businesses regardless of their type and location.
These things you can replicate easily and save a lot of time and then leave the detailed customization to build as your business grows. We provide a free SOP manual template as a sample to our detailed version which you can check out. It is a basic version but you will be able to use it as a foundation for creating your own manual.
Of course, don’t hesitate to consider purchasing our detailed version if you want to save a ton of time building yours. It really will save you a considerable amount of effort.
What is Available Online?
Free Standard Operating Procedure Template Online Examples
Let’s take a look online to see what we can find and see if there are any useful options available.
A simple search for a free standard operating procedure template in Google brings up a range of results. At time of writing, this post, there were 335 Million results in Google. What a massive amount of information!
Obviously there is going to be a lot of irrelevant information. A number of the top spots are dictated by some of the well know template websites. Let’s take a closer look at those and see if we can find a suitable option for finding a free SOP template. But before we do, let’s take a look quickly at the definition of a SOPMT. (Standard Operating Procedure Manual Template).
What is a Standard Operating Procedure?
Positive Influence on Your Business
So firstly, what is a Standard Operating Procedure? It is a document that assist you in operating your business. It could be very large don’t you think and include many SOP’s.
I know ours is massive. It keeps getting bigger everyday. However, it is detailed and explains a lot of tasks for complex processes in our business.
If it was basic and simple, it would likely not meet the requirements of delivering our service to a high standard. We believe it should be detailed enough for our team to deliver their work to a high standard.
What types of Businesses Use Standard Operating Procedures?
Systems Bring Success
All successful organizations have systems and procedures. A lot of the most successful organizations have very strict procedures and deliver their products and services in accordance with these systems each and every time.
If you have been an employee in a large corporation, you may have had exposure to this. Delivering a product or service to a set quality every time is crucial to the performance of the business.
So where can we find standard operating procedure template suitable for our own business? Let’s check out what is online and see where that takes us.
Organic Search Results
Good Quality Online Options
OK, back to what we can find online. There are some good quality options available and some require a lot of customization and others will require less. It will be difficult to find something specific to your business particularly for free.
Option 1 – Digital Documents Direct
Our free standard operating procedure manual template is a snapshot of what our paid version includes. This template is only a basic version, however you may find it useful for your small business. You can read about our free sample on our sales page. Click the image below to learn more.
Check out our paid version if you require something much more detailed. It is full of standard operating procedures and includes all the detail which you can easily customize to suit your organization.
Option 2 – Smartsheet
The first website that pops up is Smart Sheet. This website has a lot of templates, however let’s look a bit closer at the detail.
This page above at smartsheet has quite a few templates to choose from and they are broken down into different industries. The templates look to be customized and suited to the task. There are a number to choose from including a Help Desk, Hotel Guest Luggage Handling, Laboratory and Warehouse Standard Operating Procedure Templates.
So if your business is any of these then you are likely to find something of value there. However, note that there isn’t a ton of specific detail in each template. You will have to put some effort in to make it suitable for your particular situation.
Also note – smartsheet is not completely free, although you can try their service for free and then pay if you want to continue.
Click the image above or go to their homepage here: SmartSheet
Option 3 – Word Templates Online
OK, the next one is Word Templates Online. This website has a lot of templates that might be suitable for your organization. There are also plenty of links to check out.
If you scroll down a bit there is a definition of a Standard Operating Procedure and also instructions on How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure which is great.
Taking a look at the next option it is Process St. This website shows a lot of detail about how to create SOP’s. There is a ton of information and also some good videos that are going to go a long way in helping you create your Standard Operating Procedures.
Process Street also have a list of customized templates for particular industries, so this is also worth checking out. There are numerous free templates available if you hunt through the text, although they are fairly generic.
Process Street is not free, however there are plenty of free resources on their site with regard to Standard Operating Procedure Templates that are worth checking out. You should be able to find some free generic templates.
Template.net has a bunch of templates available for consideration.
There are a ton of SOP templates to consider. Some of them are blank and some of them are from other organizations. It might take sometime to wade through all the results, however you might be able to find something useful in there. All of these templates are free.
Different Types of Standard Operating Procedures
There are obviously many different types of SOP Manuals across many industries. For example, lets take a look at this example which below which explains the purpose of SOPs from aircraft manufacturers.
You can see that in this example, SOP are instruction tools used to communicate how to operate the aircraft or abide by regulations.
Standard Operating Checklists
Checklists Mean Quality
If you don’t have checklists in your business you need to get them ASAP. It might seem pretty obvious, however this simple tool makes a massive difference to your whole organization. It is really the only way to ensure quality through others which is the key to building your business.
Quality is built around checklists. It’s not really rocket science. If you want high standards for your business you need your quality control to have a benchmark.
A benchmark is your checklists.
Checklists should be simple, easy to follow and step by step. Combine a checklist with a procedure and your quality system is looking pretty good – don’t you think?
Checklist Template Free Download
We use a lot of checklists in our business. They have become very useful to ensure complex issues are not forgotten and quality is delivered.
Team members may not like using them at first, however once they get used to them, the difference is dramatic. All of a sudden things will get done correctly. So if you have a quality control issue in your business, then you should consider checklists immediately.
Check out a simple checklist below. All it does is list out the tasks required in order. You as the operator of the business should have an intimate knowledge of the process required or at least a detailed understanding though other team members so you can assist them in creating the right checklists that ensure perfect quality in your organization.
If you want to see what a checklist in Word format then we have created a link for you below to download it. It’s just a simple example of a checklist you could have for any task in your organization. However, feel free to use it as a base template if you need to.
What about Innovation?
SOP checklists are great for ensuring your core business is delivered each and every time to a certain standard. However, what about innovation, creativity and principles that may not necessarily have a tick box to complete?
It will depend on the type of business you have. So let’s firstly take a look at that and determine what your business is and what you are trying to achieve with it. It makes a difference on how you set your system up.
What type of business do you have?
A Simple Business
These types of businesses include small organizations such as a burger bar, coffee shop, takeaway or retail goods outlet. They are pretty simple. Get product from the wholesaler and sell it at a higher margin. There is not much complexity going on here.
This applies somewhat to a manufacturing business as well. Manufacturing may not be as simple, however portions of the manufacturing process can be relatively simple. You might require a manufacturing standard operating procedure template that you could use over and over again.
Your business might have a set product, set market and set deliverables. If you want an autonomous business, then this is what you should aim for. You then just need to keep on top of industry trends and the marketplace and ensure the demand doesn’t change – and if it does, then adapt.
A Complex Business
However, what if you have a business that is more complex? You are likely to need to innovate. Design, invent, create and deliver. A much more complex arrangement. How do you drive innovation through systems for these types of businesses?
Innovation can be a little more difficult to rollout throughout your organization. It comes back to culture, your team, their experience, their drive, their beliefs and how much risk they take. Also, management and leadership from the top influences everything.
If you cannot setup a system that drives innovation, then your business will stay where it is.
Build Your System Around Your Business Type
The question is – what type of business do you have and what type of business do you want?
A business that just produces income for you without you being involved or a complex business that you are fully immersed in, to change the world?
They are 2 different types and should be setup differently. A business that just produces income autonomously is likely to be a more simple business that has a core deliverable and focuses on this only.
A complex business will have challenges with innovation and creativity and therefore is likely to be the type of business where the operator or owner is fully immersed in the business. Thrilling stuff.
Sections of a Comprehensive Standard Operating Procedure Manual
Reduce Overwhelming Complexity
Business can be a complex beast. Even simple business can be overwhelming. Get online and you will be swamped with the massive amount of information on how to operate or structure your business. A lot of it is fluff.
Let’s get real though. Basically – you have a product or service and you sell it at a higher price than it takes to produce to make a profit. That’s it really.
6 Pillars or Sections for Your Standard Operating Procedure Manual or Operations Manual
Pillar 1 Product or Service
Pillar 2 Administration
Pillar 3 Operations
Pillar 4 Human Resources
Pillar 5 Finance
Pillar 6 Marketing
They are 6 solid pillars you can operate your business around. Get those sections into your Standard Operating Procedure Manual and you are well on your way to creating a solid business.
Let’s take a look at these sections in detail.
Pillar 1 – The Organization and it’s Product or Service
Section Contents You need to be clear about this one. What is your product or service? Is there demand for your product or service? This section of your SOPMT should be descriptive and outline all the products or services you sell.
It can also include all the general things such as company details and organization structure. Fun stuff!
Required Documentation There is probably not a great deal of procedures and checklists required for this section. It in more explanatory and informative for your team.
Pillar 2 – Administration
Section Contents A major component of any business, this part of your business assists operations to help the organization operate smoothly.
Required Documentation Checklists and procedures required for this section.
Pillar 3 – Operations
Section Contents This one can be complex. How to deliver your product or service and who is in charge of what. Get this large section of your SOPMT sorted and your business will be well on it’s way to delivering quality to your customers.
Required Documentation Checklists and procedures required for this section. Checklists for quality control and procedures for how to deliver.
Pillar 4 – Human Resources
Section Contents People are a major part of most businesses and therefore need their own section. This section should be about how to manage the human side of your organization. Easier said than done.
Required Documentation Policies required for this section including expected behavior, entitlements and conflict resolution strategies.
Pillar 5 – Finance
Section Contents Tax, profit, turnover, forecasting and all those great number games happen in this section. Don’t forget your professional advice from your accountant.
Required Documentation Checklists and procedures required for this section also. Have tax requirements been met? Profit and loss reporting and a range of other reporting to provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions.
Pillar 6 – Marketing
Section Contents Marketing is an all important section and includes sales, customer fulfillment, satisfaction and delivery of what we say we are going to do. Not always easy when those operations guys want to do it their way!
Required Documentation Finally, checklists about what needs to be done in terms of marketing, quality control and message control and procedures on how to deliver the marketing through all the relevant channels such as media, social media, website and other communication methods.
So there are 5 basic pillars to start your SOPMT off with. These pillars could be elaborated on further depending on your business.
Using MS Word to Create a Standard Operating Procedure Manual
A very simple way to create your SOP Manual is to use MS Word. You could also create your standard operating procedure manual with Google docs. Both ways are very fast and cost effective ways to get started. However, if you intend to create something substantial, you will need to consider it’s growth.
If you have just started your business then the cheapest way to create a manual is to get 5 MS Word templates and split them up into 5 sections of your business. You could start with something similar to the above. General, Operations, Marketing, Human Resources and Finance.
This will allow you to establish a decent manual reasonably quickly. Once you get your files set up you can add the relevant information and then go ahead and add all the SOP’s required for each section.
Team members may not need to use a section of the manual that is not relevant to them, so it makes sense to split it up in accordance with the correct department.
As your business grows you can add to each file and then go ahead and find a system that may allow you to grow even further as you move away from MS Word.
Watch this video: Standard Operating Procedure Template for Your Company (05 mins 50 sec)
Here is a very informative video from You Tube about creating your own Standard Operating Procedures.
What A Basic MS Word SOP Might Look Like
OK, so we all know MS Word is pretty simple and a good tool to create documents with. If you are on a budget, then it is a good way to create an SOP easily and best of all fast.
You can roll an SOP out to your team in minutes. You don’t have to worry about logons, memberships or whatever else that will slow you down. You can get the critical content into the MS Word doc and send it all in a matter of minutes.
This is the advantage of using something like MS Word to create your SOP’s. Flexible, easy to use, fast and communicates the content well enough. So check out the really simple example below. This is just created in MS Word and can be a standard template that you could use if your business is relatively simple and not too complex.
The Easiest Way to Create an SOP
Steps to Successful SOP’s
The fastest and easiest way to create an SOP is to document it step by step. Just do it in MS Word. You will be done in 5 minutes. Forget the fancy graphics and all the flow chart explanations. How are you get going to possibly keep updating those things for the whole of your business?
Procedures change all the time. They are constantly tweaked.
Maybe once you have your system outlined and documented you can start thinking about graphics. However, imagine trying to do this for the your whole business from day 1?
Just document the steps.
Surely this is the fastest and easiest way to start a SOP and get it out to your team to review, amend and implement don’t you think?
You might find it difficult to read or follow, unless it has graphics. Possibly it is.
However, getting the process right is the first priority, so focus on that. Getting the steps right is critical. Errors will effect customers and potentially the perception of your business. So it makes sense to get the steps correct first so the quality of output leaving your business is kept high.
So there are a few items to consider if you are looking for a free SOP manual template. Plenty of things to consider there and also don’t forget to check out Digital Documents Direct Standard Operating Procedure Manual Template if you need something more detailed.
If you have a small or medium business and are struggling or if you have just started your business we highly recommend you start on your Operating Procedure Manual now.
Put everything else aside for at least a day or two until you can get your system setup in heading in the right direction. This is a massive task however it will add a bucket load of value to your business.
Think about it This Way
Think about it this way. If you are wanting to sell your business in the future and you are not involved in the day to day operations, you potentially have a very valuable business.
However, if you are right in there everyday pulling all the strings and still operating the organization, it won’t be such an attractive buy for anyone, if at all.
This is all underpinned by your Operating Procedures. These things are not just there to make something look nice or gather dust on the shelf. They are there because they are the foundation of your organization and add significant value.
Get this right and you will either have a very good business that supports a lot of people and/or a very sell-able business.
Get started today!
Got any comments? Feel free to leave a comment below.