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BI 245: Sophie Howard’s Highly Unique Method For Building Million Dollar Private Label Brands

How to Write a Highly Effective SOP

Today I’m going to teach you how to write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)… and not just any SOP. Today, we are going to examine the process that my team and I use to create truly epic SOPs.

But first we are going to talk about Bob and his floundering eCommerce business…

Meet Bob

Bob owns an eCommerce business that does $3M a year with a 4% net profit margin.

Bob is frustrated that his revenue has plateaued, his employee turnover is too high, and his profits are too low.

Each day, Bob is involved in virtually every decision. He considers his employees to be a liability and wonders why they don’t just step up to the plate.

Most days, Bob loathes going to work because he knows that is going to be yet another day of putting out fires, dealing with employee drama, managing unhappy customers, and receiving not nearly enough profits to justify all the BS he has to put up with.

For the last two years Bob’s business has been in a rut, his staff is unhappy, and Bob is starting to think about selling his company because he now hates his job.

No matter what Bob tries, nothing changes and he’s ready to throw in the towel.

Sadly, what Bob doesn’t realize is that he is the architect of this entire mess.

What is Bob Missing?

The reason that Bob’s business is such a poor performer is that now that it is large enough to need a team of people to do the work, Bob has become the bottleneck.

Bob is the bottleneck because he’s never taken the time to document any of the processes for all the things that need to be done every day – day in, and day out. This fact, combined with the high employee turnover that is the byproduct of Bob’s approach, means that Bob is the only person on his team who knows how to do everything.

Sure, Bob can train his employees to do the work and hope they remember it correctly, but as soon as one leaves, he’s got to start all over again and invest heaps of his own time in training the new person.

Bob’s business has become a never ending hamster wheel of mediocrity and Bob wants it to end!

What Bob doesn’t realize is that if he had documented processes for product sourcing, advertising, shipping, product prep, etc… his company would completely transform itself into a highly efficient, more profitable enterprise that would then continue to prosper without Bob having to be involved in absolutely everything, all the time.

With documented processes in place, Bob wouldn’t have to be involved in every decision and most every task on a daily basis, and that would free up Bob to invest time in working on his business, instead of drowning working in his business every single day.

Why SOPs Are So Critical

Thankfully, in my own career as an entrepreneur, I was never Bob.

Fortunately for me, many years ago, shortly after starting my first company, someone told me about a book called the eMyth and reading that book completely changed my idea of how to run a company.

Now, each time I have started a new company, the first thing I do is begin to document our business processes and the results have been nothing short of amazing.

Thanks to having documented processes in place, I was able to spend all my time working on (not in) my first company – which made it much more valuable to another owner – and I was able to sell that business for 7 figures.

More recently, my obsession with SOPs allowed my Amazon wholesale business to grow from zero to over $100,000 per month – and if that wasn’t enough, I was also able to completely delegate myself out of that business’ day to day operations in under a year. Today, it continues to flourish without any of my day to day involvement.

As a business owner, you should be obsessed with SOPs for the following reasons:

  • Having them in place increases the value of your company to the next owner because it doesn’t rely on you
  • SOPs help to increase growth and profits
  • SOPs makes team building far easier and reduces turnover
  • Having SOPs ensures consistent execution and reduces errors
  • Having SOPs makes outsourcing to virtual assistants far easier and that saves big money (vs hiring US based employees)
  • With SOPs in place, you will spend far less time working in your business fighting fires
  • With SOPs in place, you will attain a level of freedom that you never though possible

How Many SOPs Do You Need?

In my company, we have SOPs for everything. In fact, the going joke around the office is that if you are going to fart, you’d better have an SOP for it.

But what if you are just starting out? How many SOPs do you need?

The answer is that you need only one. The first one.

After that, you can create another, and another, and another.

Over time, you will end up having them for every process on which your company relies. But the thought of that is probably overwhelming (I don’t have time for this!) so I suggest you start with just one.

In my company, I started with product sourcing because in the very beginning that was the most important activity – and it was the thing that I needed the most help with. Oddly enough, product sourcing is still our most important activity because it is the thing that causes growth – and if you aren’t growing, you are dying – simple as that.

What Format Should You Use for SOPs?

When it comes to creating SOPs there are two popular methods.

The first method is to simply shoot a screencast video with you explaining how to do the thing you are doing. The advantage of the method is that SOPs can be created quickly.

Unfortunately, video-based SOPs come with some serious drawbacks, and that is the reason we don’t use them.

For example, over time, as your library of SOPs grows (which it will), you are going to have an every increasing volume of out of date SOPs and you will need to invest significant time in re-shooting or editing your videos. As a result, you are most likely going to let things slip – which defeats the purpose entirely.

The second major drawback of video is that they can’t be turned into a workflow (a checklist) and as a result, you will not be able to turn portions of the workflow into semi-automations that will save your employees time and reduce errors. More on this later.

So now that I’ve pooped on video-based SOPs, let me introduce you to the only other obvious method: text + images.

In my company, all our SOPs are documents that consist of text, images, checkboxes, and so forth.

Here’s an example. In the image below is a screenshot of just one of the ten steps that make up our podcast production SOP.

 

As you can see in the screenshot above, there is text, and image, and a checkbox. Hopefully you noticed that there is also to buttons at the top to assign this step to someone else, as well as give it a due date.

The only drawback of text + image SOPs like ours is that they take longer to create. However, the major benefits of our approach far outweigh this one drawback.

With text-based SOPs, you will realize the following significant benefits:

  • Keeping all your SOPs up to date requires dramatically less time than if they were video based because you can easily change any small portion of the SOP (vs re-shooting the entire video)
  • You can turn your SOPs into workflows where your staff can literally check off each step as they go through the SOP; thereby ensuring that nothing is skipped
  • You can easily delegate the entire SOP, or just portions of it, to whoever on your team you like, and then give them a due date
  • You can easily create semi-automations where a adding a check or completing a step of the SOP automatically causes something to happen in another one of the applications you use (which saves you mouse clicks and reduces errors)

How to Create Your First SOP

Creating SOPs this way is actually far simpler that you might think.

All we do is this: we perform the task in question, and as we are doing that, we are taking screenshots and simultaneously creating the SOP.

In other words, just perform the task and document it as you go. That way, you will ensure that you haven’t missed anything.

Mistakes to Avoid

While creating SOPs is a pretty simple process, there are still some mistakes to avoid.

Not enough detail: This is by far the biggest mistake. Just because you have done this task a zillion times, doesn’t mean the next person has, and as such, you need to ensure that your SOPs leaves nothing to chance.

Every step must include absolutely every last detail. If you include a screenshot, it should have red arrows and text on it that make it totally obvious what the click path is.

Too few screenshots: People are visual creatures and screenshots are free. We use a lot of screenshots in our SOPs and I strongly recommend you use as many as you can.

Non-binary decisions: A binary decision is a decision that is either a yes or a no and making that decision requires as little prior experience (judgement) as possible. Ideally, making that decision requires zero prior experience.

If a process requires the person doing the job to have extensive experience and then rely on that experience to decide what to do, in my experience, that makes for a less-effective SOP.

When it comes to creating SOPs for a virtual assistant, we focus on making them as binary as possible. If a process requires more non-binary decisions, our SOP will reflect that, and it will mostly likely never be assigned to a VA.

No due date: This one isn’t as obvious in the beginning, but take my word for it. As the size of your team grows, and the volume of processes increases, being able to assign a due date that will trigger an email alert to you and whoever you assigned the task to is going to be absolutely critical to your ability to maintain a smooth operation.

Creating SOPs in a Google doc: While better than nothing, creating your SOPs in a google doc actually comes with all sorts of limitations.

For example, how do you assign a due date? You could use Trello, which would be better than nothing, but wouldn’t it be better to put them in an app that is specifically designed to house SOPs instead of using yet another app?

As your SOPs get longer, being able to assign various sub-steps of the SOPs to various people on your team using Trello would become something of a nightmare to manage.

If you put your SOPs in a Google doc, how are you going to trigger actions in the other apps you use? How are you going to upload files and images that are required for the specific instance of that workflow?

For example, each time we produce a podcast episode, the guest bio and headshot change and our SOP software easily allows us to upload these items to the workflow as we are running it.

If you put your SOPs in a Google doc, your ability to create semi-automated workflows is going to be zero and zero is bad. Stay away from zero.  :)

The Benefits of Using Dedicated SOP Software

Unlike a static Google doc, dedicated SOP software will allow provide a set of features that will allow you to realize some pretty significant benefits.

Semi-Automation – Whenever I build an SOP, I’m constantly looking for ways to eliminate extra mouse clicks as doing so not only saves me time, but it will also reduce errors.

For example, if a given step of a process requires that the user switch over to Hubspot or Trello to either update a field on a contact record or create a new Trello card, instead of simply adding a static checkbox in the SOP that tells them to do that, I prefer to use Zapier to make a zap that connects my SOP software to these applications so that when the user puts a check in the check box, the desired action is automatically completed (all thanks to the zap), and voila, my SOP just became semi-automated!

Data Collection – In my businesses, certain SOPs require data to be entered by the person who is executing the SOP. An example of this is the SOP for my podcast. Each time we execute this SOP, the associated data (guest’s email address, phone number, headshot, bio, link to website, show notes, etc…) changes and we need a way to store all this data right within the SOP.

This is yet another way that the SOP software we use has significantly streamlined our operations because it allows a user to create data entry fields right within the SOP template and then determine if these fields are mandatory or optional. That way the person executing the SOP can’t forget to enter the data!

Embed Video – Often times, embedding a short video in an SOP template makes it far easier to provide instructions to the people who are going to use the SOP on an ongoing basis and while it is definitely possible to insert a link to a video into a Google doc, with the SOP software we use, we can now easily embed the video file direction into the SOP so that the user doesn’t have to leave the app in order to view the video.

Delegation – In my books, the primary reason to have SOPs is so that I can delegate my work to someone else on my team as well as to ensure that they perform the task in the exact way that I want it done.

Whenever I delegate a task, two important questions must be answered: who am I delegating this to, and when is it due? Back when we used to keep our SOPs in Google docs, I relied on Trello to manage this process so that both myself and the person I delegated the task to would receive an email reminder when the task was due.

The problem with this approach is that it required the use of another app. These days, the SOP software we use provides this functionality right in the app so there is no need to take the extra step of creating a Trello card. Not only that, with the app that we use, users can @mention each other in the comments section as well as upload any files (such as screenshots) that might be required to facilitate the discussion.

Team Management – Once you start to delegate tasks to your team, you will soon realize that you need a way to keep on top of all the tasks that have been delegated to all the various people on your team. When we used Google docs, this was very challenging. Now, thanks to the SOP software that we use, I can easily see all the tasks I’ve assigned to my team, their various due dates, as well as how close they are to completion; all in a nice visual dashboard. Suffice to say, this makes it far easier for me to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

What Next?

Now that you’ve read about how we create an SOP and all the benefits of using them in your business, you might be thinking that you’d like to get started using them.

If that is the case, the app that we created for our internal operations is just about ready for customers to sign up – and you can get on the waiting list by clicking the button below.

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How I Went From Welfare to Millionaire

A while back I published a post about how I failed my way to success and in that post, I shared the specific tactics that I used to achieve my goals.

In today’s post, I would like to dive a little deeper into the mindset needed, as well as to share a bit more of my personal story – all in the hopes that learning more about the adversity that I overcame along my journey will help you to overcome any adversity in yours.

Ready? Good! Lets dive in….

Poverty = Violence

When I was very young, my parents were poor to middle class. In other words, they always were stressed about money – or at least it seemed that way to me when I was a young kid.

Unfortunately, this money stress often lead to violent outbursts that were really scary to be around and it was from these outbursts that my child-mind concluded that a lack of money = violence in the household.

Of course, as an adult, I now realize that rich people can be violent, too. However, as a kid, I couldn’t see this and my belief that poverty = violence served as an extremely powerful motivator for me.

Looking back, I strongly remember two things: how much I hate violence, and how I always knew that I’d be rich (some day) – and these powerful beliefs both played a key role in the decisions I made about my career.

Going Bankrupt

My Dad was really good at some very important things; like spending time with me and being a supportive father who instilled in me the belief that I could do anything I wanted in life.

Sadly, he wasn’t so good with money and went bankrupt twice.

The first time was in 1981 when I was 11. If you are too young to remember what happened in 1981, ask your parents. Interest rates when through the roof and a lot of people went bankrupt. My father was one of them.

After going broke and losing our home, we found ourselves living in a welfare apartment, eating a lot of Kraft macaroni, and sitting on the ugliest green couch you’ve ever seen.

As I was only 11, this experience didn’t have the devastating negative impact on me that I think it had on my dad.

As an adult now, I can only imagine how failing financially must have made him feel. The one thing that I do know is that his self-confidence took a major beating – which as you might guess, had a very long lasting negative impact on his ability to bounce back to prosperity.

For me, living in the welfare apartment, eating macaroni, and seeing my dad have such a tough go had only one really lasting impact – it created a burning desire to succeed in life – even though I was only 11 at the time.

Key Take Away: Many very successful people have gone bankrupt at some point in their careers and instead of letting their circumstances permanently defeat them, they maintained a positive outlook, took a lot of action, and bounced back.

Fueling Your Desire

Sadly, I often hear from people who believe that the only thing standing between them and their millions is the next big idea, training course, set of SOPs, or whatever else you can think of.

Sadly, all these folks are mistaken. Their lack of success is rarely due to a lack of any of the above.

Based upon my experience, the biggest thing that people lack is desire – supported by the right mindset and hard work.

Building a business takes time. There is no easy button, and you should expect to fail more often than you succeed. My own journey has been evidence of that.

The same can be said for the 250+ entrepreneurs I have interviewed on my podcast. There isn’t a single one of them who succeeded overnight without failing numerous times along the way.

So how does desire fit into this?

Simple. If your desire….or put another way… if your reason why isn’t strong enough, then when times are tough it becomes all too easy to give up to chase the next shiny object.

Key Take Away: There is no easy button, and you should expect to fail more often than you succeed.

My Big Why

When I was a kid, the reason why I wanted to be rich was so that there wouldn’t be any violence (due to a lack of money) in my life.

As I said earlier, this is a flawed belief, but it was extremely powerful at the time.

These days my big why is pretty simple. I want to ensure that my family has enough wealth – which for me is passive income – so that no matter what happens, we always have choices that wouldn’t be available to us if we didn’t have the wealth.

I guess this could also be described another way. My #1 value is freedom; which I define as having the ability to make my own choices about how I spend my time, where I live, who I interact with, etc… and to achieve that kind of freedom requires a certain level of passive income (aka: wealth).

Key Take Away: Without a strong enough why, maintaining a high level of motivation is more difficult.

Mindset

By now, I hope that you are starting to realize (if you hadn’t already), that your mindset is absolutely key to your success.

The biggest mistakes that I see people making are that they expect success to come too quickly. The reality is that success rarely comes fast – even for the people who grace the cover of your favorite business magazine.

As a student of business for the last two decades, I have come to realize that in order to achieve a very high level of success, I’m going to need to practice my craft for thousands of hours. Only then can I expect to become a true expert.

My path over the last 9 years is a perfect example of this.

After selling my offline business in 2008 for just over $1M, I realized that in the next phase of my career, I wanted to build a successful online business and to do that was going to require me to learn a lot of new skills.

For the first seven of these 9 years, I experienced moderate success, but never made anywhere near the amount of money that I’m making now.

The lesson here is this: if you don’t expect to fail a few times along the way (or many times in my case!), then you are simply setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.

Instead of seeing each failure as just that, we all have the choice to see that failure as just another ‘opportunity for education’ that is a required part of the process of ultimately becoming successful.

As evidence of this, in my reading yesterday I came across this post from the Shopify blog that shares the story of several part time entrepreneurs who eventually, over a period of years (not weeks or months) were able to transition to full time and quit their jobs.

I’ve not yet interviewed any of these folks on my podcast, but if I do, I will guarantee you that all of them experienced numerous failures along the way and the only reason each succeeded was because they didn’t give up too soon.

Key Take Away: Attitude, supported by a plan and massive action, is a recipe for success.

Successful Entrepreneurs are Resilient People

When I look at my own journey, or the journey of the many people I’ve interviewed on my show, the common character trait is resilience.

Without resilience, your chances of success are zero because when things get really difficult, getting through those times can be really hard. That is why you must develop your resilience.

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. If you are resilient, you possess toughness – and that is the fuel that will carry you through the ‘valleys of death’ that await you on your path to success.

So how does one become resilient? The short answer is that you need to practice and study the art of resilience. When I typed how to develop resilience into Google, there were plenty of results to read.

Key Take Away: Resilient people understand that setbacks are a natural part of the process so when they occur, they remind themselves that, relative to the end goal, today’s setback is no big deal.

Strategies and Tactics

I have already written about the specific strategies and tactics that I have used to become a millionaire so I won’t get into them again here.

What I will say is this; I believe that one of the most important things you can do to stack the cards in your favor is to hang around other people who either have similar goals to you, or are already in the place you want to be.

The reason that I believe this is so important is because when you spend time with others on the same mission, you pave the way for shared learning (a huge time saver!) and support.

This is the #1 reason I spend tens of thousands per year on mastermind groups and professional development. I see my brain as a muscle and in order to make it stronger, it needs regular stretching and exercise!

What Do You Think?

Have questions, thoughts or a personal story to share? Please take a moment and leave a comment below.

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