No matter what industry you find yourself in – from accounting to design to photography – a detailed procedure manual is absolutely essential to long-term growth and success. A procedure manual allows you to deliver a consistent product, every time, without missing a single step. As a photographer and creative, I feel my procedure manual is one of the most important parts of my business that literally no one but my team sees- but it’s what keeps everything together!! Today, I want to share a few reasons why I believe they are important AND explain how to start creating a procedure manual for your business.
Why Are Procedure Manuals so Important?
It allows you to:
- Deliver a consistent product
- Prepare for future growth
- Become more efficient and save time
- Store a resource for training current and future team members
- Make fewer mistakes and not let deliverables fall through the cracks
- Deliver the best possible client experience every time!
That sounds great, where do I start?
How to Start Creating a Procedure Manual
The procedure manual goes hand-in-hand with your workflow. Think of your workflows and systems (procedures) as a recipe.
Your workflow is the list of ingredients (“create timeline” “cull photos” “title blog with SEO tactics” etc.). Your procedure is the actual description of what to do with the ingredients! Aka HOW do you create the wedding day timeline… what’s the system? How do you cull? What program? How do you import the photos and to what folder on your harddrive? What keys do you use to cull? What do you look for? What blog title template should you follow?
Let’s dream. Say you “call in sick” the day after shooting a wedding. Your amazing team member walks into the office with confidence. He/she opens your workflow and procedure manual for the “day-after wedding day” and completes every step exactly the same way you would. When you return to work the next day, you are ready to pick up right where they left off. (Queue sounds of victory trumpets)
Simply put, procedures provide the exact structure and process for running your business smoothly.
What is a standard operating procedure?
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a written out description or procedure of exactly what needs to be done. Instead of just listing a task name, like those that appear in your workflow, the SOP includes a description of the task and what it takes to perform it.
This is the most detailed option. A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a written out description or procedure of exactly what needs to be done. Instead of just listing a task name, like those that appear in your workflow, the SOP includes a description of the task and what it takes to perform it.
Here’s an example of one of my procedures for creating a new folder in Lightroom:
- Copy “Wedding Folder to COPY” and Rename for new client
- Folder in the My Lightroom Photos LLP—> on LAURALEE5 Harddrive.
- Make a copy the folder labeled “WEDDING FOLDER TO COPY” and rename it for client.
- Rename sequence: (YYYY-MM-DD Bride and Groom Wedding)
- Then make a copy of this folder on the DROBO as well.
- My Lightroom Photos LLP—>(2018) —> (2018 Weddings – or whatever folder it belongs in)
Detailed descriptions of your steps act as a reference point for you or anyone on your team if you encounter something on the workflow that needs explanation or a simple reminder. Better yet, when you are growing your team you won’t waste time explaining every detail of your workflow – you can just direct them to the source of information!
To begin writing your procedures, here are a few steps you should follow:
Step 1: Choose a place to house your SOP.
When you are beginning the process of writing your formal SOP’s, it is important to select a place to store these procedure manuals. Whichever you choose, it is important to stay organized from the very beginning. It can be:
- Google Doc
- Process Street
I recommend writing out all of your procedures in Asana (or your preferred task management system) because it gives you room to write out the descriptions (like the one shown above). I have an entire “Asana team” called templates and workflows where I have the entire workflow AND the procedures written out.
Step 2: Write out your Workflow in a Simple Linear Checklist
The next step is writing out your workflow. Your workflow will include the tasks, subtasks, emails, sections, questionnaires, meetings, and more than you need to do to finish the project.
Checklists are quick, easy to follow bullet points or descriptive statements.
Once you have your checklist (or bulleted list) created, review it to make sure there are no gaps or bottlenecks in the process. You want the person reading this to easily follow and implement without any questions or confusion. I find it helpful to test the checklist before you hand it off. Even further, revisit the checklist, later on, test, and update as needed.
Within your workflow, it’ll be important to also include any people who are involved in the process and make sure the tasks are clearly assigned to them. If you have a team member or assistant who is responsible for the task, figure out a system to make sure they’re assigned and know the task belongs to them (whether you need to color code or actually assign it to them within your task management system)
Step 3: Determine the Goal
Once you have your workflow checklist created, you’ll be in a position where you can start creating your procedure manual. So with this step, determine the goal of your procedure manual. Is it to train new team members? Detail processes to avoid mistakes down the road? Better your team’s efficiency and productivity? All of the above?
These questions will help you determine how detailed you need to be, whether you should use videos, screenshots, or just text when writing your procedures.
Step 4: Start Writing and Recording
Once steps 1-3 are complete, you can start writing and recording your procedures! Our team does this in two ways:
We use Asana and write out the description of how to perform the task in the description on the card.
When you’re writing, be concise, include screenshots where necessary, use actionable commands and write in quick sentences or bullet points.
We use Loom a free chrome app, to record video procedures. You can record your screen and file it into a folder in your free Loom account. You can even create different folders such as a “Photography Procedures Folder” or “Blogging Procedures Folder” for quick reference later on!
Step 5: Review for any Gaps or Bottlenecks in the Process
The biggest question and hesitation I get from people wanting to use workflows in their business is what if they change? My answer: they’ll always be changing! You’ll always be bettering yourself and your business and finding even more ways to streamline and make things more efficient.
Technology is ever-changing and maybe the apps you use change, or you realize there are some FAQs from clients that can be answered even better. Your procedures can always be updated and improved… so as you begin using your workflows and systems in business, if you find you’re still having bottlenecks in certain areas, make a change! Your business will continue to be better for it!
However, you decide to create and record procedure manuals for your business just remember, your hard work on the front end will continue to benefit you for months and years to come. Investing time in the foundation of your business will allow you to scale your business, deliver an exceptional client experience, and grow your team with ease. All of which will increase your bottom line AND save you time. It’s a win-win-win!