A woman sitting at a window counter uses her laptop while holding her cell phone in her left hand.

This page contains affiliate links to products on Amazon and other affiliate partners. We may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through one of these links, at no additional cost to you.

So much of what we do as business owners is finding ways to take the guesswork out of decision making so that day-to-day tasking eventually generates meaningful achievements; defining business processes is simply how we do that when we don’t have an operations manager

“Business processes” is one of those phrases that gets tossed around in the business world with about as much restraint as sticky notes. Like any catchphrase, it’s quick to gain meaning and hold weight, and just as quick to lose meaning to mindless parroting. 

Processes after all are just “things we do;” and business processes, “things we do as a business.” That’s a lot to define in a word, but that’s kind of the point. Having a term for “the things we do as a business” invites us to define the things we do as a business; and defining business processes brings intention into our day-to-day work, so that we are actively choosing exactly what we are doing and why. 

As any operations manager worth their salt will tell you, defining business processes is one of the most important things you can do for the success of your business. And this is equally true for 1500-employee companies and two-person companies. But where a 1500-employee company likely has an operations management department, you have you. So what does operations management mean for you and your business?

A woman with long blonde hair wearing a white peacoat looks in the distance with a smile on her face, holding a cell phone in her right hand and a tablet in her left hand.

Being Your Own Operations Manager

Defining operations management looks a little bit different for every business, but essentially it is the strategic development and management of all day-to-day activity that happens under the roof of your business—activities like: 

  • Product development or service delivery
  • Inventory and resource management
  • Financial reporting and analysis
  • Stakeholder communication

The goal in operating all of this strategically is to optimize efficiency, improve performance, and ultimately increase your profitability as a business. The key to doing so is—you guessed it—business processes. 

A man wearing a blue collared t-shirt sits at his desk typing on his laptop while looking at a larger computer monitor.

What Are Business Processes?

Yes, “business processes” is basically a fancy way of saying “the things we do as a business.” But beyond that, it specifies order and intention. A business process is a consistent series of steps that’s completed to produce a predictable outcome.

The good news? If you are operating a business, you’ve already formed business processes. Every time you repeat what you’ve done to replicate previous results, you’re executing your process. When you make a sale, your process might go something like this: 

  • Receive a product order or service request.
  • Deliver the product or service.
  • Send a billing invoice. 
  • Receive payment. 
  • Update your records.

Whatever your process is, you likely do it about the same each time, because by leaning on the cycle of what you’ve done before and the outcome you know it produced, you achieve predictability and save time. 

This proclivity for habitual repetition is why processes work for us, but habit should not determine how they’re formed. Your role as operations manager is to leverage the repetitive nature of processes so that each collection of tasks doesn’t just produce an outcome, but produces the outcome that most meaningfully contributes to your goals. This is why defining business processes, not just falling into them, is so important.

Why Do Business Processes Matter? 

Business processes are the golden thread that weaves through every aspect of your business and binds them to your goals. They keep you on track by saving you time and money. 

  • Built-in goal orientation: Business processes provide a structured framework for accomplishing your big-picture goals, so that you and your team can work with intention and purpose, without you constantly having to redefine objectives. 
  • Efficiency and seamlessness across teams: By strategically outlining how information should flow within and between departments, you can minimize bottlenecks, reduce errors, and ensure that clients are receiving consistent, quality deliverables—without you having to step in every time. 
  • Intentional, time-saving delegation: You can’t delegate if you don’t know what you’re delegating. Establishing business processes enables you to pass off routine or administrative tasks to team members or virtual assistants, allowing you to focus on strategic decision-making and high-value activities that directly contribute to business growth.

Business Processes vs Standard Operating Procedures 

Business processes and standard operating procedures are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not quite the same, though they are related. Standard operating procedures (or SOPs) are essentially how we go about defining business processes and what they actually entail—how we break processes down into clear, actionable steps for repeated use. 

SOPs are the specific tasks or steps that make up a business process. For example, within a sales process, the process item might be “Receive a website service request,” and your SOP for that part of the process might go something like this:

  1. Upon receiving a website service request from a client, carefully review it to ensure you have sufficient information, including:
    • Essential detail 1
    • Essential detail 2
    • Essential detail 3
  2. Analyze the scope of the project to determine its feasibility and alignment with your team’s capabilities. Assess the availability and expertise of your web designers and developers.
  3. If there are any completion limitations or questions for the client, address those promptly via [mode of communication]. 
  4. Once all details have been received from the client, delegate the service project to the available team member.
  5. Update the client with the status of their project and a predicted timeline. 

Why Does Defining Business Processes Matter?

Establishing business processes is a crucial first step, but it will only take you so far if the processes are not defined, broken down, and documented for reference. It’s defining business processes that will actually ensure that every aspect of your business is moving swiftly and in the direction of your goals.

Defining business processes and writing SOPs ensures that your process strategy makes it out of your head and into practice. And yes, this is important even when you are a solo or near solo operation. At first glance, it might seem unnecessarily tedious to write down everything you’re doing, but here are just a few reason why it’s not:

  • Quality Assurance: Just think about how many times you’ve forgotten the ice because you didn’t add it to your grocery list. Defining business processes and writing SOPs reduces the risk of mistakes—even if you know the process like the back of your hand. 
  • Quicker Delegation: By thoroughly defining business processes once, you save yourself hours of delegation time, as well as allow yourself to pass off low-level work to an admin or virtual assistant with a much better chance of accuracy.
  • Easier Onboarding: Defining business processes leads to simpler, quicker onboarding for new hires, getting them to work faster and saving you training time.
  • Consistency: Well-defined business processes promote consistency across team performance (without you having to step in) by providing an established standard for everyone to reference.
  • Process Improvement: Defining business processes and documenting them fosters employee engagement by contributing to a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboratively improving business processes. Not only does this strengthen your team’s performance, but by improving workplace culture, it can improve employee retention.
  • Neurodiversity: Intentionally defining business processes enables you to accommodate diverse styles of learning to promote neurodiversity in the workplace

A woman wearing an orange blouse with white polka dots writes in a notebook at her desk with a desktop computer and keyboard.

Defining Business Processes through Process Mapping & SOP Writing

There are many different ways of defining business processes, but the ultimate objective remains the same: to establish clear and concise guidelines that align with your broader strategy. In order to do that, you have to start by identifying your goals and outlining the objectives that will lead you there. This initial strategizing is often done through process mapping

flow chart

Once you’ve secured a general plan for your business process and identified the ultimate objective, you can determine the activities that need to be broken down into SOPs. And once you have a clear understanding of these activities and their relationship to the overall goal, you can choose the best style for effectively documenting and communicating the individual processes.

Types of SOPs

There are three standard formats for writing SOPs, each conducive to a different kind of process.

  • Step-by-step SOPs provide a detailed sequence of actions to be followed in a specific order. This type of SOP is useful for simple, straightforward processes comprising lots of small actions that require precise instructions.
  • Hierarchical SOPs are layered with multiple stages or levels of sub-tasks. This type of SOP is beneficial for more complex processes that require intricate organization to achieve the overall workflow.
  • Flowchart SOPs use visual diagrams to represent the steps and decision points in a process. This type of SOP is helpful for illustrating processes with branching paths or alternative routes. 

asana sop

How to Write an SOP

While SOPs vary from project to project, there are essential components that every SOP should include, alongside the list of steps or flowchart itself.

  • Description, scope, & purpose: Providing a clear description, defining the scope, and stating the purpose of the process is crucial for establishing context and enabling your team to engage more fully with the work.
  • Clarification of terminology: As we’ve demonstrated in this article, many business spaces have their own unique jargon, and including definitions or explanations of specific terminology used in the process is important for preventing confusion and any resulting mistakes. 
  • References, resources, or supplies: Listing or linking to resources, documents, or other necessary materials ensures that everything required to complete the process is readily available. Consolidating all the essential resources improves efficiency and minimizes the time wasted searching for information.
  • Additional details for each step: As you’re defining business processes, consider common troubleshooting areas and other “what-if” scenarios, and address these in advance with additional details or by directing to troubleshooting resources. 

sop templates