Bootstrapped startups and the shit I learn in therapy

"Do you all have any SOPs?" Brennan asked.

I wrinkled my nose at the corporate-sounding acronym. It reminded me too much of RFPs (request for proposals). At one point in our early life as a company, we wasted a ton of time competing for big contracts through RFPs. It's not something I ever want to do again.


"Standard operating procedures you dip shit. You know, something in writing that tells your employees how to do their work. So that you're not expecting them to magically understand what's in your brain." 🧠

I'm paraphrasing; Brennan was much nicer.

We hired Brennan Dunn as a business coach for the first quarter of 2019. In one of our monthly calls, I was explaining the struggles we were having with project management.

The company wasn't falling apart, but we were all feeling super stressed. Little details were slipping through the cracks: This task is a week overdue. This task wasn't part of the original scope at all. This feature is in the done column, but it's still buggy, what gives? 🐞

I was trying to decide, is it time to hire a project manager? If we do, will they have the tools they need to do their best work?

What is an SOP? 🤔

It turns out SOPs aren't just corporate mumbo jumbo. They're the tools project managers (and all employees) need to do their best work.

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure. If you google it you'll find a bunch of shitty blog posts about ISO-9000, master-control, and quality standards.

Throw all that shit out.

In their most basic form SOPs are checklists. ✅ They're step-by-step guides that explain how to accomplish the repetitive tasks your team deals with. Well-written SOPs increase efficiency, provide consistency, and hold everyone accountable.

  • When you have to spend time remembering how to do a task, that's inefficient.
  • When team members tackle tasks in different ways, the results are going to vary wildly.
  • When you don't tell people what you expect of them, it's hard (and unfair) to hold them accountable.

SOPs give employees a clear, repeatable process to follow and establish predictable results.

Start small 🐭

Once I understood what they were, I saw the value. I also saw how SOPs align with one of my goals as a founder. For the last year I've become obsessed with the idea of firing myself repeatedly. I will consider my job at Krit successful when it can run at a high level without me.

But building SOPs takes time and effort--something we’re already short on, especially while we’re hiring. ⏱We don't have time to document every single thing we do at Krit. Trying to do so would almost certainly fail. So we chose a few procedures to start with. Here are the ones we're going to start documenting as we experiment with SOPs at Krit:

  • Inbound sales
  • Roadmapping sessions
  • Client on-boarding
  • Project management
  • Internal hiring
  • New employee onboarding
  • Bookkeeping
  • Invoicing
  • Content marketing

To make this list I started with a few easy wins 💪 - the things we already have clear processes for like Invoicing and Roadmapping Sessions.

I accidentally created an SOP for Roadmapping Sessions a couple of months ago. I noticed that we would do a good job in one session, and struggle in another. So I created a checklist for putting together the final report, and the quality has gone way up.

Then I added the procedures where we have a fairly well-defined process that needs some improvement like Sales and Content marketing.

Finally, I added the critical procedures that need a lot of development, but are causing us the most pain. 🤕 Project management is our big pain point right now. So even though it needs the most work, it’s important we get it right as soon as possible.

If those go well, I’ll move on to other procedures that are important, but not critical (and need more development) in the next 6 months:

  • Client off-boarding
  • Transitioning to an internal team
  • Customer support
  • Expenses & reimbursements
  • Time off
  • Family leave
  • Time tracking

Keep everything in 1 place 📑

One thing we’ve learned from similar experiences is that it’s important to keep SOPs in one place where everyone on the team can easily navigate them. We've tried using Google Drive in the past but ended up with a mess of folders. So for this, I'm going to be experimenting with Notion.

There are a couple of agencies who already do this really, really well.(Both the documentation and the accessibility part.) They don't call them SOPs, but Thoughtbot has their playbook and Human Made has created a robust online handbook that anyone can browse. We’re looking to these for inspiration as we outline our own procedures.

Choosing to make time for this isn’t easy. But better business processes don’t just happen if we close our eyes and hope they appear. We’re throwing some weight behind SOPs because, even though they take time and effort we’re short on, they make room for a lot more time and effort in the future. We want to build a better tomorrow for our team, not just a better today.

Better business processes don’t just happen if we close our eyes and hope they appear

The first procedure I'll be outlining is Project management. Tune in next month as I share the full thing as well as what I've learned in the process.

In the meantime, if you’ve done this before or have been inspired by another company who does this well, please let me know!

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