A focused woman with glasses, holding an open notebook, is interacting with blue sticky notes on a glass wall, likely organizing tasks or ideas. Her expression and posture suggest she is deeply engaged in planning or strategizing, typical of a workflow session or project management scenario.

Workflows Vs SOPs: The Importance in Online Business Operations

We have all heard the terms “SOP” (Standard Operating Procedure) and “workflow” before and we probably all have slightly different ideas on what the two terms mean. They are often used interchangeably, creating confusion among entrepreneurs and business owners.

It is important to note that they are different, but I don't want you to get too hung up on the differences as they both have a common goal – to document your business processes.

So, let's define these two terms in an easy-to-understand way and give some examples. For the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to focus on solopreneurs only and ignore how these could be defined in a brick-and-mortar business or even a multi-employee online business.

What is a “Workflow”?

Workflows orchestrate the flow of work within an organization and they are one of the best ways you can organize your online business. These are your processes. A great example of workflow is a flow chart that lists all the steps it takes to go through your business. This can be as detailed or as general as you like.

For example, if you're a blogger, your incredibly simplified workflow chart for how to create a blog post might look something like this:

A minimalistic infographic titled "My process Blogging Workflow" with a simple flowchart detailing the steps of creating a blog post. The process includes 'Research idea and keywords', 'Draft post', 'Edit post', and 'Add images and categories'. The design features a neutral color palette with abstract elements in the background, presenting a clear and organized approach to blogging.
Example of a blogging workflow flowchart

Just like that, you now have a basic idea of the steps involved in creating a blog post, but you don't know how to do those steps (that's where the SOPs come into play, but I'll get that a bit later). There are many different examples of flowcharts for documenting workflows and you can make them as complicated or simplistic as you like.

I like to keep my flowcharts simple. One or two words to indicate each task or step in the process. Ideally, my flowcharts will be no longer than a single page with plenty of blank space. I'm a visual person and if it's too crowded and busy – I'm not reading it.

You'll see other examples of flowcharts in other blog posts.

Why are Workflows Important for Online Businesses?

Time Efficiency

As a solopreneur, you're responsible for all aspects of your business. Well-defined workflows ensure that you're utilizing your time efficiently by providing a structured approach to completing tasks. This allows you to focus on high-priority activities and avoid getting bogged down in administrative details.

Task Prioritization

Workflows help you prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. This ensures that you're dedicating your time and energy to activities that have the most impact on your business's success. In other words, it helps you be more productive!

Consistency and Quality Assurance

Standardized workflows guarantee that tasks are performed consistently and according to established best practices. This consistency enhances the quality of your work, which is crucial for building trust with clients and customers.

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Streamlined Decision-Making

Workflows often include decision points, providing a framework for making choices in various scenarios. This can be particularly valuable for a solopreneur who may face numerous decisions daily. Having predefined paths helps in making informed and efficient choices.

Automation and Efficiency Gains

Workflows can be designed to incorporate automation tools and technologies. This reduces manual effort and allows you to leverage technology to handle routine tasks, freeing up more of your time for strategic planning and business growth.

Adaptability to Scale

As a solopreneur, there may come a time when you need to scale your business and workflows can be adapted and expanded to accommodate increased workloads or the addition of new products or services.

Task Delegation or Outsourcing

As your business grows, you may consider delegating certain tasks or outsourcing them to freelancers or contractors. Clear workflows make it easier to communicate expectations and ensure that delegated tasks are completed to your standards.

Mitigating Burnout

Solopreneurs often wear multiple hats, which can lead to burnout if not managed effectively. Workflows help distribute tasks in a balanced way, preventing overextension and allowing you to sustain a healthy work-life balance.

An illustration of a woman with a look of fatigue or concern, sitting at a cluttered desk with a computer screen, scattered papers, books, a coffee cup, and stationery. The setting suggests a late-night work session, illuminated by a desk lamp, with plants adding a touch of life to the otherwise overwhelming environment. This image captures the essence of work-related stress or burnout.

Track Record and Documentation

Well-documented workflows serve as a record of how tasks are performed. This can be invaluable for future reference, onboarding new team members (if applicable), and maintaining continuity in your business operations.

Performance Evaluation

Workflows enable you to track key performance indicators (KPIs) related to your business processes. This data-driven approach allows you to assess the effectiveness of your workflows and make data-informed decisions for improvement.

What is a “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)”?

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is the step-by-step detailed instructions of the workflow chart. These are the “how to” documents for each process in your workflow chart.

For example, you might have Email Marketing as one of your workflow processes in your chart, and if so, you'll likely be creating an Email Marketing Strategy SOP to document all the steps. In fact, you may break email marketing down into several SOPs. Other examples include Blogging SOPs and Social Media management SOPs.

The point is, that you will have detailed instructions on that process of your workflow. Make sense?

A template for a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) with blank fields for inputting the 'Name of SOP', the 'Audience (who)', and the 'Purpose (what)'. The format is clean and simple, designed for easy customization according to specific business needs
Image of an SOP template

Why are SOPs Important for Online Businesses?

Consistency and Quality Assurance

SOPs provide a standardized framework for how tasks should be executed. This consistency ensures that each task is performed to a high standard, maintaining quality across all aspects of your business.

Efficiency and Time Management

SOPs outline step-by-step instructions for tasks. This not only reduces the time spent figuring out how to complete a task but also ensures that you perform it efficiently. With SOPs in place, you can complete tasks more swiftly, allowing you to allocate more time to strategic activities.

Reduced Margin of Error

By following a predefined set of instructions, you minimize the likelihood of errors or oversights. This is particularly critical in a solopreneur setting, where you may not have a team to catch mistakes.

Onboarding and Training

If you ever decide to hire help or bring in a virtual assistant, having SOPs in place streamlines the onboarding process. New team members can refer to the procedures, ensuring they understand and execute tasks correctly from the start.

An informative graphic promoting 'Workflows & Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) 101' with a call to action to optimize business processes. It features overlapping images of documents related to SOPs and workflow diagrams, with a text overlay emphasizing the educational content offered at organizeyouronlinebiz.com, set against a floral and abstract background

Are you tired of trying to remember that complicated task?
Did you accidentally toss your sticky note procedures?
Need an easier way to train assistants or new staff?


Contingency Planning

In the event that you're unable to work for a period, SOPs serve as a valuable resource. Anyone stepping in to handle tasks on your behalf can rely on the documented procedures, maintaining business continuity.

Scalability and Growth

As your online solopreneur business expands, SOPs become indispensable. They serve as a foundation for scaling operations, allowing you to bring in additional resources or even transition into a larger business model with more ease.

Depending on your industry, there may be specific regulations and compliance measures to adhere to. SOPs can help ensure that you consistently meet these requirements, reducing the risk of non-compliance.

I operate in Canada and here's a great blog post about starting an online business in Canada and what you legally need.

Customer Confidence and Satisfaction

Consistency in operations and the quality of your products or services instill confidence in your customers. Knowing that they can expect the same level of quality every time they engage with your business builds trust and fosters customer loyalty.

A confident woman standing with hands in pockets in a bright, organized home office space. Behind her are neatly arranged bookshelves with decorative items and plants, reflecting a tidy and stylish workspace. The image conveys a sense of professionalism and personal organization

Personal Growth and Development

Documenting your procedures can be a reflective process. It encourages you to evaluate and refine your processes, leading to personal growth and an enhanced understanding of your business operations.

Time and Resource Allocation

By having clearly defined SOPs, you can easily identify which tasks can be automated or delegated. This allows you to allocate your time and resources more effectively, focusing on activities that directly contribute to business growth.

Workflows Vs SOPs in Online Business Operations

So, putting it all together. An online business workflow is a document (or two) that records all processes that make up your business. A perfect way to show this visually is with a workflow chart (which can be referred to as a flowchart). SOPs are step-by-step instructions that detail how to do all the processes that are recorded in your workflow or flowchart (the processes in your business).

Even simpler: Workflows record how you do your business, and SOPs are the step-by-step instructions.

Comment below, I'd love to hear from you.

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Creator and CEO of Organize Your Online Biz, Lindsay Trca

Hi, I'm Lindsay!

A blogger dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs in the online business world. With over 15 years of experience in process documentation and SOP creation, I specialize in streamlining workflows, organizing workspaces, and optimizing digital tools for maximum efficiency. Join me as we transform your business operations with practical insights and budget-friendly solutions.

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