How to Create SOPs and Reduce Process Bottlenecks

Last Updated on November 12, 2020 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

Documenting your processes is just as important as having them. On this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast with Dr. Jeremy Weisz, he features Erin Mathie, a process development and automation expert with more than seven years of experience in system development.

She breaks down the significance of companies having standard operating procedures (SOPs) and the risk attached when you don’t have SOPs to help document your processes. She also explains how to go about creating SOPs for your company as well as the what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos.

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Show Notes:

0:05 – Podcast introduction

0:56 – Dr. Weisz shares the best solution for documenting standard operating procedures, SweetProcess, highlighting a 14-day free trial.

1:46 – The guest speaker, Erin Mathie, is introduced.

2:32 – Mathie shares how companies should start tackling their SOPs with a practical example of her past client.

3:56 – The guest shares the first things she does with companies that have let go of staff and need documentation on their job process.

6:10 – Mathie shares the highest risk factor of companies that don’t document their work processes.

7:20 – The guest shares tips on solving your business bottlenecks.

8:15 – The speaker shares preventive measures that could be used in tackling bottlenecks with an example of a company that had late invoice payment issues with their clients.

10:16 – The speakers talk about the relationships that companies have with SOPs.

11:01 – The speaker shares practical steps to follow when you work on your SOPs.

12:45 – The guest shares how you can develop an SOP mindset for smooth work development with an effective tool she uses.

15:23 – Mathie shares the mistakes companies make when creating SOPs.

17:30 – The guest recommends the tools she uses for process automation.

19:02 – The guest shares how she uses Zapier.

19:32 – The guest shares the enthralling story of how she transitioned from being a science teacher to a successful entrepreneur.

20:54 – The speaker shares the first step you should take when systemizing processes.

22:12 – Outro

Guest Profile

Erin Mathie is a professional process and systems developer. She is the founder of Business Made Simple, a management consulting company that helps businesses create and automate processes in a way that reduces time consumption when performing tasks.

She single-handedly grew her tutoring company to a business with 23 employees, and she reduced her working hours to only 2 to 3 hours per week. Creating and documenting processes is the way she achieved this. She is also nicknamed “The Process Ninja.”

Interview Transcript

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now let’s get started with the show. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Dr. Jeremy Weisz here, host of the Process Breakdown podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Erin, I know that’s exactly what you do, I want to talk about it. Past guests include David Allen of Getting Things Done, Michael Gerber of the E-Myth, and many more. Check out other episodes. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Before I talk to today’s guest, Erin Mathie, who is a, just, she’s process Ninja. So we’re going to talk about that. The episode’s brought to you by SweetProcess. If you’ve had team members ask you the same questions over and over again, and I’m sure you don’t know any companies that that happens with, as a 10th time they spent explaining it, there’s a better way. There’s a better solution. SweetProcess is software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff. Not only do universities, banks, hospitals, software companies use it, but I was talking to the owner, Owen, and he told me a first responder government agency uses it in life or death situations. That’s pretty cool, I have to mention that. You could use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time so you could focus on growing your team and your company. You could sign up for a 14-day free trial, no credit card required, sweet like candy S-W-E-E-T, Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Erin, I’m excited to introduce you to everyone else. Erin Mathie founded Business Made Simple in 2013. They’ve helped hundreds of businesses from all around the world organize and systemize their businesses to run smoothly so they can live life more fully. They help companies document their processes and develop them into standard operating procedures. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Erin hails from Utah and she has three boys. You need to be the ultimate of processes and systems when you have to run a household, let alone other businesses, right? Erin Mathie: Absolutely. Yep, I think I’ve systemized my house as well as my own business and other businesses. It’s what I love to do. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: We’re going to dig deep into where do people start tackling their SOP, but I figured, I was looking at your website, there’s a company waste and water that you work with. Erin Mathie: Yeah. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: What did they come to you with? Erin Mathie: Yeah so waste in water, some of the issues that they came to us with is that they’re a growing team that manages … they have a lot of trucks that they’re trying to manage, an office team, they’re working on dispatch to send out trucks everywhere, and where they’re really struggling is that their office staff would rotate, and because the office … they didn’t have any real systems developed or documented, what happened is when their office manager left, the whole business fell apart. Whoever came in next, there was a big lag time for them to redevelop their own way of doing it, train the rest of the team how to work with that office manager. There’s just a lot of lost time there and inefficiencies. Erin Mathie: When their office manager leaves now, they can hire someone new now and say, “Here’s our proven system. This is what is actually working.” We worked to fill the holes and have everything documented so that now they have this process where if she’s out sick for the day or at least for some reason, they have somebody that can step right in and be able to pick up where they left off. Huge, huge, massive change for that company. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. Erin, I want to have you talk about what you did for them, but it just makes me think. If anyone listening right now are worried if someone leaves, what’s going to happen? Right? Then that is a sign, you need to create a system for it, right? There’s always those people in the company, “Oh my God, this person’s amazing. I don’t know what I would do if they ever left.” Right? If people are thinking that, that means you need to start documenting, right? So what did you do with them first, when they said like, “Okay, we need to figure out this office manager position.? Erin Mathie: Yeah. The best place to start for this particular company was to look at what does this office manager do? Let’s write out what their job description is. The job description really covers the what, right? What do you want them to do on a daily basis? What are the responsibilities? Then once you have that part documented, the next thing that you can do is to take each one of those pieces of the job description and write the how. That’s what becomes your standard operating procedure. The how will then support that job description. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: How detailed do you get with that? What would be an example of something that maybe someone said to you, Erin, like, “Are we getting a little too granular,” but it was really important? Erin Mathie: Yeah. That’s a great question. Really, the amount of detail that you need depends on what the risk factor is at that process is not followed. For example, if you were looking at somebody that’s saying, “Hey, here’s the process that we follow on who to call or how to call customers and let them know that a truck is on their way and will be arriving shortly.” The risk factor if that doesn’t happen is fairly low so you don’t need to get super crazy detailed in it. Erin Mathie: Obviously, if you’re working in like a nuclear power plant, the risk factor is really high. If that process isn’t followed, it can be catastrophic. In those cases, you need a lot more detail. The goal is to provide information for people that’s actually useful. You don’t need to tell them how to turn a door knob to go into the office, but you do want to make sure that everything that they’re going to need to be able to do their jobs successfully is well-documented. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. No, that’s a good point, thinking of what are the highest risk factors if it fails. What would be an example? It doesn’t have to be with that company. Any company that you’ve seen that this would be considered a high risk factor and this is how detailed it was. Erin Mathie: Yeah. One example of that is a company that we worked with that was having a lot of issues with actually collecting on work that had been fulfilled. So we needed to get very detailed, from the salesperson describing exactly how the invoice process is going to work, how to collect contract pieces to ensure that they were going to collect payment at the end of it, all the way through to exactly how to invoice, how to follow up if the invoice is not collected so days, times scripts. How you add in all of the extra fees, when to turn it over to collections, all of that stuff we need to be in place because they had millions of dollars of overdue invoices. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Wow. They must have loved you for putting something together that collected that. Erin Mathie: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Was that a combination with that process of, with some of the things they were able to solve before the fact? You know, after the fact is not collected, but where there some things that you put in place so that it prevented that from getting that far along in the process, or was it just people who were delinquent on their bills that couldn’t have been avoided? Erin Mathie: No, absolutely. I think with any time you’re running into a headache in the business, and in this case, theirs was overdue invoices, you need to look at how can we create a process that will prevent this from happening on our customer’s end? Definitely, I mean, there’s still going to be some people that you’ve got to have this whole collections process with, but in reality, you didn’t teach your customers with a process what you needed from them at the beginning. So the more that you can preempt with good processes, you can prevent so many customer service issues and other fulfillment issues by thinking about the larger process. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. I’m sure a lot of companies have this issue, collections. Was there something you can remember in the beginning that you put in as a preventative measure to communicate with the customer so that it didn’t get down? Because oftentimes we discover, “Oh my God, this person hasn’t paid in three months,” and then you have to go back to them three months later, whereas you could have done this in the beginning. What was the preventative measure you put in place so that maybe everyone could use that as far as their collections go? Erin Mathie: Yeah. So what we did with that is we actually went through initially [inaudible 00:08:41] as part of the script when they were initially closing that sale, to let them know this is what the invoice is. The other piece that we did was to put in a stop gate where we say, “Work does not progress past this point if we’ve not received a 50% down payment.” Putting in those stop gates to make sure that … you know, we all want to overlove and over-serve our customers and I’m all about that, but it’s also about setting what the expectations are so that you can have a great working relationship with your customer. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Do you have an elegant way of saying that? I feel like maybe I care too much and that makes me nervous to say we’re stopping work. We’re stopping doing work. Is there a nice way of saying that? Because we do care about our customers and you don’t want to say that, but sometimes you have to do that, right? Erin Mathie: Yeah. Yeah. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Is there a nice way of saying that, Erin, that people can use? Erin Mathie: Yeah. What I’ve seen a lot is … I find it’s often helpful when you’re getting on the call to have a checkpoint, to say, “Hey, has the invoice been [inaudible 00:09:43]” if you’re doing service calls, or if you’re getting on a Zoom call with somebody and you say, “Hey, I’m so excited to talk with you today about dah, dah, dah, dah. I noticed that we haven’t had your invoice paid yet. Can we take care of that real quick before we progress on with our call today?” Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I like that. They should have you do that call. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: SOPs, right? The non-sexy things that make businesses work smoothly. Companies you work with, where do they fall in, what camps do they fall into? Do they fall into, “We don’t have an SOP,” “We have an SOP but don’t use it,” or like, where do people typically fall? Erin Mathie: Yeah, so a lot of people that we work with are either in this point where they think that, “I don’t have any processes,” but really they do, and we can talk more about that. Or they fall into this point of “Look, we know how to do business, but we don’t have anything documented and we don’t know how to teach our team how to develop the systems type mindset so that they will be a part of improving this process and that they will refer back to that standard operating procedure to ensure that we’re developing those really consistent results with our customers.” Dr. Jeremy Weisz: When you do that, they come in like, “Erin, we don’t have anything,” where do you start? Erin Mathie: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think where you start with your standard operating procedures really depends on what is your motivation for wanting to have them in the first place. Usually, we run into three different motivations. The first motivation is sometimes, “I want to document everything so that I can franchise, so that I can sell the business and be able to get a good revenue on that.” If your processes … one motivation is, “I want to document everything.” Erin Mathie: The other motivation that we hear a lot is, “I need to make a new hire, but I don’t know what to tell them to do yet.” That’s another motivation. Then the third motivation is, “I am completely overwhelmed and I’ve got to delegate some things but I am not able to delegate effectively because the process has not been developed.” Erin Mathie: Let’s talk about how you would deal with each one of those motivations. If your motivation is, “I want to document everything,” then what I recommend that you do there is you start with a table of contents outline. Don’t worry about writing any of the processes out, but start putting a list together of all the processes that you need to write. Then it’ll become clear where you need to go from there. Erin Mathie: If your motivation is, “Hey, I’m ready to make a new hire,” then I would start with the job description for that hire. So, what do you want them to do, and then write the related standard operating procedures for how to do those pieces. Erin Mathie: If your motivation is, “I’ve just got too much to do, and I need to delegate more,” than just start writing the standard operating procedures for the pieces that you want to delegate, because it is never successful to delegate before you’ve defined what the process is. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: You talk about developing an SOP mindset. What do you mean by that? Erin Mathie: Yeah, so I think sometimes when people think standard operating procedures, we get a view of the guy from office space with a big binder and he’s saying, thinking [inaudible 00:12:59]. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Dwight Schrute? Erin Mathie: Yes. You know, you’ve got to have some crazy binder from the 90s. That’s not what a modern standard operating procedure looks like. But what a standard operating procedure, this mindset that you need in order to be able to do that is to realize that your standard operating procedure is never going to be complete. It’s always going to be evolving because business, the nature of business itself is always evolving. It’s great to live in a time when we have the ability to have things hosted on online platforms like SweetProcess where you can change and it will automatically, the updated version is what people are always seeing. Erin Mathie: I think people need to remember that it’s never done, it’s always evolving, but it’s something that you have to incorporate into your culture. One of the things that we recommend is that you are reviewing your standard operating procedure at each team meeting and just say … not reviewing the whole thing, obviously, but just putting in a line item that says, “What processes need to be developed and documented and what’s outdated that needs to be fixed?” And really including your team on that to make it more of a team effort, to be able to realize that, “Hey, we are developing a system for how to run the business and you are all a part of that system. Some of you are on the front lines and we need your feedback to make sure that things are moving smoothly.” Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. I love that because reviewing it is key. I feel like the people I’ve talked to and myself included, if something falls through the cracks or something doesn’t get done, it’s a sign you need to go back to the systems document and see what is wrong with it. There should always be a review of it because I mean, no system is perfect and so if something is lost, they can go right back to see what to fix, right? Erin Mathie: Exactly. Yeah. Part of that too is really the team on board with knowing that this is the tool that’s here for you and this is what you’re accountable to. These are the rules that we play the game by. Because it’s frustrating for employees too when you ask them to do something, but don’t tell them the rules to success, right? So it’s super helpful for them to be able to have those standard operating procedures up, saved on a bookmark on their computer where if they’re like, “Oh, I haven’t done this process in a while. Let me jump in and review it instead of trying to pull it out of my brain and remember what worked or didn’t work last time.” Dr. Jeremy Weisz: What are some of the mistakes, Erin, people make when creating standard operating procedures or starting to go through this process? Erin Mathie: Yeah, that’s a great question. A couple of mistakes that I see frequently is the perfectionist mindset, right? Of, “I can’t rule it out [crosstalk 00:15:41]” Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Are you talking directly to me, Erin? No, I’m just … Erin Mathie: Maybe, maybe. But thinking, “I can’t roll it out to my team until it’s 100% complete and perfect.” That’s not true. You can get value out of it as it continues to build. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [inaudible 00:15:55] I make that mistake. Keep going. Erin Mathie: Another common mistake that I see a lot is that people are creating the process themselves but not having anybody else review it. It really is helpful to have somebody that doesn’t know the process look at it, to be able to say, “I don’t get it.” Because if you’ve been doing something for a long time, you know exactly how to run a podcast, but somebody else that they were trying to step in, they would not know exactly what you meant by that so it’s helpful to [crosstalk 00:16:27] Dr. Jeremy Weisz: You jump around, you’re missing steps because you’re just kind of doing them intuitively. Erin Mathie: Exactly. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. So the perfectionist and not having someone review. Anything else, any other big mistakes? Erin Mathie: Yeah. Some of the other ones that I see we’ve already talked about, like not reviewing it on a regular basis. Another one that I see that’s really common is that people will have the documents stored somewhere where they’re not accessible to people. It’s stored on somebody’s desktop that doesn’t even use that process, and they’ve got four versions of it because they’re not sure what the most updated version is. It’s pointless to write a standard operating procedure if nobody can look at it. You’ve got to make sure that it’s accessible and that you know that the team is required to look at it and know what’s on there and that that’s their standard that they’re held accountable to. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Erin, you tell them it’s called the cloud, there’s stuff that lives in the cloud. Erin Mathie: Yes, that’s right. As long as everyone has access to that cloud, then [inaudible 00:17:31]. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I know you’re big on processes, automations, and we mentioned one of the … we mentioned Sweet Process as a tool. What are some of the other tools from an automation standpoint that you recommend? Softwares? Erin Mathie: Yeah. So there’s so many. I think every company definitely needs a CRM to be able to track their customers. If they asked me, the project management tool. There’s lots of different combinations of those. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: What do you see people using from a CRM and project management? Erin Mathie: One that I love that it incorporates both of them, both CRM and project management, is called Insightly. We do a lot of Insightly set up for customers because it’s a great way to be able to manage the sales process and to manage that fulfillment process of handling all the projects. You definitely need those things in play. Erin Mathie: Another piece that’s … I mean, one of my personal favorite ones to play with that I think every company should start playing with, is Zapier. It just will connect so many different software pieces and create automations that … I mean, let’s stop all double entry into softwares, please. Let’s please stop having to enter in contact information into four different softwares. So I love Zapier, it’s a fun one to play with, and it’s pretty easy to be able to code things in Zapier. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Zapier is amazing, by the way, I’ve talked to Wade Foster before. But what do you tend to connect? You pretty much connect everything, but you have a go-to connection for Zapier? Erin Mathie: Yeah. Definitely, I think some of the most common ones that I see is getting your web form to connect to your CRM, getting your CRM to connect to your email service provider and to your project management tool and to your finance software. We do a lot of pushes from those pieces to make sure that those are all integrated. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: What did you want to do before you started this company, Erin, what were you doing? Erin Mathie: My history … of course, you know, entrepreneur takes you on interesting paths, right? My college degree was in biology and chemistry, so naturally I’m a business consultant, right? Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Me too. Mine is biochemistry. Erin Mathie: Oh really? I love it. That’s kind of funny to see how the path takes, but my path to doing this was I started as a science teacher. Then I started a tutoring company. My tutoring company, I started out just me doing all the things, right? I built my own hideous website, I did all the pieces of that initial business. Then eventually, I grew to the point where I could do everything until I got successful. Right? Then once I got successful, I needed to start hiring more out. Erin Mathie: What I found that I really loved was the ability to create processes and then pass them off to my employees. Eventually, I get to the point where I had 23 employees and I was down to working like two hours a week and I ran out of things to systemize, so I started doing that in other companies and I ended up selling my tutoring company and starting Business Made Simple. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: That’s awesome. First of all, Erin, thank you. I want people to check out your website and then go to to check out more. You can check out more episodes of the podcast and check out SweetProcess. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Last question, Erin, is, so people are wanting to start systemizing, where should they start now? What’s the next step they should take? Erin Mathie: Yeah. I think … one of my favorite things to do to start systemizing is to grab some of those great big sticky notes. A lot of people don’t know they make like a two-foot by three-foot sticky note. Start with those and start thinking through your process. Start mapping it out and thinking, why are we doing it this way? Erin Mathie: There’s an old story about somebody that was making a roast and they cut off both ends of the roast. She’s like, “Why do I do that?” So she called her mom. “Mom, why did we cut off both ends of the roast?” She just said, “I don’t know. That’s the way my mom did it.” Called grandma and grandma’s says, “Oh, cause my pan’s only this big.” You know? So I think taking a look at your process, how you’re currently doing it and just mapping it all out in those big sticky notes and seeing where your inefficiencies are, I it’ll become pretty clear where you need to go from there. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. It’s so, so valuable to do those things because you will discover efficiencies that can make you and your … save time, save money, make more money. Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Erin, I just wanted the first one to thank you. Everyone, check out the website, check out more episodes. Thanks, Erin. Erin Mathie: Thank you. Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and/or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14-day trial of Sweet Process. No credit card is required to sign up. Go to, sweet like candy and process like Go now to and sign up for your risk-free 14-day trial.

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