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How to Create Functional SOPs (That Your Employees Actually Use)

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How to Create Functional SOPs (That Your Employees Actually Use)

Everybody tells you to make SOPs as an agency owner. It’s the only way to grow, right?

Yes…and no.

Your marketing agency needs SOPs. That’s a fact. But your agency doesn’t need to waste time creating documents that collect digital dust. If you make SOPs for every single task in your business, your hiring process will be a breeze. But, soon, you’ll find your employees and contractors aren’t even opening up those SOPs. They figured out their way to get the task done, and it’s more efficient. 

All the time you spent on those SOPs is wasted—and it could have been used in a better way. At this year’s Traffic and Conversion Summit, Ryan Deiss talked about the importance of creating SOPs and not creating SOPs.

That’s the secret of functional SOPs that your employees actually use. 

We’ll explain…

How to Create Functional SOPs

Functional SOPs are the brain of your business. We’re not saying that you don’t need SOPs. You definitely do. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) help you hire, move employees to different positions, and figure out where you’re inefficient. Especially as an agency owner, SOPs are your absolute best friend.

If you want to scale your agency from 5 clients to 10 and eventually 20+, SOPs are the way to do it. But only if you use them the right way. If you spend too much time on SOPs your employees don’t use, you wasted time that could have been spent on lead generation or deliverables

Here are the 3 steps to create functional SOPs your employees open, use, and share.

Step #1: Choose the top tasks you need SOPs for

The first step in creating functional SOPs is figuring out what tasks need them. It’s tempting to create an SOP for every single part of your business because it feels efficient. But, if your team doesn’t use them, then it was a waste of time. As Ryan talked about in his Traffic and Conversion Summit session, you only need SOPs for the most important tasks.

Everything else will collect digital dust on your employee’s desktops, never opened again. What’s an important task? This can range from running your meetings, uploading content to WordPress, or writing podcast show notes. The important tasks of your business are the ones that are moving the needle and are consistently on to-do lists.

  • Tasks outsourced to VAs (like writing podcast show notes)
  • Meeting templates (Gino Wickman shares meeting templates in Traction)
  • Tech instructions (like publishing a blog post to WordPress)

Here’s part of an old SOP we used to write the Perpetual Traffic Podcast show notes:

How to Create Functional SOPs That Your Employees Actually Use

This was an important SOP for us because 1) we uploaded a new podcast every week (recurring task), and 2) we needed to create a consistent experience with our listeners (to move the needle on audience growth).

Once you’ve figured out the tasks that move the needle and are a consistent part of your agency, it’s time to write your SOPs. 

Step #2: Write down every step with an explanation

Each task that moves the needle and is done on a consistent basis has the green light for an SOP. In Step 2, don’t worry about anything but writing down every step of a task or process in as much detail as possible. Your goal is to be able to hand this document to someone one the street and have them be able to do that task or run that process.

Yep, your SOP needs to be that detailed. 

When we write SOPs, we divide them into sections. This makes it easy for the person doing the task or running the process to know what they need before getting started and moving on to the next step.

For example, here’s the Table of Contents from our Blog Post Uploading SOP:

Working with the Blog Document:

  • Section 1: Get Finalized Post
  • Section 2: Prep Post for Layout
  • Section 3: Process Images
  • Section 4: Uploading Post Copy into WordPress
  • Section 5: Fill out SEO and Sidebar info
  • Section 6: Publish Post

In each section is a detailed description of the standard operating procedure. Here’s what the two first sections of our Blog Post Uploading SOP look like:

1644540553 839 How to Create Functional SOPs That Your Employees Actually Use

At this stage, you’re just writing down everything involved in the task. The next step is giving your SOP the final polish.

Step #3: Delete as many words as possible

Each SOP should be as short as possible. The longer the SOP, the more complicated you’re making the task or procedure. Complicated tasks and procedures are the opposite of growth in a business. You don’t want your employees stuck on a single task all day because it takes them 30+ pages to get through the SOP.

Just reading that sounds unrealistic.

In step 3, you have one goal: delete as many words as possible from your SOP. Shorten your sentences. Tighten up your explanations. Use more images. Make your SOP a seamless experience instead of a cartography class. 

Our SOP for the Certified Partner Weekly Email is two pages long. It doesn’t need to be any longer for our email team to get it written and out the door. This SOP is broken up into two sections:

  1. Procedure
  2. Email Outline

At the top of the document is the schedule for ideating, drafting, reviewing, and submitting each week’s email. Below that is the email outline to follow. 

1644540553 301 How to Create Functional SOPs That Your Employees Actually Use

Could this SOP be 10+ pages long? Absolutely. If we added every detail possible to writing the email and uploading it to our email provider, it could probably be longer. But, we don’t need every detail for it to get done right. We just need our team to know the schedule (so the email gets written!), to understand who’s in charge of what part of the process, and to have the outline. 

That’s it.

Now, you have an SOP that your team will actually use because they genuinely need it! Ahh, the magic of functional SOPs. 🪄

Are Your Employees *Really* Using Your SOPs?

They might not be today…but they can be tomorrow. Just by simplifying how many SOPs you create and how you write them, your marketing agency can change overnight. You can go from putting out little fires all day long to knowing that any task/procedure moving the needle and happening consistently is getting taken care of. 

As the owner, executive, or manager of a marketing agency, this is a breath of fresh air. If you’re focused on putting out the (consistent) little fires that come with employees and freelancers not using SOPs because they’re too complicated, bulky, and time consuming, how can you captain your ship towards smoother waters?

There’s a hard way to grow your agency and an easy way. Part of the easy way is creating functional SOPs so your employees actually use them. The other part is the realization that you don’t know everything, and you’re not supposed to. There are marketing strategies, agency growth tactics, and marketing knowledge that you don’t have—that could help your agency reach your big goal this year.

And they’re all inside of DigitalMarketer Lab. Lab is our members-only platform where the top marketers give away their marketing expertise through Insider Trainings, Workshops, Playbooks, and our Toolkits. 

By becoming a Lab member, you get access to every past Training, Workshop, Playbook, and ToolKit—and our community of 10,000 marketers.

See what’s inside Lab here.


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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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Being position-less secures a marketer’s position for a lifetime

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Optimove Positionless Marketer Optimove

On March 20, 2024, the Position-less Marketer was introduced on MarTech.org and my keynote address at Optimove’s user conference.

Since that initial announcement, we have introduced the term “Position-less Marketer” to hundreds of leading marketing executives and learned that readers and the audience interpreted it in several ways. This article will document a few of those interpretations and clarify what “position-less” means regarding marketing prowess.

As a reminder, data analytics and AI, integrated marketing platforms, automation and more make the Position-less Marketer possible. Plus, new generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Canna-GPT, Github, Copilot and DALL-E offer human access to powerful new capabilities that generate computer code, images, songs and videos, respectively, with human guidance.

Position-less Marketer does not mean a marketer without a role; quite the opposite

Speaking with a senior-level marketer at a global retailer, their first interpretation may be a marketer without a role/position. This was a first-glance definition from more than 60% of the marketers who first heard the term. But on hearing the story and relating it to “be position-less” in other professions, including music and sports, most understood it as a multidimensional marketer — or, as we noted, realizing your multipotentiality. 

One executive said, phrasing position-less in a way that clarified it for me was “unlocking your multidimensionality.” She said, “I like this phrase immensely.” In reality, the word we used was “multipotentiality,” and the fact that she landed on multidimensionality is correct. As we noted, you can do more than one thing.

The other 40% of marketing executives did think of the “Position-less Marketer” as a marketing professional who is not confined or defined by traditional marketing roles or boundaries. In that sense, they are not focused only on branding or digital marketing; instead, they are versatile and agile enough to adjust to the new conditions created by the tools that new technology has to offer. As a result, the Position-less Marketer should be comfortable working across channels, platforms and strategies, integrating different approaches to achieve marketing goals effectively.

Navigating the spectrum: Balancing specialization and Position-less Marketing

Some of the most in-depth feedback came from data analytic experts from consulting firms and Chief Marketing Officers who took a more holistic view.

Most discussions of the “Position-less Marketer” concept began with a nuanced perspective on the dichotomy between entrepreneurial companies and large enterprises.

They noted that entrepreneurial companies are agile and innovative, but lack scalability and efficiency. Conversely, large enterprises excel at execution but struggle with innovation due to rigid processes.

Drawing parallels, many related this to marketing functionality, with specialists excelling in their domain, but needing a more holistic perspective and Position-less Marketers having a broader understanding but needing deep expertise.

Some argued that neither extreme is ideal and emphasized the importance of balancing specialization and generalization based on the company’s growth stage and competitive landscape.

They highlight the need for leaders to protect processes while fostering innovation, citing Steve Jobs’ approach of creating separate teams to drive innovation within Apple. They stress the significance of breaking down silos and encouraging collaboration across functions, even if it means challenging existing paradigms.

Ultimately, these experts recommended adopting a Position-less Marketing approach as a competitive advantage in today’s landscape, where tight specialization is common. They suggest that by connecting dots across different functions, companies can offer unique value to customers. However, they caution against viewing generalization as an absolute solution, emphasizing the importance of context and competitive positioning.

These marketing leaders advocate for a balanced marketing approach that leverages specialization and generalization to drive innovation and competitive advantage while acknowledging the need to adapt strategies based on industry dynamics and competitive positioning.

Be position-less, but not too position-less — realize your multipotentiality

This supports what was noted in the March 20th article: to be position-less, but not too position-less. When we realize our multipotentiality and multidimensionality, we excel as humans. AI becomes an augmentation.

But just because you can individually execute on all cylinders in marketing and perform data analytics, writing, graphics and more from your desktop does not mean you should.

Learn when being position-less is best for the organization and when it isn’t. Just because you can write copy with ChatGPT does not mean you will write with the same skill and finesse as a professional copywriter. So be position-less, but not too position-less.

Position-less vs. being pigeonholed

At the same time, if you are a manager, do not pigeonhole people. Let them spread their wings using today’s latest AI tools for human augmentation.

For managers, finding the right balance between guiding marketing pros to be position-less and, at other times, holding their position as specialists and bringing in specialists from different marketing disciplines will take a lot of work. We are at the beginning of this new era. However, working toward the right balance is a step forward in a new world where humans and AI work hand-in-hand to optimize marketing teams.

We are at a pivot point for the marketing profession. Those who can be position-less and managers who can optimize teams with flawless position-less execution will secure their position for a lifetime.

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