Written by Oliver Robertson
If business owners weren’t able to automate, or at least partially automate, many day-to-day tasks then they wouldn’t have any time left to focus on doing the most important thing of all: making money. Whilst it’s possible to hire staff specialising in areas such as human resources management, administration, project management and customer relationships, these can prove to be very costly hires that will ultimately eat into your bottom line. A route many small businesses turn to is to have members of the team turn their hand to these areas in addition to their day-to-day roles as required. However, a lot of these tasks can in fact be automated, freeing up your team from time consuming admin and leaving them to concentrate on activities that will bring money to your business instead.
There are literally thousands of vendors, software systems and approved resellers on the market that promise to make your company’s operations more efficient and cost-effective, so we’ll leave the decision-making up to you. The aim of this feature is to give you a broad overview of process automation, and several of the more well-known players in the field, to help make that decision-making process easier.
Taking the Initial Steps
The first course of action as a business owner is to assess which areas of the business can be automated and which ones will provide the most benefit in terms of ROI. What does your business currently do that could be done more efficiently? Try to identify at least one area that could be improved upon as a starting point and then expand the process from there, prioritising repetitive tasks that currently take a long time to do manually.
And If Tools Aren’t On Your Agenda?
Batch processing is a simple way to immediately make your business more efficient without investing in additional tools. It describes the process of grouping similar activities together and doing them all at once. This works particularly well for admin tasks, including social media interaction (always remember to have a plan in regards to this), responding to emails, paying bills and ordering stock. Set aside an hour or two specifically for these tasks daily (or weekly, depending on their importance) and you’ll soon find you’ve got additional time for more pressing business matters.
Marketing Your Business
Marketing tools help promote and grow your business online. If done properly, email marketing can be a powerful asset, and most importantly it is one that can be highly automated. The MailChimp platform enables you to tailor email campaigns by target audience, timing and design. It allows you to get your messages out to large numbers of people in minutes, without sending thousands of individual emails.
Streamlining Admin & Office Tasks
Admin can be tedious and really slow you down. A great way of saving time in this respect is to invest in a tool like Shoeboxed. This handy tool lets you send all the receipts that you’d usually scan into your accounting software to them and they do all the hard work for you, meaning no more mind-numbing and time-consuming data entry!
In terms of sharing and storing files easily, Dropbox is probably your best bet. It has a free option that allows you to store up to 2GB worth of files and make them available to the whole company, helping your documents stay organised and saving you from endlessly sending attachments back and forth by email.
There are many HR software platforms on the market, and if you can put absence management, annual leave booking and other elements in the hands of your staff by way of an online HR software system, then all the better. Platforms such as BreatheHR enable employees to simply log in online and book holiday or account for sick leave, practically negating the need for you to invest in a multi-member human resources team.
Managing Customer Relationships
Customer relationship management, or CRM, ties nicely into your email marketing campaigns and allows you to automate the collection of customer data, purchases and any other activity. Perhaps the best known software is SalesForce, which can automatically label hot leads and automate the sales funnel process. It allows you to keep customers’ attention in a partially automated way, increasing the likelihood of them making a purchase from you.
What business automation tools do you currently use? Let us know your favourites and how they help you free up time for the important stuff!