When you’re managing a business, it’s a simple fact of life: you don’t have enough time or resources to do everything you need (or want) to do. You’re wasting hours per week on administrative tasks that are repetitive and low-value, potentially losing your business thousands of dollars each year.
Thankfully, the digital age has introduced countless business automation solutions that can save you time and money. And the good news is that automation doesn’t need to be as complicated as it sounds.
What Is Automation?
Simply put, business automation is the use of technology to reduce the amount of manual labour involved in repetitive and essential processes. It can help maximize productivity, regardless of your business’s size.
While business can never be entirely conducted without that human touch, it’s a fact that if you can take some of the mundane tasks off of your team’s plates, you’ll be able to devote more time to the elements of your business that no computer can replicate.
And automation tools let you monitor data and identify any bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or redundant processes and make corrections—resulting in lower overall operating costs. Also, automating specific tasks means you can get more done with fewer labour hours.
Common Areas of the Business That Can Benefit from Automation
In business, almost every level and department—from employee management to sales, to customer service, to accounting—would benefit from some measure of automation.
If you take purchase orders or deal with suppliers, let business automation services handle the repetitive tasks involved. If you set many appointments, it’s likely more cost-effective to implement a scheduling tool rather than hiring an assistant to manage your schedule.
And even payroll, which is a weekly or bi-weekly task that may not seem to take much bandwidth at first glance, can be taken off your hands by a payroll management tool and save you more time for less mundane tasks.
But while almost every department in a hypothetical business could benefit from automation tools, not every business is the same. That’s why when choosing technology solutions for your business, you need to decide which automation will give you the best return on investment.
How to Figure Out What to Automate in Your Business
There are quite a few tools available on the market, so it’s likely that if you need something automated, there’s a product out there to suit you. But that doesn’t mean that every tool is right for you.
To start, look for existing workflows in your business that are:
- Very repetitive and don’t require much (if any) critical evaluation or creativity to complete. Items like mailing, shipping, payments, reminders, and sending intake forms would make for significant automation tasks.
- Focused on data entry. If your team does a lot of transferring information from paper into a spreadsheet or system, there’s likely an optical character recognition (OCR) tool that can do that laborious task for you.
- Prone to human error. Does your work process involve number-crunching? Transferring data from one place to another? Any method that may put your customer privacy or security at risk could be a great candidate for automation tools. Automated workflows improve efficiency and reduce human error.
- Time-saving or have a high ROI. This one’s simple—how much, in hard numbers like employee labour hours or opportunity cost, will you save from automating the workflow in question? Does that number outweigh the cost of the automation tool? If so, the odds are good that automating that task is worthwhile.
And when in doubt, ask your team! They’re likely to have a great idea of what types of activities are prime automation material for your company.
Implementing Automation in Your Business
One word of warning: simply buying a subscription or downloading an app isn’t going to cut it when it comes to the business automation process. If you want to see optimum results out of your automation campaign, you’ll need to have the capacity and ability to integrate the tool successfully into your organization’s process. We cover this topic in our article, Is Now a Good Time to Build Automation Into Your Business?
This means training employees on the new procedures. Also, you’ll need to interpret the data that emerges from the use of these automation tools if you want them to help you make business planning decisions for the future.
7 Things You Can Automate to Save Time and Money
There are plenty of automation tools available today that can help you simplify your company’s workflows. Let’s take a look at just a few of the most popular areas in which organizations benefit from business automation services.
Communication and Task Management
One of the easiest ways to automate your business is to get your team on the same page. Using task management tools like Asana, Trello, or Todoist, you can easily assign tasks and monitor your staff’s progress.
No more wondering what’s happening with a project or effort; check the shared task for real-time status updates or comments from team members. And these tools will automatically send reminder messages and notifications to team members assigned to a project, meaning no task will slip through the cracks.
It can get a bit tedious—not to mention time-consuming—to send individual emails to customers whenever you need to get in touch with them.
With automation, you can easily compile your contacts’ information into a spreadsheet by first and last name and any other relevant information, then upload that data into your email software of choice and let your email campaign templates do the hard work for you by sending out bulk emails.
Email automation tools like Mailchimp, OptinMonster, and Convertkit let you schedule mass email campaigns and segment your messaging by various audience characteristics. You can also create newsletter subscription forms to build your email list, which is excellent for lead generation.
If you prefer the more manual route, we have an article on 10 Steps to Efficiently Manage Your Email Inbox, which covers some helpful tips and tricks to tame email overwhelm.
Using business automation software to track payments and handle your billing and invoicing can be a great way to reduce user error and integrate real-time reporting into your workflow. This means your finance team can catch and resolve any potential issues before they become big problems.
Software tools like Intuit QuickBooks, FreshBooks, and Xero can automate your accounting tasks, not only saving your finance department time and human resources but also reducing risk.
Meeting management systems—or meeting automation platforms (MAPs)—can help streamline your scheduling and digital integration. MAPs let you take the manual work out of scheduling, optimizing the time spent planning your day.
Tools like Calendly and Acuity can help you avoid wasted time going back and forth with customers or coworkers looking for an optimum time to meet.
Client relationship management (CRM) software like Hubspot or MailChimp makes it simple to keep all of your organization’s customer data in one place. It can provide real-time analytics about the status of each customer relationship and helps you provide a better end-to-end customer experience.
Your management can also decide who has access to this sensitive data within your company, helping protect client information from malicious actors and security risks.
The hiring and onboarding process can be long and tedious. Why not let automation take on some of the work?
Many online job boards like Ziprecruiter have automated tools that filter out applicants that are a terrible fit before their resumes even reach your desk. They can review resumes and cover letters to see which candidates match the qualifications in your job post.
And automated background check screening software like GoodHire can eliminate the need to send individual background check requests for the candidates you’re considering.
Many clients contact you—whether it be over voice calls, social messaging, live chat, or email—asking the same basic questions. An automatic answering system like Freshdesk or Zendesk will give customers the easy-to-find answers they’re seeking or otherwise direct their messages to the appropriate staff member or department for further processing.
Avoiding passing customer communications around from department to department will lessen client frustration and reduce wasted time among your staff, saving you time and increasing customer satisfaction.
Business Automation: Crucial, and Not as Tricky as it Sounds
The business automation process is about more than simply transitioning away from paper and PDFs. The digital tools and software you implement will help optimize your company’s workflows and shave off wasted time and resources among your staff.
Automation tools can also minimize human error and integrate data across platforms, giving you better reporting and data analysis to take your company to new heights. Whether you’re choosing individual platforms to solve your needs or using an integrator like Zapier or Integromat, the goal should be saving as much time and money in your business as possible.
The only question remains: which automation tools will you choose first?