Looking to free up valuable time as a small business owner? Automate. Running a small business is demanding, especially considering all the different “to-dos” a business owner needs to tackle on a daily basis, including inventory, sales, payroll, correspondence, marketing, managing your employees...the list goes on. But what all business owners need to learn before they suffer from burnout or stress as a result of working long hours is how to optimize business efficiencies.
Automation can begin by identifying ways that will help maximize your efforts, whether it’s responding to customer queries or plotting out a marketing plan. Automation can also be implemented by using tools that include managing your schedule or communicating with your team and assigning tasks. For many business owners, automation is a way of dealing with repeat tasks effectively and making sure that your business is working even when you’re not.
What Should I Automate in My Business?
Your time is valuable, so let’s start by figuring out what takes up most of your time. Is it invoicing? Bookkeeping? Payroll? Marketing? Or do you find that a lot of your time is spent managing your human resources and communicating with your employees or vendors? Do you spend most of your day tackling bloated mailboxes, answering emails and responding to customer queries? If any of these tasks take up large chunks of your time, the clear solution is to see if there is a way to automate these jobs...and luckily there is.
Automating certain repetitive tasks will free up your time by incorporating processes in your workflow that will run even when you are not actively engaged in these tasks. For instance, there are tools and apps available that can help process invoices, track spending and create reports, all without the need for your direct intervention. You can even automate your recruitment and data management needs by adding workflow efficiencies and new employee or work-for-hire onboarding practices.
For a breakdown on how to begin to tackle your small business automation needs, we’ve organized this blog to cover five key areas that will benefit from automation.
Key Areas to Automate in Your Business
There are a number of redundant tasks involving the flow of money to and from your business. Keeping track of accounts payable and receivable and making sure payroll runs smoothly can take up valuable time and company resources. One way to save time and resources is to use tools and apps that will help improve efficiencies and reduce errors.
Accounting software can add value to your business, automate sales and also generate statements. Bench offers new business owners and entrepreneurs the ability to automatically manage their bookkeeping, tax and banking services. Bench also categorizes business transactions, reconciles bank accounts and prepares financial statements for each month. There are three subscription models with pricing that ranges from $599 for pro services to $299 for core (standard) support. Incfile also offers a business accounting service where we can take care of your accounting and bookkeeping needs.
With online services and software programs, the job of a company payroll manager may become a thing of the past. The good news is that this once required role in any business may now be relegated to companies like Gusto, ADP Workforce Now or Paychex to ensure that your employees get paid through direct bank deposits. The payroll and benefits management companies will also help break down tax deductions and any employee and employer contributions to healthcare and 401(k) plans. This automation can also help manage benefits, including paid time off and sick days, and prepare W-2 forms.
Pricing for these services can range. The pricing for Gusto includes a standard “core” service at $39.00 a month (plus $6.00 per employee) as well as a higher-priced concierge service with a base cost of $149 per month (plus $12.00 per employee). The basic package for ADP Workforce Now is $59 per month plus $4 per employee and you can also start your coverage with a three-month trial offer.
Paychex also comes with a free three-month trial offer, but their pricing model will vary depending on the needs of your business.
Staying on top of billing can be a full-time job. It’s especially important if you like getting paid and want to make sure payments are received in a timely manner or tracked if they are overdue. There are a number of options for small business owners to choose from when it comes to streamlining and automating their invoicing. Software that can help with this key requirement for keeping any business afloat includes Invoicera, Zoho Subscriptions and Coupa.
When it comes to invoicing services, these companies also provide supplier and purchase order management, payment handling, expense management, recurring invoicing and more — all time-consuming tasks needed to run a business.
Pricing for invoicing software and service providers can vary. Invoicera offers a 15-day free trial and comes with packages that range with monthly costs between $15 to $149 for its top-tier Infinite package. Zoho Subscriptions comes with a free service but also provides business owners with Basic, Standard and Professional services that run from $49 to $249.
Marketing and Sales
Marketing campaigns and product sales play a major role in many businesses. So how do you automate marketing and how can social media help you accomplish this? Many businesses rely on email campaigns to announce new products, sales and promotions. One way business shares this information is through newsletters and email blasts either targeted at new customers or buyers with a particular purchasing history. One way to automate these email campaigns is either through MailChimp, Drip or GetResponse. In addition to using emails as a marketing tool, other ways to automate marketing can include:
Creating sales and ad campaigns. This is ideal when new customers search for your business online. Once they reach your website, they are added to a retargeting campaign where they are shown different ads for a set period of time. These digital ads will help highlight your product and services with the goal to generate interest from a new potential customer.
Automating social media. By building in ads through Facebook, YouTube or any of the other social media companies, you can attract potential customers through videos that will lead them to more videos and content covering your brands or services. This approach will help guide them through the buying process until they make the decision to complete the sale. And if you're not using a social media management tool like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule your social posts, doing so is an easy way to automate your posting schedule.
Utilizing text messaging. Just like the automated approach for emails, the use of text messaging is another way to reach out to customers at set times. And unlike emails that can sit around unread for days, almost everybody looks at their text in real time. And not many people will complain about a message that says, "Text 5555 and get your 50 percent off coupon."
Incorporating customer relations management (CRM). Investing in a good CRM is another way where your business will benefit from its marketing and sales potential. Through a CRM tool or service such as Capsule or Apptivo, you can store customer contact information, identify opportunities, manage sales and ad campaigns and basically keep track of anything related to your customer base. It also helps maintain communication and builds in a process that can be fine-tuned and made unique to each business owner's needs.
Recruiting the right team can be time-consuming. Whether you’re looking for a full-time employee or part-time, temporary work, one way to streamline your search and find an ideal candidate is to utilize Upwork, ZipRecruiter or Cornerstone. These services cut down on the research that you would usually need to spend valuable time on and will work to match your requirements with the right candidate.
Cornerstone includes features covering onboarding, internal HR and resume parsing and provides business owners with a self-service portal. Upwork offers employers a way of finding the right employee or freelancer for the job. Once you find the right candidate, you just need to pay your hire the agreed-upon price plus a 3 percent processing fee on payments. Upwork gets its cut from the freelancers that find work through a percentage fee.
Driven by advances in technology and the need to work with different people who may not share the same workspace, managing teams and workflows has greatly improved as a result of digital automation. Today you can communicate with your employees, track and manage the status of assignments and build schedules through team management apps that include Trello, Asana and Beekeeper, just to mention a few.
The costs for these digital management systems can range. If you choose Asana, the pricing can go from as low as free for basic services to as high as $30.00 per user, per month for the business option.
Team management software can enhance communication capabilities, increase employee engagement, organize online meetings and events and build on your business’s productivity. Most of these apps also provide a free demo or trial offer.
Staying Ahead Through Automation
The demands of your small business will dictate your needs when it comes to automation. But rest assured, there are a number of options and tools that can help offer the support you need, whether it’s managing emails, organizing data, document storage, tracking shipments or even launching a marketing campaign. Utilizing small business automation options will help simplify your workflow and keep you organized and on top of your business. Additional key benefits can include:
Managing your assets and human resources
The cost of not automating can be burnout and failure to tackle every task that requires your attention. Utilizing automation tools and services will ensure that tasks are being handled responsibly through the use of tools that you can easily access and manage. As a result, you will have the flexibility and bandwidth to run your business rather than have your business run you.
Peter Mavrikis is an author and editor with over 25 years of experience in publishing. He has worked as the Editorial Director for Barron’s Educational Series, as well as Kaplan Test Prep, where he ran the test prep, foreign language, and study guide divisions. Peter has also written several books on history, exploration, science, and technology.