Business automation might seem expensive and complicated. But the reward on investment is more than worth it.
As a business leader, your day-to-day is full of highly necessary—but tedious—tasks that don’t help your business scale. Fortunately, business automation can help. Tasks like:
- Filing digitally or manually
- Replying to emails
- Staying on top of operational activities like payroll and employee scheduling
- Creating and following up on invoices
- Logging expenses
…become simpler, more efficient, and faster with the right systems in place.
Inefficiencies cost many organizations 20–30% of their annual revenue. And so many competing priorities can really hit you where it hurts: Businesses slow down, become less productive, and lose money.
You probably already use basic automation to take care of things like email marketing and invoicing. Between 2017 and 2019, companies using automation for mission-critical processes rose from 16% to 50%.
But when you’re growing, intermediate and advanced automation apps and software are a must. Basic solutions only get you so far before you run into inefficiencies again. Bigger businesses have more complex needs, and that means they need a solution that accounts for complexity and continuous scaling.
The Benefits of Business Automation
We’ve mentioned that business automation will shorten your to-do list. But automation software for bigger businesses should do a lot more, too. Here are a few of the benefits businesses can enjoy from intermediate-level automations.
Automation Allows Your Team to Focus on High-Impact Work
Did you know that 90% of employees are burdened with boring and repetitive tasks that could be automated away (ThinkAutomation)?
For example: Accounting software can automate recurring billing and set up reminders to improve cash flow without losing client management time to following up on unpaid invoices.
By automating the tedious tasks, your team can focus on work that needs a human, creative, or innovative touch:
- Upleveling their creativity for their projects
- Building out and executing on tailored strategies for your company
- Maintaining and improving client relationships
- Reaching out and building relationships with potential partners
- Iterating on their processes, now that they aren’t bogged down by administration
- Coming up with new strategies, medium- and long-term planning, and more
Plus, you’ll improve team morale. No one likes to feel like they’re a monkey pushing a button all day. In general, a good mantra is that humans should do work that only humans can do. If an app or program can do it for you, automate it.
With the right automation processes, your team will be empowered to do the work that really matters to your business—and enjoy it.
Automation Saves Money for Your Business
Data shows that business automation can help you save on costs and increase revenue. Implementing automation software can generate 30–200% return on investment (ROI) in the first year alone, and highly automated companies are 6x more likely to see revenue growth of upwards of 15%.
Businesses can achieve this ROI with streamlined processes and helping employees handle their workload with technology.
Automation tools can be an upfront investment, but the high ROI makes them cost-effective in the long run. You’ll save money on:
- Hiring: Automation can help you accomplish more without necessarily needing to hire more workers
- Fewer mistakes: Automation can help remove opportunities for human error, which in turn can cut down on the need to reproduce products due to mistakes, and curb product returns and exchanges
- Lower operational costs: Automating certain tasks and functions can help you uncover redundant, unnecessary processes and eliminate them
Automation Creates Consistency and Standardizes Processes
By standardizing processes and workflows, automation helps your team create and maintain consistent output. We’ve all at some point had to do rinse-and-repeat manual work. So we understand that the propensity for error is high. Your brain disengages because you’re bored and all of a sudden you miss one minor detail. But the impact can be cumulative, and cause inconsistencies and further problems down the road.
One concrete (at first glance, seemingly trivial) example of this is when you’re sending out loads of invoices. You lock into a pattern of building them and get really good. Until you take your eye off the ball and forget, say, to update the invoice number. It’s a small detail. But it means your books will be thrown off, and you may have to go back-and-forth with clients to correct the mistake.
Implementing automated processes across your business can ensure high-quality, efficient work even as your business scales and faces more operational demands.
Let’s say an agency automates certain part of the communication process with clients (think project deliveries, emails triggered when a project moves from one stage to another, etc.). Thanks to these automated communications, agency customers stay informed about the status of their projects. In turn, this can help increase overall customer satisfaction.
Through standardized processes, automation can also help future-proof your business. It helps your team retain valuable institutional knowledge. Plus, automation software doesn’t go anywhere when an employee leaves. That minimizes the knowledge gap between employees. Just train them up, and your business will keep running without interruption.
Business Automation Ideas: 25 Ways to Standardize Day-to-Day Tasks
To get started with business automation, here are some ideas for tasks that technology can take off your plate.
Automation helps maintain the financial health of your company. The right tools streamline everything from setting up estimates to tracking time against projects to sending and collecting on invoices.
Your accounting software should cover:
- Estimates and project proposals
- Time tracking
- Invoicing and payment reminders
- Automated credit card billing
According to Instapage, 75% of marketers already use at least one marketing automation tool. Automation is everywhere in marketing, making it easier to reach as many people as possible in as little time as possible.
When automating your marketing efforts, look for:
- Campaign and email drip creation
- Tracking and analytics
- Landing page hosting
- Email scheduling
- Customer relationship management (CRM) integration
- Website tracking
Even small sales teams can compete when armed with the right tools. Automating sales processes means valuable call time won’t be spent on tasks like logging deal details into your CRM, manually processing dozens of orders, or combing through contact lists for lead generation.
Your sales team should automate:
- Funnel management
- Order processing
- Lead nurturing and follow-up tasks
- Lead generation
- Marketing-to-sales lead pass-offs
- Appointment scheduling
With smaller recruiting and human resources teams, and a growing pool of job candidates, more people departments need technology to help fill the gaps. Fortunately, automation can streamline with a variety of tasks like candidate outreach, interview scheduling, and time tracking for current employees.
- New hire onboarding
- Candidate outreach
- Candidate interview management
- Absenteeism and vacation requests
- Benefit managements
How to Implement Business Automation
Implementations are costly, complicated affairs. If you’re looking to put business automation in place, follow these tips and guidelines for an easier time.
Plan Your Implementation
When you’re ready to get started with more advanced automation, you have two potential paths:
- Prioritize based on complexity: Starting with your easiest implementation first can help with change management, bracing your team for what’s coming. Plus, you’ll be up and running as quickly as possible. Then expand to others once the first is optimized (e.g., automating your email marketing, then accounting, then HR).
- Prioritize based on need: Depending on your unique business needs and budget, assess and prioritize what needs to be automated immediately. For example: Are you or your account managers spending hours tracking time against projects in spreadsheets? That’s lost money. Make sure you place automated time tracking early in your implementation schedule.
Neither of these options is better than the other—what works best will depend on your business. After you choose the option that works best for your business, you can begin investigating the right tools and partnerships to help you achieve your automation goals.
Choose a Technology Partner to Help
When doing your homework on the right tools to fit your needs, keep a few things in mind, including:
- Choose tools based on your goals: Make sure your partner has the right feature set at the right price, and ensure that they have full access to all the features they need.
- Look for ready-made solutions: It’s tempting to build your own solution. But building a custom solution is really only a fit for businesses with highly specific needs. Proprietary solutions require a lot of time and money to build, and age quickly. Ready-made tools help you hit the ground running, and often have enough flexibility that they can suit most business’ needs. Plus, most cloud-based solutions will update themselves!
- Check for integrations: Your chosen solution should integrate with at least some of your other systems. For example, select an accounting tool that integrates well with your payroll. Look for tools with an open API—this makes it easier to integrate with a variety of other tools and platforms.
- Ask about implementation: Make sure that your implementation is as simple as possible. Is it an out of the box solution? Does your technology partner help you set up? Do they have customer service available at convenient hours as you get used to the platform? A little help goes a long way with making implementations easier.
- Investigate support: Support isn’t something most of us thinking about when we’re buying software. But it can be a difference-maker when you need it.
Even better, build yourself a checklist, like the FreshBooks accounting software buying checklist.
Track Your New Automations
Once you’ve invested in the automation software that works for you, it’s time to track ROI. It isn’t enough to set it and forget it—you’ll need to monitor the ways it’s supporting your business.
Stay on top of your investment by monitoring these key things:
- Track key performance indicators (KPIs)—think invoice payments clearing faster—to determine if the solution works or needs further optimization
- Keep an eye on live automations to ensure they’re functioning properly, and stay on top of processes that are no longer active so you can archive them
- Regularly evaluate your tech stack to make sure all your systems are well-integrated and sharing the right data between them
Moving Forward With Automation
With automation, you’ll cut the time you spend on repetitive manual tasks. That leaves you free to scale your business and liberates your team to focus on getting more done in less time.
This post was updated in December 2019.
about the author
Lindsey Peacock is a writer, editor, and American expat based in Toronto. When she isn’t helping businesses tell their stories, you can find her at the nearest dog park with her beloved ginger husky, Charlie.