Let me guess: You started your business out of passion; a desire to be your own boss and free yourself from having to report to someone.
That desire to be your own boss was soon replaced with the realization that there’s a lot to do. You find yourself juggling everything, from marketing, sales, accounting to tax, payroll and customer services.
The one thing you crave is more time. Not only that, but you realize there are tasks you love and others you absolutely hate.
I’d take a guess and say that things like bookkeeping and filing taxes are among those activities you disdain. And, that building relationships, coming up with ideas, executing your work and focusing on strategies to grow your business are the tasks you love.
There’s one problem: All these tasks are fighting for your time. But more often than not it’s the mundane, repetitive tasks that take up too much time, sap your passion and creativity and may even put you off running a small business altogether!
Don’t get me wrong; you need to do those mundane tasks, they’re part and parcel of running a business. But, if you play your cards right, and use the right strategies you can solve the above dilemma.
One solution? You could hire more staff, but this is only an additional cost. The chances are that as a small business, you don’t always have that money.
The better solution? Automation.
In this post we:
Let’s get to it.
Automation is a method that lets you control and operate processes with minimal human intervention
As Hitendra Patil says, “Automation, in effect, identifies the work only humans can do, and that, in essence, is the work you should be doing in any case.”
It consists of restructuring labor, using technology, integrating applications and using software to streamline business processes, reduce human touch points and cut the time spent on mundane, and otherwise unnecessary, tasks.
Let’s look at a few examples of online tools that help you automate processes:
Through these examples, I’m sure you can already see how automation can benefit your business. But let’s look at these in detail.
Nothing sucks the life out of you more than repetitive tasks. They’re mundane, and require no specialized skills, whatsoever.
Think about manually personalizing and sending the same email to 50 people. Or, creating a new invoice for a client each month despite the fact that they’re on a retainer and the invoice remains the same each month.
It’s a waste of time.
Thankfully automation can help in the following ways:
Use automation wisely, and you’ll now have to much free time. Time you can spend on work that matters.
Consider the previous example where you created that invoice for a client each month. It probably took 10-15 minutes and involved a variation of the following: You updated the dates, adjusted the PO number and spent time searching folders on your computer to find the invoice.
You then logged into your email application, typed in the address, crafted a subject line, wrote an email, reviewed the email, and finally hit send.
Now consider what you could have done in that time: You could have phoned an existing client, had a chat, nurtured that relationship, and even upsold your services. Not only is that work more fulfilling, but it has a direct, tangible benefit to the growth of your business.
Investopedia defines scalability as, “a characteristic of a system, model or function that describes its capability to cope and perform under an increased or expanding workload.”
Rephrased: your business will be able to maintain efficiency and performance as it grows and faces more operational demands.
Imagine this scenario: You’re a freelancer who does all the work. You manage the books, create and send invoices, file taxes and find new clients — all while doing existing client work.
As your business grows, so do the operational demands. More customers mean more work, more emails, more invoices and so it goes on.
There’s only so much you can do yourself. At that point, your limited time and resources place restrictions on your growth.
But, if you outsource services to contractors, and better yet, use automation to free up time, you’ll become more efficient. More importantly, you’ll grow without existing process and structures limiting your growth.
There are several online tools and apps (besides the ones we’ve listed) that will help you become more efficient and facilitate this growth. Entrepreneur lists several more.
While automation will save you from the mundane, help you do work you love and grow your business, it’s not a magic bullet.
Every task you automate requires some amount of manual input. For example, social media scheduling tools demand that someone curates the content, creates the schedules, and updates those schedules. The automation kicks in when those tasks are complete and the posts go out on a schedule.
The idea, of course, is to limit the manual input so that humans do the tasks they should do, and automation tools do the rest.
How, though, do you identify those tasks you should automate?
Ask yourself the following four questions:
These may include social media scheduling, filing tax returns, reconciling bank accounts and chasing late payments.
These may include internal communication, emails and dealing with customer service complaints
These tasks will vary from simple to more complex, from sending an email to your project management process.
Some business areas need more automation than others. Look at your business in its totality. Consider all the functions from marketing, sales, human resources, accounting and even payroll. Then ask yourself: “What functions need automation and how much automation do they need.”
Fully automating customer service, for example, isn’t a good idea. People want you to care. They want to feel valued. Too much automation will only make them feel like a number. So strike a balance between automated email responders and solving their problems over the phone.
Your business is your baby. You started it out of passion. But the realization that there is a lot to do can quickly replace that love. You may find yourself spending too much time on tasks that aren’t growing your business.
By using automation, you can recapture that passion and love for your business. You can cut the time you spend on repetitive tasks to focus on work you actually love. More importantly, you can scale your business, so that the growth doesn’t suck the life out of you.
Automation can be a godsend, but it’s not a magic bullet. You should approach it strategically by considering what activities you should automate. Do that, and you’ll realize its power.
Do you use automation? How does your business benefit?