Of all the resources at an organization’s disposal, the most valuable is time. That’s why organizations must ensure that they spend their limited time on activities and tasks that bring value to their business. What helps you do this successfully? Business process automation.
By automating routine and repetitive tasks, organizations can reclaim their time and spend it on more productive or revenue-driven activities. Additionally, automation can help reduce the possibility of manual errors, saving both time and effort.
The great news is that business process automation is not just for enterprises and large organizations. Small businesses can equally benefit from it or even more so.
According to Zapier’s 2021 State of Business Automation Report, 88% of small and midsize businesses reported that automation enables them to compete with bigger organizations. Moreover, 66% of them said that automation is critical for running their businesses now.
The question is no longer whether small businesses should automate or not, but to figure out which processes and functions are ripe for automation. To help, here are 10 things that your small business should consider automating first.
1. Client invoicing
Accounting and invoicing can prove to be challenging, even for large companies. For small businesses with a smaller workforce, the challenge rises exponentially. As such, automation can be a blessing. Here’s how:
- There are plenty of tools that can automatically track expenses and timesheets, verify the accuracy of data, and assemble ready-to-send invoices.
- With these tools, you can also automatically track the status of payments and even periodically notify clients of any outstanding invoices.
These tools can significantly speed up the accounting and invoicing process, helping you optimize your cash flows. You will no longer need to chase clients for payments or worry about the accuracy of your invoices. The reliability and consistency of your invoices can also help you build a stronger and more trusted relationship with your clients, which is invaluable for small businesses.
Marketing plays a crucial role in growing a small business. However, given the limited workforce and budgets available, it is not always easy for them to invest the time and effort necessary to run bigger marketing campaigns.
The good news is that plenty of powerful automated marketing tools are available today.
In fact, according to HubSpot’s State of Marketing Trends Report 2022, 79% of organizations automate their marketing processes, underlining its increasing importance in business today.
Leveraging such tools can help bridge the gap and even out the playing field between small businesses and their larger competitors. Additionally, these tools take over tedious tasks enabling you and your team to focus better on developing marketing campaigns and strategies for business growth.
How can you begin with this?
Start by finding out which marketing channels you wish to leverage and the activities to automate, such as:
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
- Keyword optimization
- Abandoned cart marketing automation
- A/B testing
- Lead generation
- Market research
There’s a whole gamut of automation tools available for such activities and more.
3. Project management
Project management can benefit greatly from business process automation. Typically, projects have a wide range of routine and administrative tasks which can be easily automated. This translates into significant savings in terms of time and effort that can be better utilized in other, more strategic tasks.
Automating project management helps improve the productivity of your employees while reducing their workload simultaneously.
There are plenty of areas in project management that you can automate easily. Some examples include:
- Review and approval
- Task tracking
- Time recording and more
If you are looking for tools that will help you with managing client projects, consider getting a professional services automation (PSA) tool such as Polaris PSA.
PSA tools are comprehensive solutions that can help you automate a wide range of project management processes such as managing time spent on project tasks and activities, tracking project budgets, sending real-time project updates to stakeholders, and more.
4. Resource management
Manually identifying and allocating resources to different tasks and projects consumes a lot of time. It also involves juggling multiple spreadsheets, schedules, and other documents, increasing the risk of over or under-allocation. Given the high degree of inefficiency that this can result in, your small business can benefit greatly from automating this process.
- Automating resource management lets you quickly allocate the right resource to the right task based on predefined criteria to get the desired results.
- Since such tools can also check resource availability based on their schedules and time off, it becomes easier to ensure that you have enough resources for a project at any given time.
5. Time tracking
Time tracking forms the backbone of several key organizational processes. Time data is necessary to run payroll, calculate project costs, and invoice clients. As such, you need your employees to submit accurate timesheets on time or it can hamper the processes mentioned above.
Unfortunately, few employees like filling up timesheets manually and it is not uncommon for them to apply guesswork when doing so. The resulting inaccuracy can create multiple payroll and compliance issues down the line.
To avoid the pitfalls of poor time-tracking practices, small businesses should consider implementing an automated timesheet tool. These tools can cut down on the hassle of ensuring accurate timesheet data by:
- Easily tracking time spent across different work applications
- Capturing time data anywhere and anytime for remote employees
- Automatically tracking time against projects, tasks, and activities
- Preventing error-prone manual entries
- Meeting compliance requirements, and more
6. Customer support
Customers can have a wide range of questions about your business, products, or services. While you may have a FAQ page for answering the most common questions, is it possible to anticipate all of their queries?
Also, it isn’t feasible for your customers to email or phone your business every time they are curious about something. Your customers are more likely to leave than wait around for an answer in today’s hyper-competitive marketplaces.
To prevent this situation, consider adding a chatbot to your website.
- Chatbots can easily provide high-quality support to your customers 24/7/365.
- In addition to helping customers track their orders, chatbots can even recommend products and answer inquiries.
This reduces the burden on your support staff as they are no longer burdened with a large volume of simple & repetitive issues. Instead, they can take over from the chatbot when a personal touch is required, or more complex inquiries arise.
7. Payroll management
When you have a few employees, payroll management may not seem very challenging. However, as your business grows and more employees join your workforce, running payroll can quickly spiral into a nightmare. After all, you must ensure your employees are paid correctly and on time while complying with all applicable tax regulations. Failure to do so can result in costly legal penalties.
By automating payroll, your small business can:
- Save a lot of time, especially around tax season.
- Drastically reduce the chances of errors and mistakes.
- Ensure compliance with the latest tax regulations.
8. Documentation and record-keeping
It goes without saying that keeping records and maintaining documentation are critical to running a business. Documents such as expense reports, financial statements, invoices, etc., are necessary for a wide range of functions, from decision-making to determining tax liabilities to complying with laws and regulations.
Failure to do so can negatively impact your business. However, it is frighteningly easy to lose important documents and records unless they are stored securely.
Business process automation tools can go a long way in reducing the worry of accessing and misplacing vital documents:
- Such tools can keep your documentation sorted categorically for easy access to save time.
- You can use these tools to perform regular backups of your business data automatically.
- Some of these solutions can even encrypt the data to prevent malicious actors from gaining access to it.
Some business solutions designed for other processes like payroll and invoicing may also come with features to help backup the data regularly. This means you don’t need another tool to perform such backups. You can protect your data while ensuring it remains available and accessible whenever you need it.
9. Data analytics and reports
With data playing an increasingly important role in running a business today, many organizations are moving towards a data-driven approach. By leveraging data analytics, small organizations can gain incredible insights into their business processes, customer behaviors, market trends, and more.
Here’s how this can help:
- Automation tools for data analysis can easily extract, consolidate and analyze data from various business processes.
- These tools also visually present the data and analytics in the form of dashboards, charts, etc., which makes it easier for stakeholders to understand the information.
- It is even possible to generate and send reports to all relevant stakeholders and managers periodically to update them on the latest ongoings.
10. Customer relationship management
As your business grows, it will become difficult to effectively engage with every single customer individually. To cultivate a good relationship, you will need to spend considerable time and effort engaging with every customer, which is enormously challenging. That is why investing in an automated customer relationship management (CRM) tool becomes important.
- These tools collate and unify all the information related to your customers. As a result, your team will no longer need to look through multiple databases to check a customer’s information to provide a better experience. This translates to higher customer satisfaction.
- Additionally, CRM tools also help you build and manage a sales pipeline effectively by automating key tasks.
Wrapping it up: The importance of business process automation
As you see now, by using business process automation for routine and repetitive tasks, small businesses can focus on the goals that really matter, such as growing their business. Moreover, technological advancements have made these tools more accessible than ever, allowing small businesses to leverage them and derive greater efficiencies.
It is no longer a question of whether to automate. Rather, small businesses should keep looking for effective ways to automate their operations to save valuable time and stay focused on growth.
Guest Author: Arpan is an assistant content marketing manager at Replicon. He enjoys learning and writing about technologies that are making the world a better place. Arpan enjoys good books, traveling, and writing on a wide range of subjects, from coffee to technology.