As a small business owner, you’re often required to wear many hats. While you can and should be hands-on in as many aspects of your operation as possible, attempting to do too much is one of the leading causes of burnout among new entrepreneurs. The most successful small businesses are often those that take advantage of the many tools and technologies that help with automation.
Once your processes are running smoothly and efficiently, you’ll have more time to devote to big-picture issues and strategic planning — and ultimately you’ll be better positioned to stay competitive as your business weathers the challenges of growth.
In this article, we look at ten of the best ways to automate your small business. Rather than recommend specific products or software, we’ll provide a general overview of some of the more common tasks that can be automated and the benefits of doing so. Read on to learn more!
Weekly, monthly or quarterly financial reports give you a snapshot of the health of your business and alert you to overdue receivables and other cashflow issues. Most enterprise accounting platforms contain tools for automated report generation that are customizable to give you the data you need on demand. Spending an hour or two familiarizing yourself with these features can save you a great deal of time and hassle in the long run.
Automated invoicing is another useful — but often overlooked — feature of most accounting software platforms. As well, many point-of-sale systems will give you the option of generating a receipt for your customer after they make a purchase. Customizing your receipts and invoices using these tools will save time while keeping paperwork to a minimum and improving accountability.
Payroll and HR
As your business grows, one of the biggest administrative hassles you’ll face is managing HR and payroll. When an organization sits in the uncomfortable spot where additional staff is required, but growth doesn’t yet justify hiring a dedicated HR person, oftentimes it falls to the owner to handle these time-consuming tasks. Consider outsourcing to a freelance professional or using an online payroll service to automate HR and payroll while minimizing risk around EEOC or tax issues.
Inventory management is a time-consuming priority for retailers, wholesalers and other small businesses — if you can’t access up-to-date information about the location and availability of your products, your productivity will suffer. Inventory management systems help you keep track of this information and anticipate ahead of time when you need to reorder. Available tools range from tracking software to RFID scanner systems. Which is right for you will depend on the size and scale of your operation.
Making sense of website analytics requires time and effort — it doesn’t help that most platforms present this data in ways that aren’t intuitive for entrepreneurs who lack a background in SEO or SEM. Fortunately, there are many aggregation and reporting tools that can help you make sense of it. If you’re already using one of these systems, consider automating it to provide you with daily, weekly or monthly updates in a format that makes the most sense to you.
If social media is part of your marketing strategy — and, in almost every industry, it should be — you likely spend a lot of time crossposting between platforms. Using an aggregator will automate the process and help you maintain brand consistency whether you’re using any combination of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other services. Additionally, when checking and posting across multiple platforms is easy, you’ll be more inclined to maintain your online presence and respond to potential customers.
Email automation helps you coordinate and plan mass mail-outs, maintain your contact list and track the performance of your various marketing initiatives. While enterprise-grade mailers were once prohibitively expensive, a new generation of cloud- and web-based programs has made these productivity-enhancing tools more accessible to small businesses than ever before. Plan mail-outs in advance, automate the follow-up process and more — there are many smart ways to minimize work while maximizing lead generation via email.
Many small businesses boast that their ability to serve customers is one of the leading factors differentiating them from larger competitors. As you grow, however, you may find that continuing to offer face-to-face support can be a challenge. While expanding your team is one option, there are ways you can do more with fewer resources. For example, setting up a phone system that automates simple tasks like paying an invoice or requesting contact information. You should also work to develop useful online resources — like a FAQ or help section — that customers can refer to when they need assistance.
In a busy small business, your office’s IT infrastructure should be reliable and worry-free. Switching to cloud-based systems will avoid the hassle of maintenance and upkeep, while still ensuring that you have the resources you need, when you need them. Cloud-based applications, VOIP and IT systems are scalable to support future growth, and typically involve a set monthly fee that makes budgeting more predictable.
If you find yourself frequently being asked to approve small expenses, consider empowering your team to use their judgment below a certain threshold. This can involve creating formal rules where none existed before or delegating responsibility to other team members. Either way, you’ll free up time and hopefully avoid confusion among staff.
How We Can Help
You can’t enjoy the benefits of automation unless the technology that’s supporting all aspects of your business — finances, marketing, development, HR and more — works together seamlessly. One of the benefits of partnering with a dedicated small business IT service provider like Aegis IT Services is that we take a holistic approach to technology. We can recommend a package of products, systems and platforms that is appropriate for your business and supports a range of time-saving automation functions.
The first step is to meet with one of our experts for a consultation. Call or email our office to arrange a meeting at your convenience.