Despite usually having incomparably smaller resources available than large enterprises, small and medium ones do not necessarily have to give up on the idea of using the same tools as their larger counterparts to improve and streamline their businesses. The development of technology, particularly new and affordable software solutions, makes it possible for even the smallest business to save time and money invested in certain aspects of business, which can, in turn, be used to generate more income.
What can be automated?
There are many aspects of a business that can be automated using modern technology. Let’s look at some of them.
Collaboration with team, partners or sellers (using Backpack, Basecamp, etc.), sales, orders, contacts (using Infusion Software), social media (using Hootsuite, if you wish to schedule updates and automatically follow new followers and thank them for following you) and email marketing campaigns (using Web.com or MailChimp, where you can push trigger-based messages to those who visit your website, organize and execute campaigns and monitor the results).
The list continues with customer service, a potentially very potent tool if used appropriately and originally, where you might establish the environment which would thrive on user-generated content, inventory management and, naturally, marketing.
Finally, there is possibly the most surprising aspect – HR. When you think about it, there are so many processes that can be automated, thus saving time and resources. For example, each staff member can update company forms, handbooks and training documents on their own. They can also be reminded about pending tasks, deadlines and any other relevant information, which they can access from anywhere. Also, information about each employee training, status, licenses, and permits can be kept up-to-date, accompanied by relevant data pertinent to payrolls, days-off and holidays. Each employee can access and complete their HR tasks, such as updating personal information, joining or modifying the benefits scheme, requesting time off, etc.
On the other hand, employers can get help from experts about the most appropriate employee benefits plan for them and their employees and allow the staff to select what they find the most suitable, including line and disability options. All this can be done online, without a single sheet of paper being wasted if using HR software.
How to automate?
Needless to say, just introducing all the available help and software to your everyday business operation is quite likely to cause nothing but chaos. Many have tried and failed at various stages, but their attempts and experience have helped us reach some generally accepted tips regarding the automating business of small enterprises. Here are some of them, in no particular order:
Baby steps first: it is understandable that a business-owner might have great expectations and can see the big picture, but that does not necessarily mean that everyone else around them shares that vision and enthusiasm. It is wise to choose just one segment and focus on it. Each workout should be preceded by a warm-up session.
Find an easy target, i.e. select a segment that is easily automated, e.g. regular email campaigns, thank-you messages to new followers, etc.
Make it count, i.e. the first segment that gets automated should create positive ROI or feedback in form of eliminating unnecessary stress or creating more time for other activities.
Create a culture that fosters automation. This might be rather difficult, since people tend to see automation, quite rightly, as a potential threat to their jobs. Still, it doesn’t have to be like that. When installed and nurtured properly, such culture promotes efficiency and focuses on specific skills of employees.
Use the Force, i.e. the data. Even if you can’t afford to hire staff just to collect and analyze data, you can do wonders with automated systems, such as Google Analytics, to analyze various inputs from various sources.
Get everybody on board. Like in almost all other aspects of business, it is vital to help the people involved or affected by changes understand the rationale and expected benefits.
Don’t stop. Once you’ve successfully automated a process, move on to a next one and work your way up towards more challenging tasks, such as automating HR-related processes and procedures.
What does the future hold?
In a nutshell: more automation. Jeff Haden of Inc.com says that if you are not willing to automate, someone else will automate you out of business, and he seems to be spot on. Inability or failure to recognize the room for improvement in terms of saving resources and boosting results may prove to be fatal. Luckily, there are already so many solutions available, even to those with a most restricted budget.