Want to automate tasks in your small business but are not sure where to start? Here is what you can realistically automate.
Here's what you need to know:
- High turnover rates and the drive to remain remote-friendly are fueling the adoption of digital processes faster than ever
- Employers and employees alike love automation tools because they help them to reduce costs, improve security, minimize time spent on low-value, repetitive tasks, and more
- There are ways business leaders can improve their chances of success with the right workflow management tools
- Departments that can benefit from automation tools include HR, finance, sales, marketing, and more
Employers and their staff were overwhelmed before the Great Resignation, but high turnover rates and the drive to remain remote-friendly are fueling the adoption of digital processes faster than ever. For businesses that have yet to jump on the automation bandwagon, selecting the right workflow management tool can be a headache since there are more options than ever.
But the fact is that employers and employees alike love automation tools. Not only do 88% of small businesses admit that automation allows them to compete with larger companies, but 52% of workers would rather suffer a 2-hour commute than lose access to their automation software.
There are many good reasons that business automation is so popular. Business process automation across departments can:
- Reduce costs
- Eliminate or decrease human errors
- Improve security
- Streamline onboarding
- Offer remote-friendly options
- Shift attention to high-value tasks
- Minimize time spent on low-value, repetitive tasks
Business automation 101: Finding the right workflow tools
The main challenge with choosing the right workflow management tool is that there’s a lot of hype around automation.
It’s true that the right automation tool can reduce costs. But about 84% of digital transformations fail. There are a few reasons for this:
- The budget was too small for an effective change.
- Throwing money at the wrong problem.
- Little or no staff or management buy-in.
There is a solution to each of these issues. To improve your chance of success, you should do 3 things:
- Get a better budget by doing more than just getting an initial quote. Factor in the time spent on training, additional internal resources that may be required, add 20% of the cost for potential troubleshooting costs, and time spent working out the kinks. Finally, clearly compare this number with calculated long-term savings.
- Map out your systems ahead of time. To really get an idea of what you need, map out your current processes per department. Ask employees and management what issues they face on a regular basis. “Automating payments” is one thing. But investing in an “automated payment portal that matches invoices” gives you a better view of what you actually need.
- Finally, ask employees what program they are likely to use. Using your own research and employee feedback, review your options for each automation tool with your employees. Choosing a tool that is easier for your staff to use ensures buy-in and engages your team.
Common types of automation technology tools used today
There is more than 1 type of automation software or program. Here is a list of some of the most common types of tools used today:
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – An RPA tool is a simple program. It can’t learn from its mistakes or do complex tasks, but it can effortlessly process a lot of small-scale paperwork, such as processing invoices. It works well with structured data, such as phone numbers, zip codes, and other simple information.
- Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – An OCR is to read documents. Again, it works best with structured data but can also be used with unstructured or complex data. OCR is one of the ways a computer software will “see” the data.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Most people are familiar with artificial intelligence, but it’s incredibly unlike the movies. Most AI is more complex than RPA and can handle different types of information. However, not all artificial intelligence solutions can learn from their mistakes or self-optimize. They can simply address more complex problems.
- Machine Learning (ML) – Machine learning is a subset of AI, allowing an automation software to improve its decision-making over time.
Not every single manual task can be automated. But it still may be possible to use scheduling software or draw inspiration from templates. The combination of templates and automation software makes workflow management a cinch.
7 departments you can automate within your company
The 1st place many small businesses should look to automating is their finance department.
Processing invoicing alone is expensive, but a solid AR/AP workflow automation tool can save you up to 80% on costs and process invoices 70% faster.
The fact is that employers and employees alike love automation tools.
Furthermore, many accounts receivables automation programs make it easy to receive digital payments or ACH transfers. When coupled with a user-friendly design, your customers will pay you faster, and your vendors will feel taken care of — all while reducing the potential for fraud.
2. Sales processes
A solid Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform makes it easier to automate sales funnels and keep your sales team on task. You can automate email sequences that alert your sales team when it’s time to follow up with a call.
In addition, it’s possible to save important information about each lead or customer, such as their birthday, when they signed up for your product, and other key details.
Depending on your chosen solution, you may even be able to link customers to purchase orders, support tickets, and payments.
3. Online marketing
The process of automating marketing is a bit more complex, and there’s no real end-to-end automation process. Instead, there are several scheduling apps and semi-automated solutions that speed the process up. Some examples are:
- Automated spending rules for online ads
- Email campaign schedulers and automated email funnels
- Cross-channel analytics tracking
- Scheduling social media posts
- Automated copy generation for first drafts
4. Order management
Many enhanced order management platforms now provide the tools to automate tracking inventory, invoicing, and delivery. Instead of checking up on every single order across your channels, you can get an overview of pending and processing tasks on a simple dashboard.
5. Customer service
Customer service automation largely translates into chatbots, but there are several other ways to provide a seamless customer experience without taking more of your time.
Self-service support centers, an automated process that organizes ticket orders, and interactive voice responses are all additional workflows you can automate or create for long-term support.
Adding an automated system to your customer experience workflow can improve customer satisfaction by 20% and reduce costs by 40%.
6. HR processes
An HR workflow automation tool can significantly reduce your workload, improve compliance, and boost employee satisfaction. While each tool is different, your HR staff typically can expect document storage and retrieval, easy employee feedback and surveys, and a host of other applications.
Some popular HR processes that can be fully or mostly automated are:
- Assessment scheduling
- Compliance deadline reminders
- Benefits administration
- Paid Leave administration
- Expense management
- Time tracking
- Pre-employment assessments
- Sorting and prioritizing candidates based on set criteria
- Automated email flows
7. Analytics and reports
Finally, there are independent analytics systems, but nearly every automated system usually includes its own set of enhanced data reports. The value in automated analytics reports is that you can spend more time evaluating the data than putting it all together.
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Take the next step to implementing business automation tools
Before you can automate your business, you need to go digital and ditch manual, paper-based tools. The good news is that there are many ways to get started without learning an entirely new program or software.
Using templates alongside programs your employees already know and understand is a great way to start slowly digitizing your process as you work towards choosing your ideal automation tools.
Check out these templates and guides for inspiration: