For business owners today, business automation is a godsend. While we live in the age of the digital solopreneur, relying on technology to assist us in doing key jobs in the background can easily make a small company look large on the outside.
The ability to automate your business also allows business owners to focus on value-generating projects rather than getting bogged down with admin or other jobs that you can automate.
With the ever-increasing availability of high-quality freemium automation software available, the barrier to entry to improving your business through automation has never been lower.
Now small businesses can, in no short terms, manage their social media, track customers, pay invoices, send email broadcasts, receive key business data insights, arrange sales, manage inventory, and more with the help of business automation tools.
As a business owner, one of the keys to success is working smarter, not harder, and the more mundane but necessary jobs you can automate, the better.
So what is business automation, and how can you get started today? This is the part where we begin by breaking down the topic and showing you the automation tools you can use to get started automating your business today.
Business owners today can improve their business efficiency and reduce costly mistakes through business process automation and using automation tools.
What Is Business Process Automation?
Business Process Automation (BPA), or Business Automation for short, is the act of turning mundane, complex business processes into automated routines using software as a service (Saas).
The benefits of business automation are that it can massively streamline and increase the value of a business while improving customer service and letting you and your team focus on high-income activities rather than routine tasks.
While improving service delivery, business process automation (BPA) can save on costs as well. Apart from the odd bug or server going down, automation tools rarely fail or make mistakes.
All it takes is to spend some time setting up and integrating into the business, and then all you have to do is sit back and let it run. While a good SaaS may cost your company anywhere between $30-$1000/month, compare that to a team of employees, and the cost savings are still significant.
In the case of manufacturing, business automation has changed the face of the global supply chain. When Henry Ford pioneered the scientific method of the assembly line, he showed the impact that automating certain jobs can lead to a bigger cost-saving through mass production and efficiency.
Scale this down, and business owners today can improve their business efficiency and reduce costly mistakes through business process automation and using automation tools.
Types of Business Automation
A business is more than the product or service that is sold. It is more than the revenue, the expenses, the employees, or the customers. Ask 10 different people to define a business, and you’ll get 10 different answers.
While we are surrounded by businesses every day – from the car you drive to the phone in your pocket, to the food you eat to the bed you sleep in – a business is a massive amalgamation of different departments working together to make a profit through the selling of a product or service.
With that being the case, the more business processes that entrepreneurs can break down and automated, the easier and more efficient a business will be, so you can focus on the things that cannot be automated – employee communication, research, development & innovation, design – you know, the things that make us human.
Below are six areas you can start automating today.
Sales & Marketing Automation
Marketing is effectively anything your business does to generate leads for your business. Whether this is buying ads on Facebook or appearing on a podcast. If you are putting your business out there in the big wide world, you are marketing it.
When it comes to automation, digital marketing has opened up a new era of relatively easy-to-use marketing automation software that includes rules that you can apply to your ads so that they perform how you want them.
If you want to increase your budget on high-performing ads or lower it on poor-performing ones, you can.
When it comes to sales, moving leads along the funnel through your sales journey has shown time and time again to be the best way to generate revenue.
Whether through automated email campaigns, ad retargeting for those abandoned carts, or arranging sales calls through scheduling software, automating your sales and marketing reduces time-consuming tasks and helps you convert a lead into a customer.
Your team can work autonomously while giving simple updates without the need for countless emails going back and forth.
CRM & Process Management
The ability to automate CRM and BPA through automation tools is probably the biggest value-generating activity on this list. CRM, or the concept of managing your customers/leads and nurturing them through a sales process, has become extraordinarily easier and more efficient with the power of technology.
No longer do businesses have to keep reams of data on customers tucked away in filing cabinets. Gone are the days of not knowing whether an invoice has been sent or if a customer has been followed up after an inquiry.
CRM manages to provide automated processes for management that allow companies to contact, track and focus on (potential) customers and leading them through a system that is engineered to encourage them to purchase something.
A game-changer for a business as it provides key data & tools that shows an employee what tasks need performing or which customers to contact to hit revenue targets and/or key performing indicators.
Ah, the wonders of Social Media never cease to amaze me. Despite that most people use social media to look at cat videos or to
stalk ex-partners connect with friends, Social Media has become a necessary part of any business today.
If you have a business and do not have a social media account, you are not only putting yourself behind all your competitors, but you are missing out on billions of potential customers.
Being successful on Social Media takes a massive amount of effort. From posting unique and engaging content at least once a day to communicating with customers, it can take a team of experts to take a social media account and make it successful.
For emerging and growing businesses, sometimes you don’t have the time to manage multiple social media accounts. This is where scheduling software can help.
Social Media scheduling software can not only help you post across multiple accounts at once at the times when your ideal customers are most active, but they can also give you a snapshot of your accounts, mentions, comments, direct messages, and more.
Ask any growing or large company, and they’ll all tell you how automating social media marketing is a key cornerstone of their business marketing efforts.
Automating your projects and tasks in advance is going to save you hours of time in the future.
With an automation platform that is designed to help you with project management, business owners can easily streamline certain business processes, and your team can work autonomously while giving simple updates without the need for countless emails going back and forth.
The keyword here is “integration.”
Getting your team on board with an automated project management solution is likely to receive some initial resistance.
But once a system has been in place, management of tasks and employee projects will be much easier.
With a project management automation tool, you can;
- Assign tasks
- Get updates on each task
- Create automated deadlines
- Share documents
- Get notifications
- Automate sending emails and invoices
- And much more
Finance & Accounting Automation
While finance and accounting aren’t exactly sexy when it comes to business, automating your invoices, balance sheets, and taxes certainly is.
With automation tools, you can throw out the paper ledger and binders full of invoices and move forward with a cloud-based system that will save numerous trees.
With features galore and multiple platforms to choose from, you don’t need to have an accounting degree to use an accounting automation tool.
Save costs on a fancy accountant or finance department and automate your business finances instead.
If the concept of employee onboarding gives you the jeepers, say hello to HR automation.
Getting new employees up to speed with complex business rules, a sales & marketing workflow, or tracking and nurturing clients, HR automation allows businesses to upload training materials and drip feed them to new employees.
The era of online courses has shown us how easy it is to train people and lead them through a step-by-step video and document guide.
Automating this process for the workplace is now a reality with automation tools that simplify core business processes.
Essential Business Automation Tools
While all business automation tools come with a fee to pay per month, there is one free one and two cheap(ish) that are absolutely essential.
Most SaaS come with a freemium model, where some of the features are free with more powerful tools lurking behind a paywall.
For start-up owners, these free features are more than enough to get you started.
Something I believe every entrepreneur or start-up owner should be familiar with.
I know of no other platform out there that offers similar features or storage for free that Google drives offers.
With Google Drive, not only can you effectively completely replace MS Office with a free online version, but you can share and collaborate online, generate leads, prepare pitch-perfect presentations, send emails, and store files (Up to 15Gb on the free version).
This website/app is the perfect solution for any startup entrepreneur and the best place to get started.
Are your website, email, and CRM hosted on different platforms?
Do you want to link a Facebook inquiry to a project management platform that notifies a sales agent? Zapier can do all of that and more.
With Zapier, you can link multiple business automation tools with marketing, management, and scheduling software, and more without the need for a manual transfer of important customer/user information.
Zapier is critical for anyone keen to get into the business automation game.
As we’ve spoken about above, CRM is at the core of business process automation.
If you’re looking to level up your business and develop processes and business rules that help you and your team to engage with the customer, improve your lead workflow and provide analytics that helps your team manage value-generating tasks, then sign up to a CRM.
Do this early and integrate it into your business in the beginning.
Doing so retrospectively can make integrating existing business processes more difficult and lead to employee resistance.
The earlier you can set up tags and a business automation system within your CRM, the easier it will be to manage in the long run.
So far, we’ve learned all about the brilliant advantages that business automation tools can provide a growing business.
Now it’s time to look at specific software that you can use today.
First, analyze your business and see what you want to automate.
Do you want to improve your CRM or set up a scheduling system where customers can choose call times and receive automated confirmation emails?
Start with one software integration first and then build it out from there.
For Tracking Customer Communication
One of the biggest and best CRM software companies out there.
With its easy-to-use interface and “build your own” subscription model, Hubspot is a great option for those just getting started.
You can use Hubspot for free through its freemium model, but if you want to access its more powerful premium features, you’re going to have to shell out some dollar.
HubSpot’s biggest competitor, Salesforce, made Marc Benioff (the company’s founder and CEO) a very, very rich man. Designed enterprise with more complex requirements, Salesforce is an incredibly powerful business automation software, but it comes with a hefty price tag.
For Managing Your Social Media
When it comes to marketing automation, Hootsuite is a class act. With a simple dashboard feature and a powerful freemium model, it is a great place to start out for anyone planning on automating their social media.
Later stands up as a very capable rival to Hootsuite in the marketing automation space. The two are so similar that it’s hard to distinguish any advantage of going with one over the other.
With both offering free features, why not try both and see which you prefer?
For Sending Your Customer’s Emails
Old school but reliable. Mailchimp has been around for a long time, which means it has learned what its users are looking for in an email platform.
Offering landing page templates, automated workflows, and auto resenders, Mailchimp is a great option to ply your trade in email marketing
For Managing Your Team’s Projects
2 companies stand out for me in this space, and one of them is Asana. I’ve been using Asana for a number of years now and have zero gripes with it.
Its freemium model is powerful, and its interface is easy to use, providing an incredibly low barrier to entry.
As a competitor, Trello is arguably more successful than Asana and proves very popular with teams across the globe.
While the freemium model offers fewer features than Asana, Trello’s owner, Atlassian, is a powerhouse in the space of productivity tools, so it’s fair to say they know what they are doing.
For Taking Calls From Customers
Is there any other?
Calendly is a fantastic piece of software that is crucial for effective business automation for those that take sales calls.
It can also be used for freelancers, consultants, or anyone that does business over video conferencing.
With the ability to add your own hours, email appointment confirmation, and with Zoom integration coming as standard, Calendly stands out as a quality appointment scheduling automation tool.
For Managing Your Accounts
Quickbooks is an accounting automation software developed by Intuit – the giants of U.S tax software. For entrepreneurs that don’t have accounting degrees or a head for numbers, Quickbooks can help out.
It allows users to track expenses and invoices and shows key data for making important business financial decisions.
For Finding Information About Your Business
While there are others out there, Google Analytics is by far and away the most popular analytics software on the web today.
You can easily integrate the software into any site on the web and find information about your business I bet you didn’t think was possible.
With easy-to-build dashboards, key business data, and did I mention it is completely free?
Google Analytics is up there with essential tools that every business owner needs.
For Connecting It All Together
Ah, my one and only. I love Zapier (something you probably guessed since this is the second time I’m talking about it).
While there are other apps out there that can help you link SaaS, Zapier is the top dog.
With 100 free zaps per month and a seemingly endless number of uses, if you want to improve your business automation, it starts with Zapier.
If Businesses Automate Everything, What’s Left?
Well, check out our blog on becoming a digital entrepreneur to find out.
In the age of remote work and dreams of lying on the beach while robots do all your work for you, business automation is an exciting concept to get on board with.
For a startup entrepreneur, automating business processes is your key to scaling up your business at cost and allowing you and your team to innovate, ideate and grow in exciting ways, something that business is all about.
Business processes should not be boring or daunting; they should be looked at as the roadmap to improving your business. Without business processes, it’s so easy to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty while your business losses value.
Automate as much as you can and let robots do all the work for you. Isn’t that what the future is about?