How SMBs can use automation to simplify business and boost productivity

The need for automation is a given for large enterprises, but, it’s more than an option now for small and medium businesses (SMBs), it’s a growing need. Entrepreneurs for such businesses wear many hats in the process, from marketing to accounting to web design. However to enable business to grow one needs to step back, it’s a good idea to put routine tasks and processes on auto-pilot so focus can be shifted to the bigger picture i.e decision making. If you own an SMB, I hope to provide you with ideas to identify administrative tasks that should be left for technology to handle so you can make the best use of your resources and  at the same time focus on what really matters.

Below are 3 important reasons for SMBs to automate their’s workflows:

  1. Resource optimization: As an SMB you may have fewer human resources and yes, you want to get the most out of them by helping them focus on productive tasks rather than cumbersome manual processes. For example, automating your finance processes would save your developer’s time as he doesn’t need to build elaborate scripts and can employ efforts in client-facing areas.
  2. Customer satisfaction: Support queries and inquiries these days are increasing more than ever before. Your clients expect the best service and giving them just that is a sureshot way of increasing business. Automating your support process gives your customer the satisfaction and reassurance that his issue has been heard and this prompt acknowledgement gives him good reason to continue business with you.
  3. Better productivity: A well-organised data system can help skyrocket process efficiency, accuracy and thereby productivity. Putting off or neglecting the need to automate can make processes inherently monotonous and erroneous, that ultimately stifle your business goals. The cost of automating workflows has become customized and is being tailored to organisations of all sizes. Cost isn’t a hindrance anymore and there are a plethora of workflow automation tools that align with your company needs and goals.

This is how a simple Javascript can save hours of your time

A retail company built a training interface for its employees to learn about its products and customer-service case studies. This system awarded points to employees for learning a new topic.

The training head was assigned a new task of creating a weekly report that showed the login times of the employees and the total points they have earned so far.

Though the task seems very simple, performing it manually takes up two hours of the training manager’s time.

  • Login to the training interface
  • Download employee activity reports as a CSV file
  • Clean-up unwanted columns
  • Filter data by respective manager
  • Create and save individual files manager-wise
  • Attach the file and send to each manager
  • Breathe

The company decided to invest a few hours of their developer’s time into writing a simple Javascript that helped get this task done in five-minutes.This script automatically creates individual files and sends these as emails using Gmail APIs. The new process now looks something like this:

  • Login to the training interface
  • Download employee activity reports as a CSV file
  • Upload this CSV to the automation tool
  • Confirm email send

This automated the most tedious chunk of the task – parsing of information. The training head can now use more to of his time to design training courses for the company and help its employees learn.

Some easy to use online tools that you can start using today

IFTTT: You can streamline all your automation efforts in one place. It helps you connect various web application by using “If this then that rules” called recipes. For example, to maintain a record of what people are saying about your business, create a recipe that adds an entry to google spreadsheets whenever somebody uses #yourbusinessname. Though IFTTT is mainly known for home automation, it lets you create more than 240 app connections – channels –  for business automation.

Zapier: Just like IFTTT, Zapier lets you create “zaps” to connect various third-party apps and services to automate your business. As Zapier is more focused on business automation, it supports niche apps like MySQL . It is also more customisable as it offers multi-step Zaps ( if this, then that, that and that). These features make Zapier the most popular and powerful tool for business automation.

Few more tools on: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/253640

5 Principles for Small Business Automation

  1. Avoid Repetitive Daily Tasks: Automation at its core is best suited for tasks of repetitive nature. These tasks are performed over and over again without a significant amount of thought or human-added value. Here are a few tasks that can be automated:
  • email marketing
  • report creation
  • certain accounting functions
  • auditing
  1. Business Impact: Another important decision that you can factor into your choice of automation is potential business impact. In other words, what happens if automation fails?

Low impact: Emailing the internal team a daily sales report, it could easily be looked up if it fails one in a while.

Medium impact: Sharing sales details to social media, automation failing here could mean, the post doesn’t go out, which kills the premise of the sale. Or, it goes out with wrong information or wrong timing. This could lead to customer backlash.

High Impact: Updating product prices based on competitor data. Automation failing here could mean data is collected incorrectly. The product price could be set too high (result: no sales) or too low (result: too many orders, taking a loss, etc).

  1. 80/20 rule: 20% of your most important tasks account for 80% of your time

What tasks occupy a greater chunk of your time? Are you continually giving your undivided attention to things you should only be checking in with monthly or weekly? Are you spending a lot of time doing what can be automated/outsourced (i.e. – manual reminder calls, typing follow up e-mails, mailing letters and catalogs, taking calls, using old-school reminder systems for later follow ups)?

It pays to make the most-profitable segments your top priority.

  1. Save time and money: The goal of automation for a small business is to save time and money. SMBs work long hours and optimize on all the resources they possibly can. Automation can be a huge relief as it frees up time.

It is also important to ensure that you automate processes that offer a return on investment. When you see that all your efforts into automation is helping you grow your business, you will be encouraged to keep automating.

  1. Easy Workflows first: When automating your business, it pays to tackle the easy but high priority workflows first. Marketing is a good first step, with a rather direct workflow. Here’s a scenario: A customer subscribes to your emails, this will be the perfect time to send a welcome email and probably follow it up with an on-boarding email campaign to boost conversions. There are plenty of automation tools and platforms to help you along the way.

Make automation your company’s best friend.

Automation makes things simple and efficient for businesses and consumers alike. Save your company’s precious time by letting technology handle the routine tasks and focus on the bigger picture!

Sanchita Harlalka

Sanchita Harlalka

Here to help use technology to automate, simplify and add value to business. Superpower - Ideas!