As a small business owner you should – and can – automate business processes to save time and, ultimately, increase profits. We discuss the benefits of business automation and share our pick of the best automation tools for entrepreneurs.
Automation in business is now a multi-billion-dollar market and it’s estimated that by 2021, digital process automation will generate USD 214 billion worldwide, according to Statista. Furthermore, Forrester predicts that BPA can cut operating costs by up to 90% – offsetting the cost of digital transformation in the first place.
What is business process automation?
According to Gartner:
Business Process Automation (BPA) is defined as the automation of complex business processes and functions beyond conventional data manipulation and record-keeping activities, usually through the use of advanced technologies.
In simple terms, it means finding an automated solution to problems which you normally tackle through manual labour. Replacing a time-consuming, manual task with automation software, like using software to send automatically recurring invoices for example, is a form of BPA.
Business process automation can focus on all key business areas including marketing, sales and human resources. The traditional approach to any process can be mapped and evaluated before deciding whether to automate part or all of the process.
Why should you automate your business?
Automation is the future – keep up or catch up. Artificial intelligence will take over many of the manual tasks we take for granted today and, although the increasing presence of robotic process automation in our everyday life hasn’t gone unnoticed (looking at you, self-checkout robots), we’re only just seeing the tip of the iceberg.
A recent survey by ThinkAutomation found that in the UK, 90% of employees report being burdened with boring and repetitive tasks that could be easily automated. However, only 38% of UK business practices are automated. While a quarter of UK businesses are still only in the early stages of automation, 74% of organisations say they are actively looking for new use cases for automation.
The advantages of automation in business are numerous – let’s look at few:
- Increase efficiency
- Boost productivity
- Allow your business to get more done in less time with less resources
- Reduces the risk of manual errors
By automating processes you can free up valuable time and resources to work on the more meaningful aspects of business management.
How to automate tasks in a small business
Business automation tools are transforming the way brands operate, allowing them to ditch manual processes altogether and scale in new ways.
Automation isn’t reserved purely for big business – and the selection of tools designed for smaller enterprises is ever increasing. Smaller brands can gain an advantage when it comes to automation, as they are often able to react to new trends faster than larger businesses and with fewer costs.
The process has been mentioned briefly – identify an aspect of your business which could be automated and work out the input effort/time/cost vs the profitable outcome. You’ll quickly realise that the time you spend doing many manual tasks is wasted and, especially as a small business owner, you know better than anyone that time is money.
Our top 5 picks for tasks you need to automate and the tools you can try out
Note: none of the tools we discuss below are paying us for being mentioned in this article – these are just tools we genuinely use and think everyone could benefit from trying out. Some have a free trial, others are just free to use – if you try one out and find it useful then let them know that you seen it recommended here!
1. Send less emails
You simply set your availability preferences in the calendar management system for your next meeting and embed a link in your email invitation. The recipient then chooses the times which suits them best and the event is automatically added to your calendar.
2. Connect your apps together
Do you want to automatically save attachments in Gmail to Google Drive? Or how about sharing all of your blog posts to LinkedIn as soon as you hit the publish button? Or perhaps you want to save all new Microsoft Docs files to OneDrive and then back them up to your cloud?
You can set up thousands of automations, cutting out repetitive manual tasks and freeing up your time for more profitable actions. Check them out – you’ll be kicking yourself for not knowing that such a thing existed.
3. Increase lead generation
As an entrepreneur, you need to automate your sales process so you can handle a higher volume of leads and turn more of them into sales – but without a sales team.
These tools can help you increase your form conversion rates, as well as segment your leads, and keep track of all your customers’ actions in the CRM platform of your choice.
You can also automate your responses using the segmented email lists and automation features offered by ActiveCampaign or Mailchimp. This streamlines the majority of the early sales process and lets you focus on dealing with potential clients who are closer to making their final purchases.
4. Chatbots improve customer service
Maintaining a 24/7 response system is often outside the means of a small business owner. However, a chatbot such as Botsify or Chatfuel can offer instant, consistent and recorded answers to your customers’ queries on a 24/7 basis.
Studies show that engaging with your customers on social media can lead to improved customer satisfaction and increased customer spend of between 20% and 40%.
You can set up your chatbot with a list of questions and answers relevant to your business. This allows your customers to have real-time conversations with your bot and get answers to most of their questions right away.
While chatbots haven’t yet replaced live chat, they are certainly getting close. Check out this BBC article on how AI is running M&S call centres.
5. Automate your invoicing with Zervant
Zervant’s invoicing software is part of a new wave of tools designed to automate one of the more boring and repetitive tasks in business. Free up valuable hours and spend more time working on your products and services.
Zervant can help you:
- Convert your quote to an invoice with just one click
- Send e-invoices easily
- Schedule your payment reminders in advance
- Zervant’s mobile app helps you create professional invoices on the go in just 60 seconds
- Replace your timesheet with our simple online time tracker and invoice your client with the click of a button
- Take online payments from customers via debit or credit card
- Save time by setting your invoices on repeat
Get started with some of these platforms and you’ll soon be ready to take the next step towards building your own automation processes that suit your needs, free up time and build profits.