Being a small business owner is supposed to be freeing and rewarding. You’re supposed to be able to set your own hours, take vacations when and where you want to, and spend more time with family and friends. But oftentimes, small business owners find that the exact opposite is true. Could automation solve this disconnect?
If you want to grow your small business and remain lean, you have to prioritize efficiency of both time and cost. Here’s how automation can help:
1. Eliminate repetition
There’s something to be said for repetition. In fact, many companies use automation to make complex tasks more repeatable. However, there are also situations where too much mundane repetition eats away time and prevents you from engaging in more meaningful tasks (like customer outreach). If you look hard enough, you may find a few of your own.
“To find missed automation opportunities, I get my team together to discuss what we’re doing that is repetitive,” says venture capitalist Tim Draper. “Then, we look for an automated solution that can perform the task as well or better, while delivering exceptional service.”
Invoicing is a great example of this. Simply using an invoicing template can help you speed up the process and promote consistency. The same goes for email. An autoresponder solution can streamline follow up emails and save hours of time that would otherwise be wasted with back-and-forth communication.
2. Have people on speed dial
If you feel as if every business task has to be handled internally by a salaried employee, you have a control problem–one that will land you in hot water before too long. While core tasks should absolutely be taken on by core team members, there’s nothing wrong with outsourcing other tasks to virtual assistants or contractors outside of the organization.
The great thing about virtual assistants and contractors is you aren’t locked into using them. You can use them for a dozen tasks one week and zero tasks the next week. And if you have the right people on speed dial, this sort of automation will enable you to scale with tremendous efficiency.
3. Improve access
One of the biggest time-wasters in small businesses is the process of chasing down paperwork, files, records, or spreadsheets. Either they get filed in the wrong place or only one person has access to them. Either way, it zaps productivity and wastes dozens of hours per month.
The good news is you don’t have to deal with these problems any longer, and much of the issue can be streamlined by improving access. Files and documents should be stored on the cloud and all relevant parties given permissions. This allows for around-the-clock access that isn’t location- or device-dependent.
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4. Streamline communication
In order to grow, small businesses need to reach more people. The more conversations and points of engagement you have with prospects, the more opportunities you have to grow revenue. The traditional model says that you hire more salespeople and increase your budget, but this gets costly.
“This makes automating your outreach with software an ideal solution,” explains entrepreneur Oleg Campbell. “Sure, it may have a slightly lower conversion rate, but it’s much less expensive than a sales team and will lead to higher overall results.”
The key with automating communications is to only automate the top of the funnel. By the time prospects get deeper into the funnel, you need to personalize communication and amplify engagement. At this point, you step in and close the deal.
5. Use dashboards
Data and analytics play an important role in moving businesses forward and giving them a clear picture of what’s happening. But unless you have the time/resources to hire a full-time data scientist, you need an alternative. Data dashboards are the perfect compromise and can give you access to robust key performance indicators (KPIs) in real-time.
Streamline without losing control
The biggest challenge with automation in today’s business world is no longer access. There are hundreds of cost-effective tools on the market, which means small businesses of any size or budget can leverage automation to move their businesses forward. The more pertinent challenge is streamlining without losing control.
The last thing you can afford to do is automate so much of your business that you no longer have the ability to control your branding, customer experience, growth, or direction. If you reach the point where automation is dictating the path of your company, you’ve taken things too far.
Balance is a precarious word in business. If you’re too focused on balance, you’ll ultimately limit your flexibility. Having said that, striving for balance with automation is a good thing. Tweak your approach until you come up with a system that’s efficient enough to save you time and money, but not so restrictive that it dehumanizes your brand. If you can do this, you’ll find success.
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