Think of every tedious task on your to-do list. Responding to emails, scheduling meetings, approving social media posts — the list goes on and on. Today’s entrepreneur is bombarded by endless administrative chores that take up time they could otherwise spend on growing their business. The solution? Help, for starters. Outsourcing work to contractors or hiring employees can alleviate the burden of neverending business tasks. But what if your team still needs support, or your budget is too strained to hire more help? Business automation offers relief, especially for those routine tasks. Today, we’ll walk through various types of business automation, why you need it, and how to use it. Keep reading to learn more.
Table of contents
What is Business Automation?
Business automation uses technology to speed up business activities with minimal human intervention. In other words? It makes you insanely productive.
American entrepreneur Tim Ferriss advises us to “focus on being productive, not busy.”
You can spend hours manually inputting sales data into a spreadsheet; replying to redundant yet necessary emails; updating project tasks and communicating updates. Sure, you’re busy — but you’re not productive. In fact, McKinsey thinks about 60% of your day-to-day work can be automated.
What’s the distinction between busy and productive? The latter gives you time and energy to scale your business — and that’s one of many things you’ll have time for once you automate.
Related Reading: 14 Business Terms Every Entrepreneur Should Know
Benefits of Automation in Business
Automation improves profitability and productivity. It finds you the efficiencies necessary to scale your business. Here’s a quick list of other important benefits of automation.
- Lower operating costs: Specifically, labour. For example, you might hire an administrative assistant for appointment setting and other day to day tasks. But you can leverage their talents elsewhere and automate instead.
- Better organization: Ever tried sorting a year’s worth of invoices? Or finding an email from over a year ago? Automation helps you organize business documents to ease your stress levels.
- Improved accuracy and efficiency: Human error isn’t going anywhere. You might be detailed, but nobody’s perfect. Automating tasks removes any of our limitations as human beings. For example, manually recording data into a spreadsheet might have one or two errors — automatically generating a table won’t. Another example: say you forget to respond to a client inquiry. Automating the email response ensures they receive timely communication.
Types of Business Automation
You can automate a lot, but every task falls into a unique category. Here are the different types of business automation:
- Basic automation: Quick, menial tasks like automatic email responses or data collection.
- Process automation: Solidifying and automating business processes to improve transparency and productivity — also known as workflow automation.
- Advanced automation: Automating multiple organizational processes and systems with both machine learning and human intervention.
- Intelligent automation: AI-powered automation where multiple scenarios inform a machine’s response to certain triggers, like AI chatbots responding to customer inquiries.
Related Reading: What is a business plan?
How to automate business processes
Ready to automate tasks in your business? Here’s a step by step process to get started.
1. Pick processes and tasks to automate
By now, you’re ready to automate every email, review, and update — but hold your horses. You can’t automate everything. Some of your business processes require your undivided time and attention. In addition, you may want to handle certain tasks with care if it’s a crucial part of your business.
Would you feel comfortable with a robot communicating important updates to a client? Not entirely, though you might automate the email asking for a meeting. But that meeting itself? You’re the one with the charisma, knowledge, and rapport needed to nurture your client relationship. So you have to be there.
That said, you’ll still find things you can automate. Entrepreneur Brett Farmiloe gives us a fair starting point. He advises us that automated tasks should improve customer experience and operational efficiency. More specifically? The most repetitive tasks are first on the list.
- Knowledge sharing and training
- Regular updates
- Invoices and payments
- Email responses
- Data entry
STGP CEO Kim Free loves automating her client onboarding processes:
My intake form on my website auto-generates a proposal and contract that is set up. When they sign a contract, an auto-email is generated welcoming them to our family, and my bookkeeper gets an email to create and send an invoice! I love automation!”
Pro tip: Ask for insight if you can’t think of repetitive tasks to automate. Start with your team. And if you still need ideas? An objective pair of eyes is always illuminating. Creative Clan offers operational improvement services, so keep us back pocket!
2. Find the right tech
Knock, knock — it’s SaaS, software-as-a-service, looking for a home in your tech stack. You’re probably familiar with at least 1 SaaS — Asana for project management? QuickBooks for bookkeeping? Zoom for meetings? Calendly for scheduling? Today’s businesses are super SaaSsy, but might be missing important automation tech in their stack.
Consider platforms like:
- Zapier for automated workflows
- Affiimate for affiliate marketing tracking
- Hubspot for CRM
- Airtable for collaboration, tracking, and templates
- Asana for project management
- Sage Intacct for accounting
Freelance finance writer Sarah Barbour regularly uses Calendly integrations with Google Calendar and Zoom.
Clients can schedule a call, get a Zoom link, and the appointment is automatically added to my calendar. No more emailing back and forth trying to find a time and calculate time zones—it makes things so easy!”
But beware of the intrigue of too many automation apps. Keep new tools focused on your productivity goals, or you risk hindering productivity with too many apps and integrations. Having too complex automation can also provide challenges when bringing on new team members. In addition, these applications aren’t free, so don’t forget about your budget. There should be a healthy balance between automation, simplicity and cost!
3. Get creative with other automation
Unfortunately, not every task can be automated through SaaS. Sometimes automation involves writing out a process for your team, revising workflows to optimize efficiency or devising a training for your staff to upskill their talents.
If you’re unable to automate a particular task in your business through tech, it’s time to get creative. What is a pain point in your operations and how can you fix it? Once you know the answer to this, you can implement automation.
4. Test it out
Time for the fun part — trying out and watching your automation in action. First, you’ll need to implement your software and processes. It might take some tweaking to integrate it fully with your business processes and existing tech stack as it did for Kat.
Kat Smith is a digital marketing manager and business owner for her travel blog, A Way Abroad. Automation helps her mitigate a never-ending list of daily tasks:
While it did take some added thought to get everything set up and running as I want, now that my flows are working, it saves me hours each week. Airtable is my tool of choice for automation since it also serves as my content organization system.”
As Kat mentions, it takes time and careful consideration to get your automated processes up and running. Be patient during this time! Initiating change in your business is not easy, but will be worth it in the long run when it runs like clockwork. Also, make sure to ask your team for feedback. If something isn’t working, listen to your team and tweak as needed.
After implementing your new automation tech, watch it work its magic for a few weeks or even months. How’s it going? Do you have more time? Are your clients happier? Does your team feel less swamped? If most of the answers to the above questions are “no,” your strategy needs tweaking.
5. Revise as needed
As mentioned, it’s always good to get feedback from your team about newly implemented automation. If something isn’t working, adjust the process or train your team as needed. Consider hosting meetings and demos, encouraging one-on-one sessions, and updating staff on changes as they come.
If your newly implemented automation affects clients and vendors, be sure to ask them for feedback too. Their experience with workflow and automation matters as well!
Improving Operations with Automation
Bottom line? Your business is begging you for more quality time, and multiple types of business automation helps you create it.
Running a creative design agency? Film set? Accounting agency? No matter your industry, automation helps dedicate more time for creativity and scaling, and less for menial tasks.
If you need support automating your workflows, we can help. Creative Clan offers operational improvement services to help businesses grow and make more money. Reach out today!