Entrepreneurs and small business owners are often one-man shows. But just because your headcount is small doesn’t mean that your business has to be. In fact, you can save time, stress less and earn more by spending a little bit of time thinking through your daily tasks and implementing process automation where you can. For many small business owners, process automation sounds like something that’s only for large corporations or businesses that have exponential growth – but we’ve seen that process automation doesn’t just cut down on stress and save time, it also helps businesses grow – and grow quickly.
What Process Automation Can Do For Your Business
Just so that we’re clear, they type or process automation we’re talking about is anything that brings structure to repeated tasks or eliminates additional work. If you’ve created your business from the ground up, you probably either remember the days (or are still in them) where you’re crafting the same emails over and over, or feeling like you’re reinventing the wheel for every client, new product launch or customer service issue. The start up phase of any business is so focused on bringing in enough cash to support the business that we spend a lot of time spinning our wheels.
Why Process Automation Helps You Grow?
The simple answer – it frees up your time so you can focus on other tasks. But it also helps in a bunch of other ways. Process automation can save you money. For example, we have lots of clients who tell us that they’re super busy and need to hire an assistant. But when we look at their books, we can see that they might not be able to pay an assistant and that the income their brining in doesn’t seem to match up very well with the hours they tell us their spending. Hiring an assistant seems like a great way to reduce stress, but it could actually increase it. Instead, we recommend taking a brief look at the work you’re completing every day. Are you still drafting out customer service emails when needed or do you have a file of templates that you can tweak as needed? Do you process and package orders individually or do you batch tasks? You can see that answering a few simple questions and then putting together a little bit of a structured plan can quickly convince you that you actually don’t need an assistant you need process automation.
How to Get Started with Process Automation
We touched on this slightly above – the first step is to stop and look at what you’re doing over and over again. If you feel like you’re having to recreate the wheel, chances are you’ve got an area of your business that could benefit from process automation. Before you rush out and buy new equipment or purchase expensive software – make sure you stop and see if there isn’t an easy fix. Here’s our short list of process automation ideas that don’t require spending a bunch of additional money, but rather just a little bit of time:
- emails – dig through your sent email box and pull out those you’ve already drafted and that seem to need to be written again and again. Make a file of email templates, even save them in your drafts folder right there in your inbox and then make sure to just cut and paste and tweak as necessary. Even if you only have a template or two, you’ll be saving yourself at least a half hour each day.
- batching tasks – it’s one of the first things people suggest but also one of the last suggestions people actually take. But the time you can save by batching tasks is amazing. And it also simplifies your work day so that you’re not stressing about the fact that you didn’t get much done. Take 20 minutes and brainstorm all the areas of your business. You may only answer customer service emails during lunch time, and spend mornings picking product, packaging and getting it ready to ship. If you find yourself constantly brainstorming ideas for marketing or new products – schedule time to do it once a week rather than every day.
- bring in technology only when it’s needed – it’s true, tech and additional software can help streamline a process, but learning that software or implementing it can take time. If it’s a good trade off, then by all means bring on the tech, but if it’s going to take longer to learn/implement than the time it will save – it might not be worth it, at least not at this point. We find that lots of our clients have purchased software in hopes to save a buck and DIY their own taxes and monthly bookkeeping – we’ve also found that most save more money by outsourcing it to us than they ever did trying to do it themselves with a fancy software program. This isn’t always the case, but hiring an expert or specialist might be a better fit so don’t rule it out before you’ve checked into your options.
- buy in bulk & subscribe if possible for repeat purchases – when your business was new, you might have saved a buck or two by buying only what you needed right then. But a great way to cut cost and time is to buy in bulk. Packaging materials or raw material you use for product/services is a great place to put this method to practice. If you’re constantly shipping goods, consider purchasing larger quantities of packing material from a supplier rather than picking up just what you need at a retail store. If you’re a service based business requires that you keep certain tools or equipment on hand (like if you’re window washer and you know you’re going to need cleaner, rags and window cleaning tools) plan to not only buy in bulk but utilize a subscription option for your products if it’s available so you don’t even have to spend time filling your shopping cart with the needed products each month.
- keep a history – writing down how you do certain tasks while you do them will help you figure out what processes need or could be automated. It will also help you streamline how you attack events that happen over and over again in your business. Product launches, marketing campaigns, seasonal tasks – they’re all important but they might happen more infrequently than the day to day tasks. Keeping a history of what you did and then referring to it when it’s time to do it again will help save time and even help you pinpoint areas where you want to improve.
So what areas of your business could use a little streamlining? We’d love to hear what areas you’re going to add process automation to first!