Posted: Mon 17th Jul 2023
If you want to kickstart your business this year, automation should be top of your list. By automating some of your manual tasks, you'll free up time to concentrate on other areas such as sales and marketing.
By automating your lead nurturing process, you'll win more deals, and make more money. What's more, you don't need to be a web developer to use the most powerful automation tools, so anyone can get started really quickly. It's a no-brainer, right?
Here are our five simple steps to implementing automation throughout your small business:
1. Understand what business process automation is
Whether you're a solopreneur or have a small or medium-sized business, it makes sense to get more tasks done in less time, doesn't it? You could even save the expense of hiring an extra member of staff by making your business more efficient.
The benefits of business automation include the following:
Fewer manual tasks
Better customer service
Less human error
Lower costs and higher profits
Business automation involves getting a computer to do your manual and repetitive tasks rather than a human being. You're most likely copying data from one system to another, or forgetting to follow up on a task, or manually building a report – all of which you can automate.
By automating your manual tasks, you'll increase productivity, which delivers long-term efficiency gains. All of this is achieved with just a small investment in time – it's really that simple.
2. Review and document your processes
Before you even think about automating your processes, you must analyse them. Quite often you'll spot duplicated tasks, or inefficiencies, which you can remove immediately. You really shouldn't automate an inefficient process.
Gather your team together (if you have one, otherwise you can do this yourself) and brainstorm all your processes. You can write them all on a whiteboard, on post-its (on a digital version such as Miro), or using an app such as Visio or Draw.io. Map out the steps you take for each process and the data you use and manipulate at each stage.
Identify which teams or departments perform each task, such as marketing, sales, operations or finance. Also, make a note of which software tool you use at each stage.
If possible, you should represent your processes as standard operating procedures (SOPs). There are specialist apps which will help with this, including Process Street and Process Bliss. These are cloud-based solutions which have the advantage of integrating with other apps to automate processes.
3. Decide what you can automate
Once you've documented your processes, you should create a priority list of what you could automate first. You should base this list on the following questions:
What are your biggest pain points?
What is most time-consuming?
Which process is most error-prone?
Decide on the top five processes which tick the boxes above, and first review whether you can improve them by:
eliminating irrelevant or unnecessary steps
removing any duplication
List the software systems you use at each stage and then check whether you can integrate them using Zapier, which connects over 3,000 apps. The easiest way to do this is to visit the Zapier website and type the name of your app in the search bar.
Most of the Microsoft and Google families are included, plus many, many more of the most popular business software platforms.
4. Get started with Zapier
If you can connect your apps using Zapier, sign up for its free plan. This will give you an idea of how easy it is to use, and you'll be able to build up to five simple automations (known as Zaps) at no cost.
If you then want to build more complex integrations, or need more Zaps, you can upgrade to a paid plan, which starts at just $19.99/month. When you consider how much time you'll save by automating tasks, Zapier tends to pay for itself really quickly.
You can also use its 14-day trial for the Professional plan, which allows you to access most of the advanced features, to see how use powerful Zapier can be.
5. Build your first Zap
When you sign up to Zapier, you’ll be asked what your role is and which apps you use in your business. This will help Zapier recommend specific automations which other users like you have built successfully.
For each app you use, it's worth exploring which other systems users typically connect with. If you'd like to use one, there will be a pre-built template which makes it easy to adapt for your business and implement quickly.
Even if you don't use a pre-built template, building your first Zap is easy. For each app you want to connect, you'll be asked to log in, to give Zapier access to be able to send data automatically. You'll choose what triggers the zap, and then what the resulting action will be.
Here are some examples of simple Zaps you can build with the free version:
Adding contact form data collected on your website into a spreadsheet
Sending staff a daily email which lists e-commerce sales
Sharing new blogs on your social media platforms
Creating onboarding tasks in your project management app when you win a new deal
Sending all new customers an email requesting a product review