Automation is not a new concept, since the advent of technology businesses have been seeking ways to do things quicker and cheaper. As technology has rapidly evolved, automation opportunities for businesses of all sizes have become far more accessible. Achieving automation for a small business is now easier than ever and in our current environment of rising costs and continued uncertainty the need to be able to do more with less has never been higher.
A simple google search for “business automation” returns over 600 million results, so there is no shortage of information out there on how to automate business processes, the challenge that I find most small businesses, in particular, find themselves in is not knowing what to automate in there business. To help, this article takes a deep dive into automation for small business.
Key Principles of Automation for Small Business
The first piece of the puzzle is getting to grips with some key principles that should underpin your approach to looking at automation.
The key driver for anything you are looking to automate should always be focussed on achieving one or all of the following:
- Enabling staff and customers to spend their time on high value activities rather than repetitive, manual tasks
- Drive a better internal and external process experience
- Help turn your data into actionable information
When considering automation for your small business, it’s important that you are set expectations on what the possible results can be. For starters, its worth noting what automation isn’t going to do for your business:
- Its not going to do all your work for you – Automation, when done well, can help make you and your team become more productive and take manual, repetitive tasks off your plate – but automation can’t do all of your work for you.
- Its not going to replace you – Automation also isn’t going to be about replacing you or your staff but helping you and the team have more time to work on more complex activities.
- Its not going to solve all your problems – Automation isn’t going to solve ALL your data and workload challenges – its not a silver bullet but it can greatly help you and the team spend their time on activities that make a difference.
However when enabled effectively Automation can:
- Help automate logic-based workflows – Automation works great in “IF…THEN” scenarios where you want something to happen when a specific event or trigger happens. (e.g. send an email when someone completes a form).
- Free up resource time – Help automate repetitive tasks so that your team can focus on tasks that add greater value.
- Help connect your data sets – Automation can help avoid having to duplicate data in multiple systems and make data available in multiple systems. Helping you towards the goal of a single source of truth.
How can I identify what activities I can automate?
To help businesses work out which tasks to automate, we’ve developed a 5 step model starting with quick wins and then developing out longer term drivers of value. To effectively assess your tasks we suggest reviewing the model below and then over the course of a week monitor the types of activities, make a note of each of the activities that fall into one of the buckets for ‘Quick Wins’.
Automation for Small Business – Quick Wins
1. Data Duplication
The lowest hanging fruit and easiest to identify are activities where you are manually putting the same data from one place into another. Some examples of data duplication activities are:
- Exporting data regularly from one system into a spreadsheet for analysis
- Copying and pasting data from one system to another
2. Repetitive Tasks
Next area for quick wins are repetitive tasks, these can be any tasks that happen at a regular pattern or are performing the same tasks each time. Some example activities include:
- Running the same reports each week from a system
- Sending the same email out on a regular basis
3. Logic-based Workflows
The final area of quick wins is a little more complicated but will likely be a big bucket of tasks for your business that could be automated. Logic-based workflows are where the activities in that workflow are run based on pre-defined logic. A good way to think about this is whether you carry out tasks that could be broken down into “IF -> THEN” statements? For example:
IF someone signs up to our newsletter THEN send add their data to your CRM platform.
Some examples of logic-based workflows in businesses are:
- Manually sending an email out based on a certain trigger or event like end of month
- Updating information based on a trigger or event like a birthday
- Sending an automated invoice if payment has been taken successfully.
- Creating an automated maturity assessment that generates a personalised report based on the responses
Automation for Small Business – Longer Term Value Drivers
Data vs Information?
It’s important to understand the difference between Data and Information when considering automation for your business.
- Data – raw unorganised facts that need to be processed. Data can be something and seemingly random and useless until it’s organised.
- Information – When data is processed, organised, structured or presented in a context that makes it useful – its information.
Every business should be seeking to have information rather than data, information enables you to make quicker, better, information-driven business decisions. Below are a couple of examples of information that a business might use to help come up with answers to specific business challenges:
- Can we afford to buy this new thing? Accounting software and your Customer Relationship Management software capture data on expenses, invoices and upcoming sales. When combined this data becomes information that helps you understand your cash-flow situation and whether you can afford to buy this new thing
- What customer segment should I focus on next? Data points such as sales by customer type, website engagement by audience, social media interaction and sales pipeline data can all become information when combined together to understand your most profitable customer segments to market to or focus on next.
As you can see from the two examples, they both involve data from multiple platforms coming together and being interpreted into information – these are more advanced areas of automation which is why they are further down the maturity scale of automation, but also deliver some of the biggest longer term value drivers.
4. Technology Landscape Map
Once you’ve been able to some quick wins from automation you can then start looking more holistically at the platforms and systems that you use across your organisation. The idea is that you want to get a good understanding and literally map out, all the platforms that your business uses and what data is captured and used in those platforms. Some probing questions to help with this are:
- Do you know all the systems that you are storing and collecting data in?
- Do you know what the data is collected for in each platform?
- Are there opportunities to consolidate data into one place?
Based on this technology map you can then start looking to at where the source of truth is for certain data and how you can use automation to make that data visible elsewhere its needed.
5. Transform data into information
The final stage in the automation model is strategically looking across your business to ensure that your are capitalising on the data that you are collecting and utilising the information that is gathered from it. To help drive this level of activities consider the following questions:
- Are you clear on the metrics that really matter for your organisation?
- Do you know what data you need to be tracking for those metrics?
From these questions you can start to build out a clear data strategy to ensure you turn your data into actionable information and will also have the automation requirements that are needed to achieve this.
What can you use to achieve automation?
Hopefully through this process you’ve got a list of activities that you feel will add value by automating. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all way to automate these tasks as the automation can sometimes be achieved from within the respective platforms themselves, for example:
- Rules that you create in your email client on how to handle certain emails
- Auto scheduling reports from platforms
- Pre-built integrations available within one of your existing platforms
For the logic-based workflows you are likely going to be more reliant on workflow automation tools, good news is there are a bunch out in the market and most have relatively generous free plans. We use a combination of the following platforms in our organisation to help drive greater automation:
- Make (Formerly Integromat)
- Pabbly Connect
There are others on the market too and I’d encourage you to explore them, the key thing with these platforms is having a clear idea on what you want to automate before you start trying to use them as there is a bit of a learning curve to get your head around.
Automation for small business has never been easier to achieve, but the key is knowing what you need to automate first, enabling that automation is actually the easier bit as you then know what you are looking for. Take the time to identify automation opportunities and then execute.
Automation is an effective way to drive a healthy and efficient business but we know it can be hard to know how your business is doing outside of the numbers. To help, we created a free Small Business Health Check that asks a series of questions about your business and then provides an instant report of your results and some personalised recommendations.
Check Out Our Other Services
AUTOMATED MATURITY ASSESSMENTS
Automated maturity assessments are a hugely impactful way to engage your prospects, customers or partners. Utilising a range of secure, cloud-based platforms to capture data, embed your expertise to produce some key insights and then hyper-personalise a PDF report, automated maturity assessments are now available to businesses of all sizes.
Some great use cases include:
- Maturity assessments
- Diagnostic assessment
- Consultancy framework
- Inclusion framework
- ROI Calculators
- Services selector
- Online quote builder
AUTOMATION TOOLS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Our small business automation tools are designed to help you do more with less, drive digital transformation, and scale effectively. With our tools and expertise, you can streamline your processes, improve efficiency, and free up valuable time and resources.
- Help you do more with less: Automation can help you get more done in less time
- Drive digital transformation: Our tools can help you modernise and digitise your processes, helping you stay competitive in today’s digital world.
- Scale effectively: Automation can help you scale your business without the need for additional resources, allowing you to grow without breaking the bank.
- Improve efficiency: Automation can help you eliminate errors and improve accuracy, resulting in more efficient and reliable processes.
We offer a range of different services to help you find the right processes and operations to be automated.
DEMONSTRATE IMPACT THROUGH DATA
Our data visualisation tools service is designed to help businesses turn raw data into compelling, actionable insights that drive your organisation and stakeholders forward.
- Demonstrate impact: Our tools can help you aggregate, analyse and visualise your data in a way that clearly communicates the value and impact of your work.
- Identify trends: Through the data visualisations, you can easily identify trends and patterns that may not be immediately apparent in raw data sets.
- Communicate more effectively: With visually appealing and easy-to-understand graphs, charts, and diagrams that effectively convey your message we can help you tell your story with data.
- Be more data driven: By helping achieve a single source of truth for information and giving you easy access to visualise and analyse that data, you can make more informed leading to more accurate and effective decision-making.