Business automation was once a relatively fringe concept exclusive only to some of the world’s largest enterprises. Today, commercial automation tools enable businesses of practically all shapes and sizes to cut the time they spend on repetitive tasks.
Global business investment in automation has grown hugely over the last 10 years. In a Google survey, some 50% of organisations were looking to actively invest in automation. ¾ of respondents said they believed their business would benefit from automation.
But what is business automation, and what sort of tasks can be automated?
Automation is when a machine or software program carries out a task on behalf of a human operator, so the human does not have to do it themselves. Automation has been used in the manufacturing industry for decades, but it’s only recently come to the fore in wider business settings.
Repetitive, simple or low cognitive-load tasks are amongst the best to automate. This allows human teams to focus on more complex high-level tasks, which are often where major business gains are made. This is partly why automation is important - it helps businesses and organisations tackle the repetitive, lower-level tasks that drag them down.
Here are some areas to target with automation alongside some of the best small business automation tools available today.
Automated accounting services are one of the biggest game-changers for budding startups, SMBs, freelancers and any other small business that is looking to take control of its finances.
Accounting, for those who are not trained or qualified, is one of the more time-consuming and repetitive business tasks. HMRC requires a certain standard of accounting - it’s the law and businesses that fail to take accounting seriously may face harsh penalties.
There’s a wealth of accounting software available today. Accounting software can connect safely to bank accounts and analyse a business’s incoming and outgoing payments, expenses and other payments. This data is then displayed on a dashboard - businesses can access powerful graphs and analytics that uncover insights into their spending at the touch of a button.
Xero, FreshBooks and QuickBooks all offer powerful accountancy software that automates the organisation of financial accounts. There are also managed options, like Accountancy Cloud. With accounting software, payments are automatically classified and sorted, reports can be drawn up in an instant and tax returns can be downloaded and forwarded to HMRC. This saves time and money - the two main ingredients of business success.
The art of customer relationship management has changed dramatically in recent years. CRM software enables businesses to keep an enhanced digital record of their customers, regardless of whether they operate in a B2B or B2C space, allowing them to track leads, interactions and campaigns.
Modern CRM software, like Pipedrive, HubSpot, Salesforce and Agile contain multiple automated features that speed up the process of customer relationship management. For example, Pipedrive has an AI-powered reminders system that alerts teams when their customers are potentially going cold or deals are ‘rotting’.
CRMs can auto-send timed emails that target leads or customers at different stages of the sales pipeline, e.g. sending onboarding or intro emails when they first interact with the business, emails that remind customers or leads of any impending sales or promotions, and incentive emails that target those who are likely to churn and cease their relationship with the business.
Project management involves a vast range of repetitive tasks like assigning deadlines, checking task progress, people management and time tracking. Pretty much all the main contenders in project management, like Monday.com, Jira, ClickUp, Asana, Trello, Workfront and Hubspot, offer project management automation tools.
Automation is particularly useful for monitoring the progress of tasks from assignment to completion. For example, once a task is assigned to someone and they tick it off as ‘complete’, the software might automatically use this as a trigger to assign a follow-up task to someone else.
The process here is instantaneous, saving project managers the time of manually assigning new goals once conditional tasks have been completed. Automated progress monitoring also alerts users when deadlines are approaching, or when likely progress is not sufficient to successfully meet a deadline. This saves time making many calculations or projections of how much work must be done to meet a deadline by the proposed time.
Marketing automation revolves around 3 main tasks:
Social media automation tools are some of the easiest to use. Tailwind and Buffer are two examples of software that allows businesses to quickly and easily schedule and post to social media on a regular basis. Businesses can come up with a posting schedule, create content within the apps and post it to social media at chosen times.
Email campaign automation may or may not be part of CRM software - MailChimp and OptInMonster are two more examples.
Advertising automation tools for running PPC campaigns allow advertisers and marketers to automatically optimise and tune their campaigns according to ongoing data collected via the advertisement. PPC automation tools can even manage keyword bids, choosing the optimal bid for the returns expected from the campaign. This saves many hours of manual campaign analysis for the sake of optimising and re-targeting.
Automation is a powerful way to manage repetitive or time-consuming tasks. Whilst it might take some time to sift through automation tools, choose the ones that are most useful to a business, and get them set up and ready to switch on, it’s usually well worth the initial investment.
Automation doesn’t create idle hands - it allows people to be redirected towards important higher-level tasks. Shaving time off repetitive tasks using automation unlocks both time and brainpower which can be channelled elsewhere.
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