Running a small business is a battle to do more with less — especially as you try to match the performance of companies with more resources and staff. Luckily, technology can help bridge this gap. By automating your business — aka automating the time-consuming tasks that keep your business operating smoothly — you can deliver the results of a larger company while helping your employees boost their productivity.
What’s more, since many automation tools have free versions, you don’t have to spend a fortune to do so. Here are a few of the most popular and low-cost small business tools for automation, and the information you need to ensure they benefit your organization.
Automation in Sales and Marketing
Salesforce notes that it takes between six and eight “touches” to generate a viable sales lead. That process takes time, and it’s easy to lose track of your contacts as they pile up. Customer relationship management software can help you and your staff keep on top of potential customers as they move through your sales cycle.
This automation tool gathers all of your sales leads and their status in one location — a streamlined alternative to having each salesperson update a spreadsheet. You can also see the past contact history for every lead and plan next steps. HubSpot offers a free version specifically designed for small businesses. Not only does it track leads, but it also records each interaction from email, phone calls and social media so your sales files automatically stay up to date.
On the marketing side, you can use a program like MailChimp to design beautiful, custom emails with a few clicks. From there, you can schedule email campaigns to send through the program so you don’t have to remember to send them yourself. The program can also automatically send out emails based on certain customer actions, such as if they abandoned an online purchase midway through. MailChimp offers a free version that lets you email up to 2,000 contacts and the option to reach more prospects by upgrading to a paid account.
Automation in Accounting
Small business accounting entails recording a never-ending series of transactions and expenses. Not only is this time-consuming, but losing track of an expense means you could miss out on a valuable deduction come tax season. There are several simple but effective small business tools that can help on this end.
For travel expenses, Wave is a free mobile app that lets you scan or photograph receipts on the spot and automatically file them with your account, ensuring they’re ready and organized for your return. If you or your employees drive for the business, you could use a mileage tracker app like MileIQ to record their miles and other vehicle expenses for the IRS.
For collecting payment from clients, services like Zoho automatically send out professional invoices on the payment deadline and schedule reminders for clients who are late. Zoho can also process payments via credit card and Automated Clearing House, relieving you of any obligation to chase a customer down for a check. The service’s free version lets you invoice up to five customers per month, but you’ll need to upgrade to a paid subscription to invoice more than that.
Automation for Employee Efficiency and Collaboration
As your workforce expands, keeping everyone on the same page becomes more difficult. Just think of the number of messages it can take to set up a meeting with five people. By automating your business with a calendar such as Calendly that tracks employees’ schedules, you can see the meeting times that work for everyone. This extra scheduling help can be invaluable when you have employees working remotely or in different locations.
If you need to track time for contractors or hourly workers, you can use AI-infused technology like Timely to record their hours in the place of a regular time sheet. Employees start by logging their hours and categorize them by project. In time, the platform learns from their contributions and automatically fills out their entries. Presto! You suddenly have one organized database that shows what everyone was working on and makes it simpler to plan your team’s schedule.
All of these tools can streamline your business, but the last thing you want is to have so any apps and businesses that they overwhelm you. Avoid technology solution burnout by connecting your services to each other with a workflow app such as Zapier. If someone receives an email with an attachment on Gmail, Zapier could automatically transfer the file to your company Dropbox account and send your workforce a notification through Slack to check it. This erases bottlenecks that can occur, for instance, when people have to wait on another employee to email a file. Once you start testing the limits of automation within your business, you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.
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