Running a small business involves juggling a lot of plates. From trying to gain more customers and serving them, to building relationships, invoicing, getting paid, paying for supplies and materials, and managing people – plus lots of other tasks – there’s plenty to get your teeth into.
Many people find they spend more time keeping the wheels spinning than moving forward. In other words, working in the business than on the business. In addition, decision-makers and senior leaders at small businesses spend up to 12 hours – or 30% of their working time – each week on these tasks. There have been lots of challenges in recent times – but also plenty of opportunities. Ensuring you manage these appropriately takes time, which is in short supply. One of the key solutions to this problem is to use automation. But how do you do it, and make sure you do it in a way that meets the needs of your business and helps you capitalize on opportunities?
We cover this and more below:
Step 1: Take the time to identify what hurts the most and why
What I mean by this is that rather than focusing on the impact (we’re paying £x in banking fees every month), focus on the why. Root cause analysis is key here. It’s worth taking the time to understand what’s behind the issues. For example, incurring banking fees could be because invoices are being paid late. And they might be being paid late because either you’re not making it easy for customers to pay you, or you’re not reminding them in enough time. So what could you do to solve these challenges? Here are three things to try:
Add payment buttons to your invoices
Customers receive an invoice via email that includes a ‘pay now’ button, which links to a payment provider, such as Stripe. This allows you to accept payments quickly and securely directly from the invoice. It also makes it easier for your customers to pay.
Implement an automated credit control solution
You can integrate your email provider with software to automatically send timely customer payment reminder emails and texts, statements, and confirm receipt of payments, among other things. All while maintaining a professional, courteous standard and saving time.
Review the creditworthiness of customers on a more regular basis
You can use software that helps you improve your assessment of the creditworthiness of customers through credit reports that show a customer’s financial position.
Step 2: Size up how much impact the issue and solution would have
I’m not just talking ‘think about the money’ here, although the ultimate end result usually ends up impacting your cash flow.
It could be something that’s led to staff absence and turnover, customer churn or a lack of customer acquisition. For example, if in order to serve an unhappy customer, you need multiple teams to collaborate in a flexible way, using email and sending attachments isn’t always feasible.
Not collaborating effectively could lead to the loss of a customer. In this instance, using virtual whiteboard software integrated with instant messaging and document storage would result in a customer service issue being resolved a lot quicker.
And let’s not forget, compliance can be a big headache if it’s not done correctly. In order to be compliant, you need your data and admin in order and to be stored securely – even better if your accountant or bookkeeper can access the information through software in order to support you with advice. Make sure you prioritise fixes to get the step change you need based on impact, and ensure you have the right business intelligence in place to guide you and monitor performance.
Step 3: Define the problem: Is it people, processes or systems?
As much as automation can help, having a clear understanding of whether the issue is down to people, processes or systems is important.
For example, do your people have the right skill set? Does the process being used include duplication? Do the systems involved talk to each other, or do they drive more manual work to ‘lift and shift’ data?
Adding automation can help speed up a process – if the process itself is the right one to use, is actioned by the right person and has the desired impact on other linking processes or activities.
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Step 4: There’s an app for that – and sometimes it’s free
There are a multitude of options out there to help you automate your processes – but it helps if they can talk to your core systems.
When looking for a solution, remember to look for:
- Capability: Make sure what you choose aligns to features you’ve identified as ‘must haves’ and as many of the ‘nice to haves’ as possible.
- Flexibility: Try and think ahead. Is the solution likely to work for you now and in the future?
- Integration: You’re trying to reduce admin, not increase it. Look for a solution that can work with others.
- Support: You might be tech-savvy, you might not. Either way, there may be a time when you need help – a good support system can be vital.
You can research your options for integrations at an app marketplace, which hosts handpicked solutions such as Zapier that integrate with business admin software.
You might think, “OK, but things aren’t that bad I’ll manage,” but ask yourself a couple of key questions: “Do you have to,” and “What’s the cost of just managing?” The pandemic has driven an increase in automation, but many businesses focused on just getting online. Well, that’s not the only place where opportunities lie. Just imagine going about your day, getting business done, knowing that schedules are optimised, customers have the service they need, suppliers and invoices are paid, marketing campaigns launched, expenses and sales transactions from any channel accounted for – all with little work required from you. And consider what your evenings, weekends and bank balance could look like as a result.