Running a small business can be challenging. With numerous tasks to juggle, from communicating with marketing or finance teams to hiring staff, getting everything done can take a lot of time.
All too often, too much time is taken up by business admin – in particular, your staff processing paperwork for a variety of reasons. So, for your small business, how do you go about cutting back on this workload?
Read this article for advice on managing your admin, discover how technology can play an important role, and there are tips on how you can reduce the amount of time spent on processing paperwork.
What paperwork needs to be processed?
Processing paperwork is one of those tasks that can take a lot of time and it can required in various roles of a business. From dealing with manual data entry when sorting your accounts to creating invoices and chasing them so you can get paid and stay on top of your cash flow, it can really slow you down.
Getting on top of processing your paperwork will help you run a more streamlined business. One way to do that is to embrace automation.
The power of automation
Jake Newport, managing director of Finnmark Sauna, which has begun to use automation, says: “As a small business, trying to automate the little things is really important to us.
“Streamlining and focusing on the tasks we are supposed to be good at is what’s allowed us to get ahead. A couple of things have been revolutionary for us. Using Receipt Bank is great because it takes the info on the receipt and auto-fills it in into our accounting software.”
Newport adds: “[Our] use of very good accounting software helps us predict the cash flow of the business. We are heavily geared towards e-commerce and digital within at Finnmark and it means we have to be smart when it comes to cloud-based software.
“We’d be lost without the HubSpot CRM system and the Google G Suite. We use Revolut for company purchasing cards because we spend a large amount on foreign exchange. It offers an excellent exchange rate.
“We’d like to explore more project management software. The difficulty is that as a small business, it’s a huge learning curve to adopt any new software. You don’t want to be in a situation where you spend a lot of time, energy and resource adopting a new software which ends up not being what you’d hoped for.”
Using tech tools to simplify business admin
Managing a small business cost-effectively at every level is important, from marketing and hiring people through to managing finances. If you get one thing wrong, it could impact upon all aspects of running your business.
Caroline Nolder is a leading bed and breakfast (B&B) consultant and an experienced B&B owner. She says having a functional website for her own B&B venture was essential, to attract and retain customers.
Nolder adds: “I had a very basic site but it soon became clear that I needed to upgrade it, so I turned to Wix.com, a website building platform. Specifically, Ascend by Wix enables me to do things like create forms so guests can leave online testimonials, personalise emails to lists of contacts and track guests who have booked a room at Turks Hall before — without a complicated technical back end.”
How technology can reduce time spent on processing paperwork
Paper still has a role to play in the life of a small business but so does technology. If you want to keep up to speed with the digital age by making your processes more streamlined and forward-thinking and your business more practical, it’s time to reduce the amount of paper you use.
With your files in the cloud, you can simplify many processes that would usually use paper. During meetings, you can take advantage of technology such as Evernote, a tool that allows you to share notes, so your teams can collaborative on projects more easily.
Reduce the impact of receipts
Receipts are a pain for many small businesses – they frequently get lost or can be thrown out by accident.
By moving to a digital solution, you can simplify the complexities of expenses and business travel, streamline the process for your business and ensure you don’t lose any key receipts. You could use your mobile phone and scan your receipts straightaway, which will then appear in your software.
No more data entry
Another way to take the pain out of manual data entry for your accountant or bookkeeper is to use intelligent technology that automates data entry by capturing, analysing and posting all receipts, purchase and sales invoices, expenses and statements into a user’s accounting software.
This type of intelligent technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) and optical character recognition (OCR) to ensure the relevant line item data is accurate and gets posted to the correct accounting ledger fields, therefore removing mistakes often associated with manual data entry.
This solution is currently used by more than 3,000 accounting and bookkeeping practices, and services in excess of 150,000 businesses helping them to become more efficient by significantly reducing time and cost spent inputting expense items.
How Sookio uses CRM tech to automate client relationship building
Cambridge-based digital agency Sookio initially used the Capsule CRM system as a client database, creating tags for each contact, so they could quickly see important information such as the source of a lead to segment their audience.
However, the more Sue Keogh – the founder and director of Sookio – used the software, the more she discovered it could do. It reminded her when she next needed to contact a client, for example, ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.
“I’d send a proposal and think, great, job done,” says Keogh.
“But it’s not, you have to follow it up. I needed a nudge to remind me to do that a few days later and I get that with Capsule. Now I can see all my tasks in a batch, so I quickly know all the calls I need to make this week and can set aside a couple of hours to get through them.”
The software also helps Sookio to stay on top of client communications.
Keogh says: “Capsule is good at triggering client communication, so when a project comes to an end, we put a note in to remind us in two to three months’ time, to send an interesting, helpful article, so we stay top of mind. It makes sure the relationship doesn’t drift.”
Similarly, when a project is put on hold for a couple of months, the CRM triggers reminders to get back in touch.
“It keeps us organised behind the scenes,” says Keogh. “If a project is on hold and a client doesn’t want to commit to a follow-up date, we can still get that date in the diary to jog their memory and the client doesn’t feel under pressure.
“It helps our client relationships as they understand we care as we’re always in touch.”
“Every week, we now have a very clear and accurate focal point for our sales meeting, in the midst of the many conversations we are all having. It helps us see everything in black and white, we are aware of the realistic opportunities, so we never take our eyes off them.”
Keogh admits it’s not enough to have the tools in place – you have to train people to use them correctly and in a consistent way even when the team are out and about.
She adds: “I use the mobile app, it’s useful when I’m out at lots of meetings – I get to update Capsule on the train.”
Cutting time on processing paperwork
Rachel Baker, head of content at document management company Cleardata, says there are many ways in which your small business can cut down on the amount of time you spend on processing paperwork. They include:
If you use a digital mailroom service, incoming mail for your business gets sent directly to the document management company, who open, sort and digitise the documents received on your behalf. Documents are scanned in, then sent directly to the appropriate person in digital form.
Invoices, for example, can be sent directly to your company’s accounting system. This saves your staff time, meaning they can get on with their core tasks. It also means documents are easily accessible via any electronic device.
Intelligent data capture
A key way to speed up the processing of paperwork is by using optical character recognition (OCR) technology to capture data from documents intelligently. OCR software is able to read, process and digitise data from structured documents, meaning data can be captured significantly faster than via manual data entry.
Key data such as purchase order numbers, supplier names and amounts can be extracted from invoices and then validated against existing information. Scanning bureaus are able to perform bulk OCR scanning of your documents so your staff can spend time on more valuable and enjoyable tasks.
Electronic document management system
Part of the reason why paperwork can take so long is inefficient organisation and not being able to locate documents when you need them. Using an electronic document management system (EDM) allows you to easily search for and view documents online.
A professional scanning bureau and EDM provider can scan all of your paper documents to an electronic management system, where they are properly indexed and searchable by name, date and key information.
Tips to reduce time spent on processing paperwork
AccountAbility-Plus, a consultancy offering operational and back office support services, offers the following tips to spend less time processing paperwork at your business:
1. Look at software
There are a number of software options available to help you cut back on admin, but they need to work for you and you need to use them. Try them and see what works and what does not. They are likely to include CRM and accounting systems, so take your time and work out which one will work for best for your business.
2. Try outsourcing
You don’t have to be the expert on all things.
It is always more profitable to work at gaining sales than focus on administration tasks, so you could look at outsourcing some of your admin. Make sure you outsource to the right provider – a full business support service might be just what you need.
A business such as this will offer a wide range of services that you can tap into as you need them, or can provide you will a full back office that effectively runs the admin for your company.
3. Prioritise your work
Make sure you prioritise your tasks each day so you do the most profitable or productive things first.
4. Be aware of time taken on admin
Track the time it takes you to do your administration tasks over a month or so. It will probably be more than you think.
5. Spend some time on templates
Spend a little time on building a bank of templates that you can tap into each time you need to contact a customer. These could include your letterheads, your quotes, invoices and receipts.
6. Make sure your processes are in place
Decide how you will manage your late payers and invest into credit control activities.
7. Make sure you are contactable
Nothing puts a potential customer off faster than not being able to get hold of you. Answerphones have their place, but think about investing in a telephone answering service, so not only do your customers get a personal service, you’re aware of who you need to contact and why.
8. Keep on top of your accounts
Regular time spent on keeping your accounts up to date pays off hugely in the long run. Get into a habit of putting receipts into one place so you can find them when you need them. Even better, with the right accounting solution, you can scan them with your mobile phone and the info will appear in your software.
Conclusion on processing paperwork
Processing paperwork can be time-consuming and slow down the day-to-day running of your business. Although, some paperwork is necessary, it’s important to embrace the digital age and use AI or OCR to help with tasks such as invoicing, receipts or storage of files.
Matt Allison, founder and managing director of Vensis, which provides specialist support in building automated spreadsheets and databases, says: “You can use automation to convert data in the form you need and export to a CSV automatically. This means that many days of work can be reduced to just a few clicks.
“You can take it further by eliminating some of those spreadsheets with automation in the unifying database. If the computer can be doing the work, why shouldn’t it to save you more time?”
Reduce admin and boost productivity
Trying to build your business but admin is getting in the way? Get your free guide and read it for advice on managing your time and using tech to reduce your admin.