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How to Start Automating Your Business

Although it does require some initial setup, once automated, your work has been done and wealth can be made.

Almost every business owner wants to automate what they do. But not all business owners know where to start. While it can seem daunting, it’s relatively easy to get started. If you implement automation correctly, you can start passing repetitive tasks away from employees and onto machines in no time, saving countless hours, scaling faster, freeing up your employees to do higher-value tasks and improving the customer experience.

In this 2-part blog we will cover the practical steps you can take to start automating your business on your own, and on the second part we will touch upon the strategic and human sides to consider. Only implementing the technology without paying attention to these other factors is one of the reasons why only as few as 30% of digital transformation initiatives succeed.

Read part 2 here.

You do not have to be a large company in order to automate repetitive tasks (simple or complicated). We have helped a local yoga studio automate their bookkeeping saving them 10 hours a month; and an 8-person, client-facing company automate their scheduling saving them 10 hours a week. And off-the-shelf, no-code automation solutions can be a great way to get started for free.

Table of Contents

  1. Use Cases
  2. Identify repetitive processes
  3. Make sure the process is not the problem
  4. If it ain't broke, don't fix it
  5. Decide your approach
  6. Measure ROI
  7. More than you think can be automated
  8. You eat an elephant one bite at a time
  9. Conclusion

Use Cases

Some areas ripe for automation are: 

  • accounting 
  • scheduling 
  • emailing 
  • project management (Asana, Trello, Monday.com, ClickUp, etc.) 
  • image creation (blog post 
  • publishing
  • document creation (PDFs, reports, assessment results)
  • invoicing 
  • sending emails 
  • generating quotes 
  • creating contracts and agreements 
  • onboarding clients 
  • pulling off data from the web routinely 
  • and even analysing and evaluating it

Identify repetitive processes

To get started, look at your top "To Do" items, and find ways to break them down into smaller tasks and activities that you can automate in their entirety.

What do you want to automate? What is taking up your employees’ time? If something is done more than once, it is likely it can be automated. And if it is boring, mundane, or mind-numbing, it should be automated.

Make sure the process is not the problem

The first rule in automating any business process is to make sure it is not broken. Look at the obvious, easy-to-fix processes. If your process is broken, it might be better to first make it more efficient. 

A broken business process can be anything from an inefficiently slow one, such as a paper form that has to be filled out in triplicate, to one that everyone knows is broken, like paying bills by check.

A task might be taking unnecessary steps, such as requiring approval from an executive when it could get it from someone else, or when it could now skip the approval altogether.

The first step is to ask people, "Do you think this is broken?" Or, "Does this seem slow and inefficient?"

Once you’ve fixed those, find the processes that are now well-optimized, and automate them.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

A final thing to be mindful of is to make sure that your changes do not break processes that are already working well.

For example, if sales people spend a lot of time making cold calls, but it is a process that works and one that they do not find mundane, you can automate auxiliary parts of that process. You can, for example, automate the follow-up calls that sales people do, or automate finding leads in the first place, particularly if you can increase the quality of the prospects that your salespeople are calling.

Decide your approach:

Read a more in-depth article on how to choose your approach here.

You can choose to automate the tasks yourself using off-the-shelf tools such as Zapier. You might alternatively choose to hire a Zapier expert to do it for you. Or you can find a specific tool that does exactly what you need such as MailChimp.

Having mass appeal comes with compromises. You might find that you cannot automate your process well-enough, find that you have to use wonky work-arounds, or be inputting data twice.

Hiring an in-house developer or contracting one can help solve some really challenging automation problems and minimise the recurring costs of running the automations. But it takes time to hire/vet, and manage.

Contracting an expert firm or consultant will usually be the fastest and most fool-proof way to get the job done, but not all business needs call for one.

Measure ROI

A long-time client wanted us to automate a task they only carried out once or twice a month. Instead of seeing a return in the typical 3-month range, it would take 1.5 years before the savings justified the expense.

Knowing what the highest impact tasks to automate is key for an effective roll-out. There is little point spending 10 hours automating something that will only save you 20 minutes, once a month.

Granted, this was a particularly tedious task and they appreciated the increased employee satisfaction so much that they pushed ahead. In that vein, keep in mind other aspects of automation that can be a positive.

One client had such niche scheduling requirements and therefore, quite a complicated system to manage them, that appointments were being booked at wrong times, people received confirmations late or never, and data needed to input twice. It was a headache, and it was hurting their brand reputation.

Custom integration and automation did away with all of this, apart from having a 450% monetary ROI in the first year alone. Saving their employees 10 hours a week, at $20/h, meant they saved a total of $10,400 and only spent $2,300.

More than you think can be automated

At the same time, don’t let your imagination stop you. You would be surprised at how many things can be automated, despite seemingly requiring thought. “Thought”, so-to-speak, can be automated through relatively simple code and rules, and on the particularly complex end, through natural language processing, or pattern recognition.

Taking a look at popular automations can give you an idea. Just as well, asking your employees can give you a great insight into what bogs their day down. Warning: approaching this tactfully is key to a successful implementation, as employee buy-in is paramount. It can be easy to fear for one’s job when the business owner starts talking about automation. See how to approach the conversation on the second part of this blog.

Read: Losing Jobs to Automation

An analysis of a report can be automated. The numbers can be crunched, and if there’s a general rule of thumb that’s followed to highlight key numbers e.g. competitor is undercutting you, you might run out of stock sooner if sales keep going the way they are, or one of your investments has increased returns but more than tripled volatility – complex rules can be written and dynamic analyses and reports can be created.

Another example of an automation that might not be as obvious would be if customers typically request some sort of data, whether from themselves or from another source. You might have a person digging through files, understanding it, and formatting it. If you have their data on file, even on PDFs, you can build a button that triggers software to pull that data or even find it within a PDF, and send it in various ways.

A real-life example includes people requesting that one of our clients send them a report about a third-party product the client owns. They pay the $15 fee, enter the product’s identifying number, and software automatically pulls all the data from the third-party server for a $1 fee, formats and brands it, and sends it to the customer.

Finally, if you regularly publish blog posts, you might constantly be reposting them on various social channels. You might even be editing and formatting a photo in various ways to e.g. include the article title, author, blog image, etc.

It’s repetitive, follows certain rules of thumbs, and can be automated.

You eat an elephant one bite at a time

Automating your business is a process. It involves changing how you do things, and that takes time. But automatic processes increase productivity, and increased productivity leads to more profit, which makes your life easier and your company more profitable.

So, how do you get started? First, start small. Take one department or process -- accounting, for example. Identify one task that could be done more quickly, more efficiently, and without human error. Automate that task.

Next, automate a second task. The third, and the fourth. Write down a list of tasks, then automate the ten tasks you can automate. Repeat the cycle. At first, automation will be expensive. But every time you automate, you'll be saving money, and the savings will accumulate. And you'll end up with a system that is much cheaper to maintain, because you'll only have to do maintenance on a very small number of tasks.

Conclusion

We have seen business transformation first-hand and played an integral role in their automation efforts. Fair warning: Automation can be addictive. Every single one of our clients has come back with new ideas and ways we can automate their business to the point where there was little else to automate.

Getting started can be intimidating. And there are many roads you can take to achieve the time and cost savings – and the competitive edge – that come from automation. If there is anything we can help with on your journey, do not hesitate to get in touch. One of our experts will follow-up shortly.

Make sure to read part 2, which discusses the non-technical but crucial aspects of a successful implementation here.

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