For small business owners and managers, time is a precious commodity. From juggling a multitude of administrative tasks to coordinating busy staff members, there’s barely a spare minute in the day. What’s more, small businesses are often unable to take advantage of the kind of advanced tech infrastructures that larger enterprises can afford to purchase.
That’s what makes automation so vital. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need to save time wherever they can. And a suite of inexpensive apps and tools, many of which are tailored specifically for these kinds of organizations, make this possible. It’s now entirely possible for companies of all sizes to build fully-integrated and automated tech stacks that save significant resources.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the main automation tools that every SMB should have in its arsenal.
1. Accounting Software
You might not immediately think of accounting as an area where it’s possible to drive greater efficiency in your business. But accounting processes are often much more time-intensive and complex than they need to be. Simple tasks, such as inputting and verifying receipts, creating invoices, generating reports, managing employee payroll, and so on, can take multiple hours every week.
The best software solutions provide features that enable SMBs to complete necessary tasks in a fraction of the time it usually takes. These features include automated invoice creation and late payment reminders, syncing of client details, bank integrations for faster reconciliation, and multiple analytics reports. Often, you will also be able to use your accounting app to manage employee wages and salaries.
2. Email Marketing
In one study, the median return-on-investment from email marketing was 122%, four times higher than the next-best tactic. If you’re not taking advantage of email, you’re likely losing out on customers and sales.
Email marketing software enables you to organize contacts, send broadcasts and promotional materials, and track your campaigns’ effectiveness. Several time-saving automation features are available, including auto-responder sequences (pre-written emails sent out at specific intervals for new subscribers) and contact syncing between different software apps.
You can also create reusable templates for marketing broadcasts and test different variations with segments of your subscriber base.
3. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Many business owners feel daunted when confronted with well-known customer relationship management apps like HubSpot and Salesforce. Over the years, CRMs have grown from relatively straightforward tools for storing client details into multi-faceted sales, marketing, and customer-service apps, often with complicated, enterprise-level features.
Because of this, small companies assume that they don’t have any real need for a CRM solution. But this is usually a mistake. The best CRMs for SMBs offer an array of features specifically tailored for smaller organizations, including lead scoring, high-level analytics, customer support, storage of client information, and more. It will act as the “central control panel” of your business.
Furthermore, CRMs are usually designed to integrate with a wide variety of third-party apps, thus ensuring that clients’ details remain consistent across all platforms.
4. App Integration
Many software solutions integrate with third-party apps, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sync your whole software infrastructure using only native features. That’s where dedicated automation tools like Zapier and IFTTT (If This Then That) come to the rescue.
These kinds of intermediary tools allow you to automate the exchange of information between different apps. And while a particular app may not have the native integration you require, it’s likely that it will be compatible with a well-known connector tool.
Automating the flow of information between apps can save hours of manual data-entry. Suppose, for example, that a client changes his email address. Without a fully-synced tech stack, you will have to update numerous databases – CRM, accounting, project management, document management, email address book, and so on. With an app integration tool, however, changes in one “location” will automatically appear everywhere else.
5. Document Management
Most companies spend a significant portion of the working week creating documents for clients. These might include contracts, invoices, proposals, receipts, legal paperwork, and more. Often, an important document will require multiple signatures from upper management before it can be sent, further extending the approval process.
A management solution streamlines the whole process of crafting, sending, tracking, and following up on business documents. Users can leverage numerous time-saving features, such as reusable templates, automated reminders, and in-house approval notifications. What’s more, client-facing features like embedded payment options and electronic signature fields make the task of approving documents much easier for clients, and many companies see an increase in response and conversion rates as a result.
Running a small company is hard. And managers and owners haven’t had it easy in the previous few months as the COVID-19 has taken hold of the economy. That’s why it’s so important to drive greater efficiency and save money wherever possible.
Automation tools like the ones described in this post are inexpensive, easy to use, and have been shown to deliver a positive return on investment (both in the short and long-term). Keep in mind that you don’t need to build an integrated tech stack all at once. Instead, you should take an incremental approach, evaluating different solutions, and slowly building automated processes into the fabric of your business.
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