How to automate your business, so you can focus on what you do best

Freeing up extra time through automation means small business owners can focus on what they do best - taking on more clients, while better servicing their existing ones.

“If only there were more hours in the day,” might seem an innocuous phrase, but for small businesses trying to expand, it can mean the difference between success and failure. Automation could be the key to helping small businesses become big ones.

One of the big challenges facing small businesses today is finding the time to grow revenue while staying on top of the behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done.

It’s so true. One of the big challenges facing small businesses today is finding the time to grow revenue while staying on top of the behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done.

A 2015 survey by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry showed people were spending more time on complying with rules, and less time growing their businesses and keeping customers happy. In fact, a quarter of respondents in the annual Red Tape Survey said they spent 11 hours per week on compliance - mostly relating to GST - putting their annual cost to their business above $10,000.

One answer to many of these people’s problems may be to automate more of their back office functions, leaving them more time to do what they do best. This rings true for a range of businesses, from landscape architects to builders and beauty salon owners. There’s countless tools out there, so it pays to do your homework.

Automation and the role of cloud-based services

Cloud-based services can enable a business to outsource the back office functions of their business to third parties in a seamless manner,” says Michael Peters of accountancy and finance firm Peters & Partners, which provides advice to SMEs about automation and outsourcing.

“These services can include accounting, taxation strategy, human resources, information technology and legal support. The service package available can also be tailored to the size of the business, aspirational goals and levels of growth to ensure appropriate support is provided at each stage of development for the business,” Peters says.

The types of services increasingly being automated include invoices, accounts, and cashflow management. There’s even a role for automation in sales and marketing. There are plenty on the market, such as Salesforce, Infusionsoft and TeamSupport.

“Introducing a Customer Relationship Management system can transform the way client servicing occurs,” says Peters. “Information flowing from business websites, electronic direct mail campaigns as well as mobile applications in real-time provides snapshots on client behaviours and preferences. This in turn means you can automatically send out things like special offers and updates on new products.”

Social media can also be effectively outsourced.

Management tools like Hootsuite can connect businesses with 35 social media sites and stay in touch with clients. For the likes of a beauty salon owner, this can mean linking hot looks from celebrities, with new techniques available in-store, through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Even videos of ‘how to’ on YouTube can be managed through Hootsuite and rivals such as SocialPilot. While builders and architects are finding they are getting new business and keeping their clients engaged through sites such as Pinterest.

It’s not just back-office functions that can be improved through automation.

For a landscape architects, builders and plumbers, there are automatic project cost estimators available such as the industry recognised Cordell Costing Solutions. Products like Cordell’s allow tradespeople to input data such as the size of the job, types of materials and products used into a web-based platform to come up with an instant estimate, cutting many hours of work. Rawlinsons also provides cost estimates using a manual based system.

“Properties can be photographed in high-resolution from the air, showing gardens and layout to their best advantage,” says aviation company Aviassist, which provides drone training.

Increased automation will give many businesses that often desired, extra time to grow. The trick will be to find the right systems to suit each individual business’ needs.

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