When it comes to running a small business, it seems like there are never enough hours in the day. Instead of shrinking your to-do list every day, it grows and grows and grows. That’s why now, it’s more important than ever to automate.
What is automation?
When we talk about automate, it means making the tools at your disposal do the work for you. Just like the assembly line helped streamline the auto industry, automation can help streamline your business.
The difference between automation now and automation then is we’re not talking about machines. What we’re talking about are software tools that you can use to make your job easier and get the work done faster.
How do I know what to automate in my business?
It makes no sense to automate something that you do one or two times a year and then you’re done. Automation doesn’t help too much there.
When you talk about automating, you want to look for repetitive processes in your work. Look for things that you do two or three times a week, or two or three times a day. Talk to your employees and figure out what repetitive processes they do weekly or daily. Work from there to come up with an automation process.
For example, some businesses send out an order confirmation for every order that’s placed online. Does it make sense for an employee to draft and send out that order confirmation or would it make more sense for that process to be automated?
Below are some areas to look at when you’re thinking about automation within your business.
You should not be working your schedule around your social media; you should be working your social media around your schedule. Do not be the CEO that finishes up on a phone call and then immediately gets on social media to post your latest blog.
Schedule your posts ahead of time. There is plenty of automation software — HootSuite, Buffer, CoSchedule, and BuzzSumo just to name a few — out there that will post to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn all at the same time.
Spend 30 minutes scheduling your posts for the week and you’ll be amazed at how you feel afterward.
First Contact with a Sales Lead
When someone sends your company a message through your website or generic email address, set up an automated response. All it needs to say is something along the lines of “Thank you for contacting us. Someone will respond within 24 hours.” This lets the person know that you’ve received his or her message and, more importantly, it sets a reasonable expectation for a response.
Win at Phone Tag
I like this suggestion from the site Keap, which says “always win at phone tag”. The idea is pretty simple, if you leave a voicemail with a potential client, you can set automation software to also send that potential client an email that says, “I left you a voicemail, I’ll try again tomorrow.” When that email goes out, an alert is also added to your calendar for tomorrow, reminding you to call that potential client back.
This method shows that you’re attentive to clients, which can go a long way to making the sale.
Follow Up After Networking
When you head to a conference, or nowadays a Zoom meeting, you make connections that you want to form stronger relationships with. It’s easy to lose track of all those people and forget to touch base with every one of them. Even if you do remember, it can be time-consuming to write a personal email to all of them.
That’s why there’s automation software that will help you. With this software, you create the form message that you want to send to new contacts. Once you add those new contacts into a database, the automation software will send an “it was nice meeting you” message out to all of them. The cool thing about automation software is that you can personalize it to make it seem like your message was sent by you and not automated at all.
Not only will this make the potential client feel special, but it’s going to save you a lot of time in the long run, especially if your business relies on networking.
Follow Up with Warm Leads
Most business owners have an email list. That list has a mix of frequent clients, one-time clients who you’re hoping to bring back, and warm leads that you have not made a sale to yet, but they’re interested.
Since you haven’t made a sale yet to these warm leads, it can be easy to allow them to fall by the wayside and simply run out of time to connect with them. You don’t have to!
Automated emails can make sure that you’re following up with these warm leads monthly or quarterly with a quick hello or “touching base” email. Let the client know that they’re still on your radar and you’d love to talk to him or her about the new products or services that you’ve added since you last talked.
When used correctly, you can even set up your automation so you know which warm leads are opening up your email and which ones are simply trashing it without opening it. That will give you a better idea of which warm leads are more likely to buy and which ones will soon turn cold.
Set Up Reminder Emails
Reminder emails are one of the best ways for a company to get repeat customers, especially if you sell consumable goods.
Let’s say you supply paper goods such as toilet paper, paper towels, etc. to small businesses. You have a customer that reorders toilet paper every four weeks like clockwork. Would it be better to send the client a reminder email a week before he normally reorders to remind him, or run the risk of the client running out of toilet paper and rushing to the nearest supermarket to resupply?
Reminder emails can make sure that your recurring customers stay recurring customers.
Outsource the Rest
One of the best ways to automate your business is to make it someone else’s problem. I’m not saying that you get rid of the business, but I am saying you get rid of the stuff that you don’t like to do.
In a podcast with Intentionally Inspirational earlier this year, Steve Gordon, the founder of the Unstoppable CEO, said business owners should do a quarterly review of their tasks, breaking them down into things they like to do, things they’re neutral about, and things they loathe doing.
When you automate tasks, you take back a little bit of your time. Off-load the tasks you don’t like to your employees and you’ll find you’re doing more of the things you like, making you a much happier and much more effective business owner.
Written by Erika Towne