You can’t automate everything; not yet, at least. There may come a time when AI becomes so sophisticated that almost everything humans do can be automated. For now, though, it’s important to focus your automation efforts on what computers do well. Rote and repetitive tasks, long calculations, and organizing information – these are all things humans are prone to doing badly, either because it’s complicated or boring (sometimes both). As a small business, focusing your efforts on automation software can save you time and money.
Serve Your Customers 24/7
One of the many advantages of computer programs is that they don’t need sleep. You can use this to your advantage by automating certain elements of your customer service; namely, by creating chatbots. While there are incredibly complex chatbots (think of your favourite smart speaker), small businesses will often only need chatbots that act as interactive FAQs. Figure out which questions your clients are most likely to ask and get a custom chatbot that can answer those questions. Chatbots can integrate a variety of other functions, too, including the ability to book clients.
When automating client processes like customer services, you need to be careful – too much automation and your business can feel robotic. This guide about what to know when automating client processes gives a good rundown of how far you should go and how to get stakeholder buy-in.
Lead Tracking and Follow-Up
The Internet has had a massive influence on the buying process. Potential buyers may scour dozens of sites and products before making a decision. It’s not uncommon for a would-be customer to put an item in their cart, only to leave it there.
There is a lot of different software that can help you track the quality of leads to your website, whether they filled in a form on a landing page or they left an item in their cart. What’s more, there’s software that can automatically contact these leads to encourage them to complete their purchase. You’ll almost always want salespeople in your staff to add a human touch, but the more purchases you can automate online, the better.
Almost every element of marketing can be automated, besides the creation of the marketing materials themselves. You can automate tracking the leads generated by your marketing (see above) and you can also automatically dictate which demographics will be marketed to using things like Facebook Ads and Google Ads. These platforms can also give you detailed information about the people who are interacting with and seeing your ads. Companies like SurveyMonkey can also bolster these efforts.
Bookkeeping and Accounting
Without Visicalc, considered by many to be computing’s first killer app, you might not be reading this online right now. Computers have a lot of uses, but their strongest suit has almost always been their ability to perform complex calculations in the blink of an eye. Bookkeeping and accounting software can help you automatically organize digital documents and crunch numbers. Some of these softwares are fairly basic, essentially acting as user-friendly spreadsheets. Others can use predictive analysis to showcase possible trends. There are a lot of these programs on the market. Shop around, and you’ll be amazed by what you find.
Back in the day, when you were done with your part of a project, you’d have to get in contact with the next person in the workflow chain. Now, you can click the “Done” button in a workflow software and it will automatically send an alert to the next person in line. Like accounting softwares, workflow management programs range from simple to very complicated – some are even able to find weak points in your workflow and suggest corrections.
Booking without software is a bit of a pain: you have to look through your schedule, find the best time for you and your client, then mark it down. Appointment scheduling software does all the work for you. What’s more, the software can often take payments for you, also. Other features include calendar synchronization for small businesses with a lot of staff who might take appointments and require automated appointment reminders.
While you can’t readily automate social media content, you can automate when and where it’s posted. Consider using IFTTT in order to cross-post automatically between multiple social media platforms. Analytical software can automatically compare how much buzz your social media posts are generating which allows you to optimize posting times and hashtag use. You can also find programs that automate social listening so you can find out exactly when and how people are talking about your company.
Scheduling ticks all the boxes of what should be automated: it’s complicated to optimize, it involves a lot of calculation, and it needs to be done for every single day of the year. Scheduling software can automatically recommend schedules ensuring no one goes over the maximum work hours allowable, and it can also automatically calculate the cost of overtime. You can, much like the other software discussed, also find scheduling programs that suggest how many staff members should be working at any given time.
You’ve already used editing automation; anytime you run a spellcheck or use autocorrect, you’re benefiting from the power of automation. You can expand on this by using document editing tools that suggest better turns of phrase or analyze the tone of the document you’ve written.
You won’t want to automate the actual content of your correspondence too much – you don’t want to sound like a robot, after all! What you do want to automate, however, is prioritizing replies to emails. When a sales lead is rotting away in your inbox or something important needs your approval, there’s plenty of software that can alert you. This same software can also help automatically sort correspondence in order of priority and sort the emails into designated folders.
Start Automating Now!
There are inexpensive-to-free versions of almost all of the software discussed here. There’s so much automation available, in fact, that lengthy articles and comparisons have been written on every type of automation discussed. Research everything that you might be able to automate, compare features and prices, and get to automating; you’ll save time and money.