There's more scope for automation in your business than ever before. With automation, you can schedule emails to be sent at the perfect time, follow up with leads that have abandoned their cart, sync data between apps, and notify team members of new tasks.
However, these options can be overwhelming, especially if your business isn't a huge corporation with a lot of budget and resources to throw at automation.
You might be wondering:
- What types of automation will benefit my business the most?
- What should I stay away from?
- How can I easily implement these while keeping life simple?
Let's explore the best types of business automation so you can start implementing a strategy in your own organization.
20 Ways to Automate Your Small Business
1. Set up automated email campaigns.
When you think of automation, email marketing automation might come to mind first. It's not only one of the most popular types of automation, it's one of the most accessible, too.
Types of email automation:
- Triggering emails based on actions, such as webinar sign-up confirmations or abandoned basket notifications
- Email drip workflows that send content at set intervals
- Delivering content or requested information after filling out a form
- A/B testing content and automatically send the best performing version of the content
- Personalizing each email you send
- Segmenting groups based on data and automatically sending the right email to each group
A good way to get started with email marketing automation is to have a look at the automation capabilities that your email marketing platform already has and think about how you can use them to execute your strategy.
All popular email marketing tools have built-in automation functionality. However, if you haven't picked an emailing tool yet, pick an option with enough automation functionalities to meet the needs of your business.
2. Create standard operating procedures (SOPs).
How many processes within your business are documented? Whether you’re a solopreneur or lead a small team, having standard operating procedures (SOPs) is critical for a healthy business.
SOPs are detailed instructions that outline how to complete processes within your business. As your company grows, having SOPs on hand makes it so much easier to onboard new team members and delegate tasks to others. The faster team members can get up and running, the greater the impact they can have on your business.
3. Upload contact data to a CRM for a centralized database.
Is your customer data hidden across various messy spreadsheets? Is it hard for your team to decipher a contact’s status, or when the last interaction with them was? If so, your business could benefit from customer database automation.
To automate your customer information, you can use a CRM as a centralized database, and sync contact data between apps to automatically make updates as soon as anything changes on a customer account. This reduces the manual work done by your team, and improves relationships with your contacts and customers.
4. Implement a lead scoring system.
Does your team have a process for determining which leads are more viable? If not, you may want to consider implementing lead scoring.
With lead scoring, key attributes of leads will generate numerical values making it easier for you and your team to prioritize working with leads who are most likely to buy from your business. This saves you and your team precious time and allows you to engage with leads who are more likely to become paying customers.
5. Use a social media scheduling tool.
Any social media manager or content creator can tell you how time-consuming social media can be, especially when posting on the fly. That’s why using a social media scheduling tool is a game-changer for busy marketing teams.
With the right social media scheduling tool, your team can create meaningful content in advance, and schedule content to automatically post to your key platforms.
6. Immediately respond to customer service requests.
How well your company responds to customer service inquiries can make all the difference in keeping customers happy and coming back for more. Response time and first response resolution rate are key metrics driving customer satisfaction, and it can be hard for customer service teams to meet demands while carrying out all customer service manually.
Automation is not about removing the human element from one-to-one interactions. In fact, it's about making more time for these and providing a better experience for your customers.
You can automate notifications to let you know when it’s the right time to reach out to a customer, meaning you can engage in targeted outreach for better results. Customer satisfaction surveys can also be automated to alert you when a customer needs quick attention to reduce the risk of churn.
Your team can also leverage chatbots or knowledge bases with built-in AI that can quickly answer simple questions, or route a customer to the best support rep for their inquiry if that doesn't fix it.
Automation enables your customer care staff to manage a higher volume of customers more effectively, without burning out or diminishing the quality of one-to-one interactions.
7. Automate SMS marketing messages.
Increased screen time due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a resurgence in SMS marketing.
Your marketing team can consider adding automated SMS marketing to your company’s strategy to reconnect with leads and convert potential customers. Potential SMS marketing automation includes:
- Meeting and event reminders
- Restock alerts for products the contact has expressed interest in
- Empty cart abandonment messages
- Promotional messages for special deals and discounts
8. Review and automate your sales process.
Sales automation is about managing your sales process more effectively, reducing friction, and increasing conversion rates.
Benefits of sales automation:
- Stay on top of a busy pipeline
- Better calendar management
- Identify and focus on the most sales-ready leads
- Collect and act on data insights
- Sync the latest data across all apps
- Create a strong bridge with marketing
- Pass new customers to onboarding
- Avoid spending time on bad-fit leads
To get started with sales automation, first look at any built-in automation functionality that your CRM offers. You can then look into adopting and integrating other apps to automate more powerful workflows.
9. Automate repetitive tasks.
Are there any tasks on your team that are repetitive, must be done frequently, or require a similar skill set to complete? If so, these tasks are the ideal candidates for automation.
Consider using a task automation tool such as Zapier or Make to take some of the work out of repetitive tasks. Let’s say your team manually sends a promotional tweet every time your company publishes a blog post.
You can set up an automation in your tool of choice that will publish a tweet with a link to your new blog post every time your company’s blog publishes a new post.
Similar processes can be implemented to sync data across applications in your tech stack to reduce duplicative work.
10. Outsource key tasks to experts.
When you’re first starting a business, you’re usually responsible for all the tasks and responsibilities that make that business run. While that can be good for the bottom line, it’s not good for scaling and automation.
Once you’re able to afford it, outsourcing tasks to new team members, assistants, and specialists can really help your business go to the next level.
Let’s say you’re a small business owner who has handled all of your own email marketing while juggling various other duties. Unless you are an expert email marketer, you may not be giving this area the attention it deserves and the quality may suffer.
When hiring a contract email marketing expert, they can set up the necessary workflows and funnels that can help your email marketing run on autopilot, potentially resulting in more sales.
Go through the tasks you’re currently doing for your business and look for areas you can outsource to someone else to save you time and drive better results.
11. Implement a task management system.
Are your to-do lists on random post-its and scribbled on miscellaneous notebook pages?
Do you give your team tasks in passing and don’t follow up with them until it’s supposed to be due?
Do you and your team have a hard time tracking who does what?
If so, it’s time to implement a task management system with automation. Using task management software such as Asana, ClickUp, or Trello can help you and your team stay organized and accountable. With a task management tool in place, your team knows exactly where to look for their next action item and when it’s due. You’re also able to see their progress so you can support them if they get off track.
Automation can help take your task management system to the next level. You can use Zapier to turn line items from a spreadsheet into a task in your tool of choice, or automatically create tasks from Slack messages.
I use Asana to manage tasks, and love using the Gmail integration to turn emails into tasks with the click of a button.
With solid task management and automation in place, you and your team will save time hunting down tasks and will have more time to actually complete them.
12. Use drop shipping to automate fulfillment for e-commerce businesses.
Running an e-commerce business can be a lot of work. Between tracking inventory and managing fulfillment, a lot has to happen behind the scenes to get products to your customers.
If you don’t want to manage inventory, consider drop shipping. With dropshipping, you can work directly with a supplier who will fulfill and ship your orders so you can focus on other areas of your business without worrying about the risks and logistics of having all of your inventory on hand.
13. Centralize your internal communication efforts.
Automating your communication processes is about streamlining and clarifying human-to-human interactions. As a business owner, these automations can free up your time to look after your team and support their growth.
Types of communication automation:
- Automate team reminders to prep for meetings
- Automatically follow up on tasks after set intervals
- Sharing onboarding materials with new hires
- Collecting daily feedback on wins and blockers
- Self-reviews and performance tracking
- Reporting dashboards
- Syncing data with meeting slides
Gmail, Slack, and Asana are tools you might already be using that also offer great automation functionality to make communicating with your team easier.
14. Streamline your accounting and expense system.
Managing small business finances is a job of its own. If you’re still managing this yourself, consider using an accounting and expense system with automation capabilities.
A tool such as QuickBooks Online can be helpful for tracking your business financials. You can even connect this tool directly to your CRM so your records can accurately reflect which contacts have purchased from you.
Having an accounting and expense system in place can also help with receipt management by automatically categorizing receipts that come to your inbox to corresponding charges on your financial statements.
15. Use trigger/action workflows to publish data between apps.
Do the platforms within your tech stack talk to one another? Using automation to share data between apps can save you hours of manual entry.
Let’s say you have a potential customer fill out a Typeform survey to learn more about what they’re looking for in a product. Instead of manually creating a new contact entry in your CRM, you can set up a workflow that creates a new contact in your CRM any time you receive a response to that specific Typeform survey.
You can use a trigger/action workflow to connect various tools and cut down on administrative work.
16. Automate your onboarding processes.
Onboarding tasks are perfect for automation because they are repetitive. After all, many new employees in an organization will undergo the same training and need similar reminders.
Examples of ways you can automate your onboarding process include:
- Automatically generating and sending legal and compliance forms for new employees to sign electronically.
- Having accounts and access to key tools and systems automatically created.
- Sync employee data across necessary systems to reduce manual entry.
By automating as much of the back-end process of onboarding as possible, you’re creating less busy work for your HR team and creating a smoother experience for new employees.
17. Enlist a tool to make scheduling meetings easier.
There are few things more frustrating than a back-and-forth email chain to determine a meeting time. Optimize this process by using a meeting scheduling tool such as the HubSpot Meeting Scheduler or Calendly that automatically syncs with your calendar, and allows contacts to schedule time to meet with you when you’re available.
These tools can also integrate directly with your CRM so your contact list is always up-to-date with your latest interactions.
18. Email contacts who abandoned their shopping carts.
Most people who use the internet have abandoned an online shopping cart or two. Whether they get distracted when placing an order, have second thoughts after they see shipping prices, or want to spend a little more time thinking about their purchase before pressing "buy" there are various reasons customers may abandon an online shopping cart.
To help your business convert these shoppers, you can use email automation to send a message to contacts who still have items left in their carts after a certain period of time. With 50% of users who click through abandoned cart emails coming back for their purchase, it’s a worthwhile automation to try.
19. Use a password manager to share and secure login credentials across your team.
Chances are your team uses a wide variety of tools to run your business. To keep your company’s information more secure and to make your tech stack accessible to team members who need it, consider implementing a password manager to maintain and easily share login information.
Tools such as LastPass allow users to generate and store secure passwords and can be used for individuals, small teams, and enterprises.
20. Leverage AI and machine learning tools.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to unlock $2.6 trillion in value for businesses in the coming years. As a business owner, there are many ways you can leverage AI to streamline and automate your operations.
For example, AI tools can help streamline data management and reporting, saving your team precious time and helping you gain access to valuable data.
If you have a marketing team that creates a large volume of content, AI tools such as Jasper can greatly reduce the time marketers spend creating content through its outlining, research, and editing capabilities.
Automation is a long-term strategy: it's not about trying to change everything at once or creating processes that are overly complex for the stage your business is at.
Take a look at where your business is now. Where are the blockers, manual tasks, and inefficiencies?
Ask yourself how can you start automating these areas to free up your focus for the areas where you have the most impact.