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You’d be forgiven for thinking automation doesn’t have much of a place in small businesses. That’s because most of the news that you hear about automation is about robots taking human jobs.
And while that makes for good headlines, it’s not a fair representation of what automation is, or how it’s going to shape the workforce.
The truth is, we’re already quite used to automation. Before Excel, there were rooms full of people doing calculations to solve math problems. Now you just use a formula.
When you think about automation like this – rather than just as robots – you start to realize there’s actually a lot of potential for small businesses to benefit from automation.
Let’s have a look at a few ways that you can use automation in your small business today.
If you use spreadsheets at any point in your business and you don’t automate the process, you’re throwing money down the drain.
Any decent spreadsheet software will have the ability to make macros. Simply put, a macro is a stored function that allows you to run the same processes time and time again.
Let’s imagine you’ve got an Excel spreadsheet where you’re looking at your stock, units sold, the cost per unit, the tax on that unit, and any discounts in place. Inputting every single one of those fields for every single item you stock just to generate your totals is madness.
And it’s a total waste of man-hours. If a person is doing it, you’re wasting hours of their time on soul-crushing work. If you’ve got a macro running, you just input the units sold and in a few seconds, there’s your data.
Taking it one step further, you can even automate the inputting of the data. And not just spreadsheet data.
Any time that there’s information that gets written down on paper with the intention of putting into a computer later, is time wasted. Say you run a mobile hairdressing business and one of your workers sells the final bottle of hairspray from her van to a customer who also wants to make an appointment for a month’s time.
The hairdresser writes all the information down, the appointment ends, the hairdresser calls up to tell someone in the office that she needs to re-order the hairspray and make the appointment. Your office worker then has to place the order and use the booking software to place the appointment.
Automate that process and it’s as simple as: during the appointment, the hairdresser logs the product sale and appointment request. The database can see it was the final can of hairspray and re-orders, it verifies that the hairdresser is free for the requested slot, books in the appointment, and even sends out confirmation emails to the hairdresser and the client.
Those emails, the ‘You’ve got an appointment coming up’ or ‘Here’s a 10% off voucher for your birthday’ emails can make all the difference when it comes to customer service. And without marketing automation software, you’re putting a lot of unnecessary work on your customer service staff (which will ironically give them less time to deliver great customer service).
That’s not to say all the time spent talking to clients is a good use of time. When you’re a small business you can be inundated with demands. Sometimes, the phone rings and it’s a question that only a person can answer. More often than not it’s a customer with a question that could have been answered by two seconds on Google.
Which is why services that can respond to customer requests can be so useful. There are loads of automated solutions out there now that can answer commonly asked questions quickly and easily. Meaning you don’t get disturbed by queries that aren’t worth your time, and the customer gets a response far quicker than they would waiting for a person to get back to them.
All of these solutions can be implemented by your business today, they all augment the abilities of your staff rather than replace them, and there isn’t a robot in sight.
By looking at what automation can actually do for small businesses, we can see that it’s not something that your workers will fear, quite the opposite. And for you, it multiplies the effectiveness of your staff, without multiplying their cost.
Want to check out other ways to super-charge your small business? Check out the rest of the blog.