Imagine what those extra 3-hours could mean for your business. Or your sanity!
I’m a firm believer that you should get your business running as efficiently and effectively as possible before deciding what tasks absolutely do require human intervention (either from you or a VA).
As well as looking at what you can cut out of your business, you should also be using software to automate repetitive and time-consuming processes as much as possible.
Here are 5 ways for small business owners to save time through automation:
1) Client Relationship Management
Do you have multiple contact lists spread across your mobile phone, your Outlook address book, and numerous spreadsheets? And do you find that you’re constantly going backwards and forward updating contact data across different lists that you use for different purposes?
By keeping everything in one place you no longer need to cross check that everything’s up to date in your manual lists, or worry about losing data or getting confused between all the different lists and databases.
In my previous blog I talked about the importance of saying NO to constantly sending out emails, and direct messages. And why it’s important to stop answering the same old questions over and over again.
You CAN stop answering every email and DM without losing contact with your clients
There are a couple of ways you personally can stop answering every email or DM without losing contact with your clients, or avoiding answering their questions altogether:
- Email marketing software (e.g. Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit) – email marketing software allows you to segment your clients lists and send out automated emails depending on client behaviour or preferences. You can send out repetitive emails at the click of a button, instead of having to manually type out the same email multiple times each week.
- Chatbots – You might have noticed an increasing number of websites with pop-up chat windows when you land on them. These are powered by automated chatbots, which are designed to simulate conversations between the customer and customer service representative. They’re also useful for broadcasting messages on Facebook messenger, rather like an email auto-responder, and for answering website FAQs.
- Templates – If you prefer an old-school method for speeding up communications, creating straight forward templates is a big time-saver if you find yourself sending similar emails to customers on a regular basis. There’s still some manual intervention involved but having stock responses available to cut and paste can also help to save you time.
3) Social Media Scheduling
– If you regularly create ideas for social media content, you’ll know how time consuming the creative process is.
And if you’ve ever tried posting on the fly you’ll also know that life gets in the way and before you know it, it’s been 3 weeks since your last social post.
There are plenty of tools out there to help you (and many of them are free) to stay consistent by batch-creating content.
There are a couple of ways you can use scheduling software to automate the process for you:
- Simple advance scheduling – tools like Buffer allow you to type in your social media posts, and set them for a date and time in the future. The free version is usually enough for small businesses, giving you the ability to connect 3 social media profiles and schedule 10 posts in advance.
- Automatic re-posting – When you’re struggling to come up with daily content ideas, why not re-use old content? Software like MeetEdgar recycles your content and automatically re-posts it for you so that you don’t have to constantly wrack your brains for new ideas.
- Blog re-purposing – MissingLettr automatically extracts the most engaging content from your blog posts and re-purposes snippets into social media posts. If you’ve already invested a lot of time and energy into your blogs, this can be a useful way to get more bang from your blog.
4) Calendar Bookings
As an Executive Assistant I used to run the diary of an extremely busy CEO. I’d spend hours suggesting meeting times to clients and colleagues, only to have to amend them a couple of days later when one or more attendees couldn’t make it.
It was one of the most frustrating parts of the job.
Things have moved on a bit since those days and my two favourite tools for scheduling are:
- Acuity Scheduling – Sync Acuity with your iCal, Google and Outlook Calendars and send clients a link to schedule their own meetings with you. Attendees have visibility of your available time slots, so they can choose one that works for them without all the back and forth over email. It’s a super simple idea but a massive timesaver!
Scheduling was one of the most frustrating parts of my job.
- Doodle – When you’re trying to pick a date for a group event Doodle is a simple polling tool, which helps you find the date that works for the most people. Users click the dates they can attend and it tots up the totals for you so you can find the most popular one.
4) Finances & Book-keeping
Gone are the days of manually noting down your cash in and out-flows in a spreadsheet or ledger. Powerful accounting software like Quickbooks allow you to automate the management of your finances from sending estimates, to issuing invoices, to sorting taxes all in one place.
You might still need a book-keeping VA to help keep on top of all the moving parts but you’ll be able to remove a large proportion of your accounting headaches.
Nowadays there are infinite numbers of software systems and tools that can automate the repetitive processes in your business. With a small amount of research and an investment of your time in setting them up, you’ll be able to save an enormous amount of time by letting a machine do the work for you.
For more automation tools visit www.capterra.com which is a comprehensive (albeit slightly overwhelming) software search and review site.
What tasks do you automate in your business? I’d love to know – let me know in the comments!