Automation is nothing new. It’s been around since the Greeks invented the world’s first analog computer, the Antikythera Mechanism.
Today it has taken on epic proportions. Calculations show that up to 20% of your tasks as CEO of your company could be automated.
How much more could you accomplish with all that extra time?
See below for ten ways that automated business solutions you can actually use to work smarter, not harder.
1. Organizing your Email
Email services provide many shortcuts to automating your email in the quest for inbox zero.
Setting up a folder for each client with a rule that sends related email straight to the folder is the most obvious one.
This system allows you to identify unread emails mails from clients straight away. It also gets distracting non-critical emails such as newsletters out of your face and into a folder for later.
Unroll.me is a handy app that will collect all of these subscription emails out of sight and send you a summary of them once a week. This way you can avoid distractions during critical work hours.
You can kiss the hours of manually sorting your email goodbye with this easy system.
Automated mailing is great for marketing emails. You can set up a month or more’s worth of email communications in advance and set them up to send on time. No more last minute rush!
2. Calendar Management
Avoid those back and forth emails with a virtual assistant that coordinates meetings for you.
Apps like Calendly integrate with your Outlook, iCloud, Office 365 or Google Calendar to send out meeting requests on your behalf. The app then coordinates a convenient time for all the attendees and lets you know the date and time.
The premium package includes customizable reminders and group events.
3. Project Management
Online project management programs such as Base Camp, Asana and Trello allow you to keep clients updated on the progress of their work almost automatically.
You simply check off completed items and add comments as you go to keep everyone in the loop.
4. Social Media
Social Media management programs like MeetEdgar will post blogs and comments on your behalf, according to a set schedule.
If you don’t have any content lined up they will haul something out of the archives to keep your social media feeds alive.
This is a huge time-saver, allowing you to set aside a day or two to create content in advance, or add it to the queue as inspiration finds you.
5. Topic Creation
Need ideas? Unfortunately, inspiration can’t be automated. But you can save on time spent looking for ideas with a simple tool.
Set up Google Alerts for daily or weekly updates on topics that you could use for future blogs or posts. You will receive a handy list to inspire your latest blog or social media idea every time something on the topic appears on the internet.
Free apps such as IFTT can also be set up for these and more functions, but involve a little more elbow grease at the outset.
While you are busy making your mark on the world of Google, make the most of every minute with the host of SEO tools available online. These make your job easier and your content more effective.
6. Time Tracking
This is one aspect that truly belongs in the realm of automated business aspects. Who has time for time sheets after all?
Nobody is going to argue with a web-based time tracking app like Hubstaff or Due.com. It eliminates human error entirely and gives you proof of time spent on each project by taking screenshots of your progress.
Time tracking software takes the guesswork out of billing and budgeting. Some of them include invoicing and payroll functions too.
7. Basic Bookkeeping
Let’s face it. Most entrepreneurs and other creatives don’t have much math ability. It can take us so long to do things that involve numbers.
One solution is to outsource your bookkeeping tasks, but this is often not a cost effective option for small businesses and freelancers.
The good news is that time tracking and project management software often have billing built in. Other options for automated business bookkeeping include QuickBooks Self-Employed, Xero, and Acuity.
The best thing about these is that they are cost effective at entry level and grow with your business.
FreeAgents online accounting system will even go as far as working out your tax for you, keeping track of your expenses and showing you your profit position in real time.
One of the most soul-destroying tasks of a freelancer or small business owner can be following up on overdue payments.
An app such as Service M8 will mail clients at a specific time after the invoice is due to remind them. You simply set up a personalized message according to how late the payment is and let this automated business application do the dirty work for you.
8. Keeping Records
Receipt Bank is a great asset for automated business processes. It is easy to use and saves you hours of filing and entering information onto spreadsheets.
Every time you get a receipt you take a picture of it using the app. This technology uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to extract the relevant information off the receipt and store it for you.
9. Lead Generation
You may think that all the time you save thanks to business automation will free you up to source worthwhile leads for your business. Wrong! Even lead generation can be automated to a degree.
Cut down on this time-consuming task with an app like LeadCrunch, designed for automated business to business lead generation
LeadCrunch analyzes your existing customers and uses advanced technology to search for customers with similar profiles on the internet.
10. Almost Everything
Zapier and IFTTT (If This, Then That) require slightly more input from you initially but they are infinitely customizable.
Over 750 apps are compatible with Zapier which uses ‘zaps’ to transfer data from one place to another more central location.
Zapier can be set up to perform almost any task according to predetermined criteria. For example, when a survey is completed in Survey Monkey, Zapier can automatically download the results onto a spreadsheet.
IFTTT works in a similar fashion, where you download applets with a clear set of instructions for each scenario. For example, IFTTT can automatically sync receipts received via Google Mail to a spreadsheet.
Is Automated Business For You?
Believe it or not, there’s even an app that will work out how much time you can save with business automation.
Rescue Time gives you a weekly update on all the activities you perform each week and how much time you spend on each one.
You simply download it onto your computer and let it keep track of your activities.
It allows you to measure your productivity week on week and pinpoints areas that are costing you valuable hours of manual labor.
Other things to consider while you are looking for ways to make your business more efficient include:
- Identifying the tasks which can be automated.
- Pinpointing which steps of these tasks could be eliminated.
- Eliminate poor processes
- Weigh up the costs of employing staff to do these versus the cost of automated business operations.
- Consider whether the systems chosen will grow with your business
Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is what you will do with all the extra time you have once you are running an automated business.
Some Things Still Need the Human Touch
Automated processes and robots are still a long way away from replacing people in the workplace.
It is a bad idea to try an automated business approach to aspects of your business such as front desk operations. While customers may be happy to book their room online, they want a real person to welcome them on arrival.
Likewise, customer service must be handled personally. A long chain of ‘dial 1 for…’ can be frustrating for clients. Get a real person on the phone to handle your customers’ queries.
Automated Business Is Cost-Effective
Outsourcing SEO Marketing and other aspects of your business which require intuition and experience certainly has its benefits. It also has its costs.
The initial set up costs for business automation can come with a hefty price tag.
However, over time, automating structured tasks such as invoicing saves you money. Especially when you consider the costs of coughing up for a professional service or hiring skilled personnel to do the job.
Fortunately, many automation tools come with a free trial or are totally free for limited use. That way you can figure out what works best for you before you spend money on it.
Wrapping It Up
The bottom line is that business automation decreases stress and gives you more time to focus on what you do best.
Need more helpful advice and tips for start-ups and freelance business owners? Need help finding automated and outsourced solutions?