When going into business things we need to do ourselves to grow have a way of consuming our day, week, months. [This is not a how to article instead it is written for awareness] There are many great articles, books, advisers and seminars available for business owners to begin the process of business automation. Many areas of business as you grow can and should be automated so that you can continue to expand successfully.
“The sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion.” (Oxford Dictionary)
Prior to letting things move off your ‘to do’ plate and into the area of business automation:
- Do not automate a process until you understand the process like the back of your hand. During the automation sequence it is possible for parts of the system to fail, vital needs can be overlooked if the process is not completely understood.
- When you automate deploy a checks and balance system. Ignoring a part of your business that has been automated and not looking over it from time to time to make sure that it is still doing what it was designed for, can be more harmful than never using an automated system in the first place.
- Add to the process a time table appropriate to the task of checking in for improvements or necessary changes to advance the automation with the changes your business may be engaged in.
- Take it one step at a time… automation if not done correctly can cause harmful business disconnect.
When you are ready to automate start with these five areas:
1) Streamline communication in your business process:
- We receive hundreds of emails a day and it is impossible to retain all of the things you need to do in your head. Yes, you might note them down, in Google tasks, stickies or a to-do list of choice. But then you’ll have to remember that you wrote these down. By automating your workflow, you have one streamlined mode of communication, and one common dashboard where all your requests, incoming and outgoing are placed, along with details about which stage in the business process they are at.
- Customer communication is another area that is vital for our business survival but without the right automatons can become detrimental to your success endeavors. I am a firm believer that in the area of customer communication there are certain things that should remain manual like; hand writing appreciation cards – there are many great programs out there that you can create a general response message to any business situation, have a staff member copy and paste into a card and have the company like ‘Send Out Cards’ take care of the rest for you. For some things this is great but know that for every system you establish maintaining a balance of not completely removing the ‘human element’ that made you great in the first place is key. Even the greats like ‘Coke-a-Cola’ know this and at every opportunity engage their clients with marketing that keeps them connected and involved.
- Advertising, Marketing and Social Media has elements that can be automated BUT not to the point that you lose connection with your market. If your customers are communicating thru these avenues and no one is listening or answering you will fail to grow successfully. Every advertising medium has its own language make sure the systems you use to automate this process do not clone your message to a point that it is ineffective and loses value in the translation.
2) Assigning accountability:
- By automating your workflow and streamlining communication, it is right there, in front of your eyes, information that tells you who is responsible for what process. Initiations, approvals, rejections, inputs – are all bound to the person who has performed the action. By enabling that level of information transparency in your business process, you enforce accountability on yourself, your staff and your colleagues. Excuses like “I missed that mail”, “I lost that memo”, “I did not know that was my responsibility” and, “I did not know when it was due” will be things of the past.
3) Minimize costs due to manual errors and inefficiency:
- To err is human. We may forget payment due dates, or approval deadlines or make payments for services or goods you never received. These might result in direct financial loss in many instances. An automated workflow allows you to minimize these errors. At any point in time, a particular transaction is presented to you in its current state. So if an order is pending and you haven’t received it, you will never make a payment unless its state has been updated to “Received”. There will be never a moment again when you will be put to humiliation because of the ‘system’.
- For service related industries have a clearly defined process for client intake from the moment they make contact with your office even if thru social media communication. Streamlining the intake process will help you define what marketing is working for you (saving you money and time), weed out the window shoppers, and create a higher closing ratio.
4) Develop an evolution for your business processes:
- Imagine you have automated your business process, streamlined your employee base to use this new system and things are flowing smoothly for the last few months. Now what would you like to do with all the data that has been accumulating? Wouldn’t you like to know how many requests came in, how many were approved, how many are pending, how to better the business process? Having access to this information will tell you if your current business process is bottling up at some point, if it’s actually making life easy for your employees or if its making what could otherwise be a simple thing more complicated. This is probably the best input you can have for all your business process management needs.
5) Establish a clear chain of command:
- Knowing the organization hierarchy is seldom the same as the approval hierarchy for a business process and this can cause delays in work flow making this an area where clarity is a must. Without an automated tool you will have emails flying left right and center to figure out just to find the person “in-charge” of approval. A well implemented business process workflow tool, will allow staff to keep doing what they need to do without rabbit chasing and confusion that comes from replies like, “That is not my job”.
Yes, there are many more areas where systems, tools, techniques for helping you grow your business can benefit from automation but hopefully this will get you thinking and headed in the right direction. Word of caution all businesses originally were made great because their clients connected with them for a reason, in using automation do not lose sight of this.
Automation can cause disconnect if not used correctly so know when and what level of automation to use in each situation is vital. Ask advice from other colleagues’ business professionals that are currently using and benefiting from automation systems; what works, what did not and why, when they began and any other helpful tips.
Good Luck in your business growth and use of your first automation process – Let us know how it goes! ~K. Kirkland