7 Workflow automation steps to sooth SME stress

Stay cool, calm, collected by using workflow automation tools to sooth your SME stress points.

A lot of small business owners tell us they often feel that workflow automation technologies are for large corporates or robot filled factories - this could not be further from the truth.

If you’re a SME who is looking to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace then you should be using workflow automation tools to help manage repetitive processes such as capturing leads, serving customers, closing sales, or checking off routine office tasks. With the help of technology, owners and valuable staff can spend more time to focus on adding value and growing their business.

Changing your business from the bottom up can seem like a daunting task, however advances in technology are now making it possible for businesses of any size to affordably leverage workflow automation processes.

To help get you started, We’ve highlighted several ways you should be using automated digital tools to ease processes, and boost productivity and efficiency in your business.

Lead generation

Whilst identifying a potential lead is essential for any business, it can be a time-consuming process. By implementing automated lead generation tools, you can quickly figure out whether a lead has real interest in acquiring your product or service using surveys, quizzes, calculators, and payment pages. Automated lead generation tools allow businesses to create in minutes, without the need for coding or design experience, what could normally take hours. If salespeople don’t have to focus on lead generation or research, they can spend their time ticking off other more pressing priorities like generating income for the business.

Enhancing your sales journey

Getting customers through the sales pipeline can often be an arduous task. It can also be difficult to juggle multiple prospects at different stages of the pipeline, which is why it's important to automate what you can.

Automated sales processes use technology to streamline this process. Businesses can use engaging content to help customers select the right products for their requirements. This content can be personalised for each customer, ensuring that they are getting the best advice. Automated sales processes also make it easier to collect payments, using tools such as Stripe and PayPal.

HubSpot, Pipedrive and monday sales CRM are just a few of the leading CRM sales platforms available on the market.

Using chatbots

Chatbots essentially save small businesses money by engaging with customers directly on websites and social media platforms. Should a query be too complicated for the chatbot to handle, the software is sophisticated enough to escalate it to a customer service agent. What’s more, chatbots work 24/7, even on holidays, and can also schedule appointments with a human customer service representative during non-business hours.

Are email campaigns still effective?

When it comes to small businesses, automation probably has the most significant impact on marketing. Automated email processes enable businesses to send personalised emails to directly to the customer base. This helps businesses to stay in touch with customers regularly without having to manually manage every single customer.

Mail Chimp and Keap are just some of the leading automation marketing platforms available. Mail Chimp even offers a free subscription, while Keap offers a free 14 day trial.

Social media planning needn’t feel so taxing

Creating, posting, and analyzing content across so many social media channels can take an overwhelming amount of time. Social media automation is the process of reducing the manual labour required to manage social media accounts. By using this type of software, you can:

  • Increase brand awareness and engagement

  • Greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to create and publish social media posts

  • Reduce customer service response times

  • Increase data collection for analytical reporting and decision making

Leading social media automation platforms include Hootsuite and Brandwatch.

Onboard customers easier

Onboarding new customers can be time-consuming, including collecting customer information, setting up accounts and providing access to services/products.

Automating the on-boarding process for customers can be beneficial as it eliminates the need for them to get in touch with customer services for assistance. It also ensures that they are set up with the correct accounts and have access to services as soon as possible, even outside traditional working hours.

Understanding the role of big data in the automation process

The term big data is used to describe significant amount of information collected by an organization. Automated processes are only as good as the data which feeds them. Firstly, it has to be the right kind of information, and secondly, there will have to be enough to allow automated process to self-correct and improve the accuracy of performance.

Remember, the core objective of automation tools is to improve the efficiency of a business. This can mean different things to different people, from reducing overspend, through to removing the need for staff to spend time on repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

If we can automate simple functions within the business, we can ensure staff are focused on the tasks that add the greatest value to an organization. Ultimately, these tools ensure businesses can be more efficient, profitable and sustainable.

Your next steps

If this has got you thinking about introducing automation into your workplace, read on for five simple steps for small businesses to follow, including guidance from the world of farming and agriculture – and discover why these industries lead the way when it comes to transforming a business into intelligent operations:

Identify repetitive tasks in your workflow:

To find opportunities for automation, start by looking for routine manual processes that take up a considerable amount of time and resources. The more frequent the task, the more you gain by automating it. In agriculture, farmers usually have to deal with repetitive tasks in the field, and this work is primarily labour-intensive. Agricultural robots (“agrobots”) or automated tractors, cope with a wide range of repetitive tasks: harvesting, watering, seeding, etc. and they are increasingly becoming the norm. Robs4Crops is one example of projects that are accelerating the shift towards large-scale robotics and automation in farms across Europe.

With two-thirds of global office workers claiming to waste four and a half hours a week on repetitive and time consuming tasks, automated project management systems like Asana are becoming more popular. Not only do they help teams organise, track and manage their work, they also reduce hours spent on mundane admin, freeing up valuable time for more important work such as creative thinking, strategy and financial planning to help grow the business. Whether your business would benefit from streamlining the hiring process, customer service, marketing campaigns or tracking team hours, the options of online systems to choose from are plentiful. As technology improves, we can expect to see more and more tasks, particularly administrative ones, becoming available for automation.

Understand it before you automate it:

Prior to automating any task, take a minute to check you fully understand every part of the process you’re looking to overhaul. This way you can easily break down the work into smaller steps that are simple to programme and iterate. We’ve seen this in farm automation where the human element is still key for managing a farm – crucial both upfront for getting the intelligent processes in place – and ongoing to fully utilise technical equipment. Human knowledge and experience needs to be combined with automation, not excluded by it. In the workplace setting, synergy between human input and automation is equally important. Commonplace machine-assistance examples such as spell-checker are becoming increasingly sophisticated with apps like Grammarly that not only identify spelling and grammatical errors but pick up on more stylistic problems.

Get tools to speed up the process:

There is a wealth of online tools that enable you to program anything from data entry to social media posting. Hootsuite for example allows you to schedule your social posts and you can even code tools to work specifically for your business. While this will cost you more, the investment can quickly pay for itself. Smart farming is embracing an array of automated tech from autonomous tractors and drones to robotic harvesters and seeding robots. Robots for planting are focused on the field’s specific area, and they work with great precision. This type of farming robot uses artificial intelligence and computer vision, which allows for a reduction of pesticides in the field and, subsequently, the production of high-quality food. The biggest names in technology are playing a huge part in influencing how the land is farmed including Google whose X-Development project has unveiled a ‘plant buggy’ that uses AI to analyse crops so farmers can improve their yield and save money.

Integrate software with larger capabilities:

If you haven’t already, it pays to get your business on a cloud computing service like Google Cloud. These platforms offer many advantages like built-in tools for automation, regular updates and the ability to grow with your company as you scale up. Farmers can rely on IoT solutions to provide software instruments that stand behind and support their farm, no matter how complex it is. Every drone or automated tractor needs a brain to make the right decision about the plants in the field.

Use any time gained for growing your business:

Introducing automation processes for time consuming elements such as employee onboarding, timesheet management, and purchase orders, frees up time to focus on ways to help your business thrive in your market. A global study from automation software company UiPath revealed that 60% of executives believed automation enabled employees to focus on more strategic work, with 57% saying it increased employee engagement – important factors for achieving business objectives. For many farmers, embracing smart farming has meant less time out in the fields and more time to manage and grow their business. Making time for networking, marketing, analysing accounts and profits and business planning is crucial for success for any business leader, including farmers.

For businesses that don’t know where to start when it comes to introducing automation into the workplace, getting going is key – small steps can go a long way in the journey of streamlining your business into an intelligent operation. But this transition doesn’t have to mean that employees no longer have a key part to play in the growth and output of the business. Just as we’ve seen in the farming world, automation is about both enhancing the human element of a business and freeing up valuable time to concentrate on more rewarding tasks. Humans and automation should work side by side for the best chance of success.

If you’re a small business looking for additional tips on how to take your business to the next level, head over to V-Hub by Vodafone and check out the resources, best practice guidance and free one-to-one support available from a dedicated team of expert advisers

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