Why Your Small Business Should Automate These Tasks

This article was originally published on the Design Pickle blog. Click here to see the original and access bonus content with it.

As a small business owner, it would be nice to be assured that you’re able to step away for a bit while things continue to run smoothly, right?

We don’t tend to start businesses because we want to enslave ourselves without a vacation for years at a time, yet a Constant Contact survey produced the following data of small business owners polled:

  • 43% do not take vacations.
  • 56% feel they can never be away from their business.
  • 55% list “having enough time” as a top business concern.

We get it. Your business is your baby and you want to ensure you are doing all you can to boost your success. But it’s also a well-known fact that being able to have a rest every now and then or just to focus on something else you find enjoyable is better for your own health and your ability to avoid burnout.

What if you could free up some more time? What if you didn’t have to worry because you knew tasks were being taken care of, even if you are asleep, at a baseball game, or taking a vacation?

Many small businesses tend to do things the hard way, requiring too many manual steps or the business owner to be the initiator of everything. There are some tasks though, that are well worth your time systemizing — if not completely automating. It gives you more time-freedom as well as the opportunity to scale your operations.

Check out some of our top candidates for systemizing — which can you put in place?

#1. TAKING/FULFILLING ORDERS

It’s obviously a big part of doing business, but if an actual person has to be present to process orders, then this is something your business could be doing much more efficiently.

PROCESSING ORDERS

You might think, “But mine is the kind of business where I need to talk to the customer and make sure I can help them before I take an order from them.” You could see Design Pickle that way too and we do offer the option of an initial consultation if customers would prefer. However, we also offer a way to sign up immediately and pay on our website.

Why? It keeps things simple. People don’t need to wait for a consultation, but they also have some recourse available if they decide we’re not for them with our 14 Day 100% Risk Free Guarantee. To help people with their decision, we’ve made sure to put plenty of information on our website, including FAQs and a Knowledge Base. It means we don’t have to be personally available 24/7 to answer questions or take orders.

Which tools can help you create your business system? Grab our free guide here.

FULFILLING ORDERS

This is especially for any business that deals in physical products. Picking, packing, and shipping orders can take up a lot of your time, especially if you’re also dealing with returns and refunds.

If you’re a smaller business, you probably don’t have the resources to build your own warehouse for storing and shipping inventory, not to mention the cost of staffing it, which is where third-party fulfillment houses come in.

Fulfillment houses are built based on economies of scale — you’re not their only client, so they are able to operate based on the fees paid to them by the many businesses who use them. The best ones will keep an eye on your inventory and automate the reorder process, deal with the whole fulfillment chain, and sort out any returns or refunds.

A tip if you’re shopping around for a fulfillment solution: Look at the actual location of the warehouse in relation to where your supplier’s products have to ship from. The shipping cost can soon add up if you’re using a warehouse that is far from the suppliers, but you also need to balance this with the cost of shipping out to your customers.

Can you take care of fulfillment this efficiently on your own? Source:Saleswarp

#2. CUSTOMER SERVICE

When you throw words like “automation”, “systemizing”, and “customer service” into the same sentence, you will tend to find a mixed reaction from people. Those who have had good experiences are fine with it of course, but a lot of the negativity you find comes from people having had poor experiences with robotic, “take a number” kinds of service.

One of the best assets your business has is its good reputation with customers, so we would never suggest that you put any kind of system in place which makes getting through to your business seem like a government or utilities company “customer service” line.

Let’s think about this, though: If you’re manually taking care of all customer service queries, the chances are at least one of these scenarios has happened or will apply to you:

  • You can’t get away from your phone/inbox because you’re tied to responding to customer queries.
  • Some (or many) customer service queries are taking longer than you’d like to receive an acknowledgement or response because you (or your customer service person) can’t be everywhere at once.
  • Customers have complained that they haven’t heard back from you yet.

With one scenario, you’re definitely never getting that vacation — not without being glued to your phone, at least. With the others, there’s a good chance you’ve already annoyed or lost customers.

Here are some ways we suggest you can (inoffensively) systemize your customer service:

PROVIDE GOOD SELF-HELP OPTIONS

Sure, some people will never use these. But if you’re a website owner, there are plenty of other customers who will search your site for the answer to their question before contacting you about it. This is where you need options for self-help.

If you haven’t got one already, a simple FAQ page highlighting the most common questions and answers you get is a great place to start. You can also try developing a “Help” tab with a knowledge base of questions and answers. Make it simple for customers to search by keywords or categories for an answer. The key to doing it well is to keep it updated often. Does something keep coming up? Add it to the knowledge base.

USE HELP TICKETING

There are plenty of support desk software services available out there now which you can easily integrate into your website. HelpScout, Zoho, and FreshDesk are just some examples of many. How do they help you provide better customer service?

Here’s the general idea:

A customer sends a help ticket via your website and they get an immediate response, at least one telling them that their query has been received and giving them a timeframe to expect someone to get back to them.

You can set up rules for how tickets under certain categories get distributed to the right team member, or you can use staff of your virtual helpdesk who have been trained to look after your business. You can also set up Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for timeframes so that any tickets in danger of not meeting the SLA will immediately be escalated.

Many help desk providers also have a live chat option available, which you can install on your website for customers looking for a quicker response. Most of the time, business owners find that once their support desk people are trained and have a good understanding of their business, there is very little need for them to step into the customer help process. The key to success is to develop very clear procedures which are simple for others to follow.

#3. MARKETING

There is plenty of opportunity to at least systemize your marketing activities, while you can automate some things too.

CONTENT PRODUCTION

Content is one of those things which you can’t make happen automatically, but you can put a system around it. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for any business that does content marketing is time. Creating good content takes a lot of time, from researching your audience, researching your topics, writing your content, and then making sure it gets the promotion it needs to bring in traffic.

You can’t really reduce the steps it takes to produce a good piece of content, although practice (or outsourcing) make your production more efficient. Here are some options for creating a better system though:

  • Have a detailed description of your target audience. Know their pain-points and the problems they look to solve.
  • Devise set categories for your blog which will encompass the topics your audience are interested in.
  • Have a content calendar. This tends to help businesses immensely because you’re not suddenly saying, “Oh man, quick, we need to write a blog post.” Even taking an hour a month to plan out the next few topics in a row will make your content production more efficient.
  • Have a system for promoting your content. For example, you might set up a certain number of posts on Facebook and Twitter which go out at set intervals. You might also look for one question on Quora that is relevant to each post and answer it.

The point is, that if you have a set system, you don’t have to be the person doing all the work. You might want oversight on topics, tone, or language etc., but a system gives you the opportunity to find a reliable person who is able to produce the content for you.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media is another one which falls under the category “it takes time to do it properly.” You can automate when your posts go out, but you can’t really automate what those posts are (not if you want to sound like a human is sending them out — some of those automated posts are awful!).

So, apart from assigning content-related posts to someone else like the system above, what else can you do?

  • Choose one or two channels first based on where your target audience is. Don’t try to half-ass a whole lot of them!
  • Use scheduling tools to set up posts ahead of time. Finding things to post about every day is inefficient, but you could set aside an hour or so per week to schedule posts ahead of time.
  • Monitor accounts from one dashboard. You want to be able to respond quickly to messages or comments, but you don’t want to be constantly going in and out of your social media apps.
  • Use a tool for monitoring keywords or mentions of your business name. You don’t always know when someone is talking about you and you want to be able to respond. Use a tool such as Mention which can monitor across the web.

There are,of course, other aspects of marketing such as lead generation which you can automate as well.

Source: Marketing Automation Insider

TIPS FOR SYSTEMIZING

#1. DON’T TAKE DIY AS YOUR FIRST OPTION

If you start out with doing everything yourself, your system relies on you. Step back and work out how things can run without needing you to hit the “go” button.

#2. DOCUMENT PROCEDURES

Documenting is important for ensuring you and any staff you may have stay on the same page. It also helps to avoid being asked the same questions multiple times and makes it easier if you want to train someone new in your procedures.

#3. KEEP PROCEDURES SIMPLE AND UP-TO-DATE

Generally speaking, the simpler the better if you want to confidently hand over some of your essential processes to others. The other important piece is reviewing them regularly. Occasionally, there will be software updates or new tools available which render parts of your old process unnecessary.

#4. DON’T GET HUNG UP ON ABSOLUTE PERFECTION

This is a great suggestion from Sam Carpenter in an interview withMixergy. Sometimes striving for 100% perfection (depending on what the process is, of course) is simply inefficient. He gives an example of an employee who wasted a lot of time trying to achieve total perfection with a marketing plan, when at 98% it would have been more efficient to stop.

The lesson? If this sounds like you, stop tweaking and move onto other things which require more urgent attention.

Which tools can help you create your business system? Grab our free guide here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

We all need a vacation. If you find yourself too tied to your business to take a break, have a look at what you’re doing and assess where you may be able to put a system in place which will take you out of the picture.

The areas mentioned — taking and fulfilling orders, customer service, and marketing — are just three of many that you could put a system around for better efficiency.

The key is to assess your own particular business needs and figure out where you can systemize or automate. Document your procedures, delegate, and take a day off!