For many people, the word automation is just another way of saying “lost jobs.” An understandable reaction, considering that, over the years, large-scale automation has completely changed some industries by reducing the human part of the equation.
However, on a lesser scale and in the right circumstances, automation can help a small business not only weather staffing challenges but also elevate employees to new areas of expertise. Let’s look at three positive effects that automating selected functions can have on your business.
Effect 1: Keep your business running
You don’t need to look any farther than the COVID-19 pandemic to find an example of how automation has helped small businesses stay afloat. According to workflow automation tool Zapier, 63% of the 2,000 small and medium-sized businesses surveyed for their 2021 State of Business Automation Report say automation enabled their business to respond to worsening business conditions during the pandemic—whether that meant moving online to sell their products and services or completely changing their business model.
It doesn’t have to be a pandemic; small businesses can be adversely affected by situations like leadership or employee illness, natural disasters, or a worsening economy. Today’s businesses, small or large, need to know how to change course in an instant, and automation can help them do so successfully.
Effect 2: Mitigate staffing issues
“$300 Hiring Bonus.”
“Closed today due to lack of staffing.”
We all know how local businesses are suffering without employees, thanks in great part to The Great Resignation, which has seen millions of employees leave their current jobs for a more flexible and fulfilling career. That’s where automation can help. In fact, in the same Zapier survey mentioned above, two out of three workers say that automation has helped them be more productive by automating manual tasks in a variety of functions, such as the following:
- Online payment options
- Selling products and services online
- Starting customer service queries (i.e., FAQs, chatbot or contact form on website)
- Automating curbside pickup
- Email marketing
- Capturing/managing leads
- Automating ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
- General accounting
- Invoice management
- Payroll management
Other business tasks
- Managing inventory and distribution
- Document creation and organization (meeting agendas, to-do lists)
- Reducing manual data entry and repetitive, time-consuming tasks like copy and pasting of data from one platform/database to another
Effect 3: Elevate your employees
Zapier found that 65% of knowledge workers say they’re less stressed at work because they don’t have to handle mundane manual tasks. Not only do they get back time, but they can also concentrate on the kind of work they’re good at and enjoy doing. Or they can learn and work in other areas of the business that catch their interest. All of this can go a long way toward avoiding burnout in employees who have lost their motivation or sense of creativity due to the limitations of administrative or other menial tasks.
The lasting effects
If you’d like to see what automation can do for your small business, don’t try to automate everything at once. Instead, start where you feel the need is most urgent and where employees are most overworked.
Since employees tend to handle several responsibilities at once in a small business, automation tools can keep everyone on the same page with deadlines, progress tracking and communication. Some of the most common software apps businesses use to automate workflows include Google Workspace, Slack, Mail Chimp, Trello, Twitter, Facebook Lead Ads and Calendly. These apps are user-friendly, and many have free or minimal pricing options.
As you get your automated functions up and running, start reinvesting your employees’ talents and skills into areas with higher ROI. For instance, an employee who does payroll entry may want to expand into other areas of the human resource field or may have an interest in marketing or sales. Remember, people take jobs for a variety of reasons, and sometimes interest or other skills need to take a back seat.
The gains business owners discover with automation have enabled small businesses everywhere to create efficient, scalable systems and processes that can compete with larger businesses. Even adopting one or two of these automation functions can continue to help your business grow and prosper when life gets back to “normal.”
And normal (or new normal) will happen again, sooner than you think. Make sure you’re ready to jump in, keep your business growing and your employees professionally fulfilled. Let’s take the stigma out of the word automation and make it work for us, rather than the other way around.