In this article, founder and CEO of Addition Finance Graham Davies explains how automation can help small businesses create scalable processes and promote growth.
The average startup is working with extremely limited resources and manpower in its early days. As cash is king, it’s easy to focus all your time and effort on delivering your product. This is natural and understandable. However, it’s also why founders are hitting burnout at record levels as they try to stay afloat while under pressure from wearing multiple hats. Attempting to manage everything, alone and all at once, isn’t only dangerous – it’s also ineffective.
“Well who else is going to do it?”. I hear you. It’s tough being an entrepreneur – especially when you’re just starting out. Maybe you’d love to outsource the bulk of the grunt work, or expand your team, but money’s tight and you’re not quite there yet. If this is you (and even if it’s not), automation is your friend.
Whether it’s B2B or B2C, automation trends are on the rise. According to 2022 Gartner research, AI software revenue will hit approximately $62.5 billion this year – with a 21% increase over last year.
Automation can help streamline workflows and reduce manual tasks – giving you (or your team) more time to focus on the human elements of growing a business, such as sales or customer service.
When wielded with precision, an AI toolkit is the perfect ally for startups – wherever you’re at on your business journey.
Let’s break this down.
The power of streamlined processes can’t be understated. Regardless of how big your team grows, you want your product or service to be delivered in a consistent way. This builds trust, brand loyalty and credibility.
Workflow automation leader Zapier sums up its purpose very clearly in its Quick Start Guide: ‘The heart of any automation boils down to a simple command: WHEN and DO. “When this happens, do that.” Even the most complex automation can be broken down into this simple command.’
For example: when you get a lead from your ‘Get in Touch’ website form, the ‘do’ would be to have an automatic message sent to your sales team. This is a very basic workflow process, but it ensures that no leads are slipping through the cracks.
It may sound obvious, but always have your team test the trial version before committing. Different tools serve different workflow styles. We love Zapier and Make (formerly Integromat) at Addition. These are highly effective tools, but they do require training to use. Consider either hiring an automation specialist or investing in a training course for one of your team.
TOP TIP: Ask a sales rep to walk you through a demo on a call and answer any questions. This will help you determine whether the tool is really the best for your business. There’s sometimes wiggle room for price negotiation as well (if you don’t ask, you don’t get).
It’s not how many hours you work, or even how hard you work – it’s how smart you work. Diligently scraping data together into an Excel sheet, or manually emailing cold leads is a noble effort, but it isn’t going to help you scale. In fact, quite the opposite – it will slow you down and hinder growth.
Using automated software for process-heavy tasks is like using a dishwasher or tumble dryer. You could do without them – but the rate of progress isn’t even comparable.
TOP TIP: Lead generation, nurturing and conversion is one of the most common areas for automation. Tools like Hubspot and Mailchimp are giants in this space and for good reason. Hubspot has a wealth of free guides, ebooks and certified courses on all kinds of automated marketing processes. If you haven’t checked them out yet, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Money, money, money. Businesses spend it, earn it and invest it. Keeping track of ingoings and outgoings is a lot easier with automation. There’s a wealth of bookkeeping and accounting software to choose from. Just picture it – a platform where you can raise and pay invoices, balance the books and manage your taxes, all in one place. Major leg-up for your company, right?
TOP TIP: Speaking from experience, Xero is the number one tool to beat. Why? Its open API syncs with over 1000 other apps (Stripe, Paypal etc). Also, optional add-ons like Payroll or Xero Tax make it a limber tool that can grow with your business. We love it at Addition.
Ah the ‘key performance indicator’. We all know why they work – but figuring out how to get started is often just as difficult as keeping track. Automation can help you collate data to work with, like unique website visitors, conversion rates and domain rankings. When you already have a clear picture of where you’ve been and how you got there, it’s much easier to chart a path to where you want to go. And getting that information gets a lot easier by utilizing technology for your payroll.
TOP TIP: If you’re already automating things like your lead generation, the tool you’re working with probably has options to report back on KPIs. But if not, or if you’re looking for software that is KPI-tracking specific, here’s a list of some KPI Dashboard tools.
AI is by no means flawless. You’ll often find the ‘computer says no’ scenarios crop up where the situation isn’t cut and dry. This is where the human touch comes in – and it’s important to keep the right balance between program and person.
Focus your AI use on process-heavy tasks (like generating templates and reports, extracting and importing data scraped from multiple sources, or auto-filling forms). You can then channel that extra time and manpower into stellar customer service. Never underestimate the power of a sincere note or phone call when your clients hit a snag. And always double check your AI’s final product – just in case the computer said no when it should’ve said “let’s talk”.
TOP TIP: While the pandemic has given remote working and automated processes a huge boost, the need for human connection is also at an all-time high. If you don’t have the budget for a permanent physical office, look into shared professional spaces (like WeWork) where you can offer clients face-to-face meetings to build trust and relationships (and host company socials!).
It may take a bit of fine-tuning and digging, but the right tools to take your business further, faster are definitely out there.
However, automation can be much more than a tool to save money and scale quickly. Setting up efficient workflows through automation requires you to think about every process on a granular level and will give you a unique understanding of your business.
Addition offer outsourced financial services for startups in the UK and US.