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Better Than Cloning: Automation That Grows Small Business Profit

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As a small business owner who is active online I bet you’ve heard about One-to-One Marketing, the Era of the Customer or the Advent of Social Media Marketing. Everywhere you turn another expert is telling you to start a dialogue with your customers. There’s only one problem.How in the world are you going to have the time to talk to 50 warm prospects, close two hot prospects and deliver your usual awesome product or service to all your existing clients? There are only so many hours in a day.

I confess I’m a huge fan of science fiction — aren’t most numbers geeks? And at times my fevered brain imagines a world where I could clone myself. Then I could talk with 100 warm prospects, close 10 hot leads and still deliver stellar service to my clients. Unfortunately, cloning is not in the cards, except for sheep and a few dogs. What is a small business owner to do?

Carefully Applied Automation Can Drive Small Business Profit Growth

By following a few key guidelines when implementing automation you can boost your bottom line.

Deciding What to Automate to Drive Profit

While it might be tempting to say “Everything!” that simply isn’t practical. The key is to identify the low hanging fruit. Not only will it be easy to find, it will be easy to implement. Some examples include standard follow-ups, payment reminders, and scheduling.

Once you’ve come up with a list of potential activities to automate, answer these questions.

  • Is this an activity you perform frequently? If you only do something once every two weeks, and the activity only takes five minutes, then the time savings aren’t compelling.
  • Is this a simple activity? Twenty-step processes that involve five decisions are not good candidates for automation.
  • Is there a solution available? If you need to build a solution from scratch, or perform extensive customization this is not a good candidate right now.

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Selecting the Automation Tools Best for Your Business

Your business is unique and so are the needs of your business. Just because a solution is perfect for an associate of yours doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a fit for you. So ask yourself:

  • Do the time savings outweigh the cost of the tool? For example, if a solution would cost you $1,000 a month, but would only save you one hour a month, it does not make sense to automate that task.
  • Will the solution enhance or detract from your client relationships? Do you often get the same questions asked by prospects? Perhaps you have a standard follow-up series of emails that you ability to add in personal information such as the person’s name or the name of their business. Be sure the solution you select for automation has the capability to produce the effect of personalization.
  • Is it so easy a caveman could do it? The whole point of automating is to save time, so an overly complicated solution is counterproductive.

The Turtle Wins the Automation Race

I’m sure you’re anxious to jump in and get this done. Think of all the time you’ll have! I get it. It’s not practical, however, to expect everything to get down right now.  Even automation takes an initial time investment.

Set aside even 10 minutes each day to work on your automation. At first it will feel like you’re standing still. But don’t get discouraged. In a month or two you will be feeling and seeing the effects.

Final Thoughts

What do you automate in your business today? Will you consider automating additional activities?


What’s Next?

To read more small business finance articles by Nicole Fende and other experts, visit the blog at Small Business Finance Forum.

 


Nicole Fende is The Numbers Whisperer™ and President of Small Business Finance Forum. As a credentialed actuary with experience as a Chief Financial Officer, Investment Banker, and successful entrepreneur, Fende helps her clients reach their profit goals and learn how to effectively and enjoyably run the financial side of their business. In her book, How to be a Finance Rock Star, Nicole shares the same strategies she uses for her profit coaching clients to help them reach multi-platinum profits.

 

  • http://thewordchef.com Tea Silvestre

    Great points to consider! A lot of my clients feel like they should be able to put all their marketing on autopilot and then walk away. It’s really not that simple. I think the best place to start is with those frequently asked questions (customer service) — if you keep getting the same questions, create a tutorial video or FAQ page that you can point people to as a first line of defense. It will definitely save you hours of non-billable one-on-one talk time.

    • http://www.pbsmartessentials.com Justin Amendola

      Great point, Tea. I’m a big advocate of starting simple when it comes to implementing new programs. An FAQ page is absolutely a great place for most businesses to start. It not only adds valuable, search-indexible content to a website, but also frees up more employee time to focus on other tasks.

      Some simple math tells me that if an FAQ page eliminates a few phone calls a week, that adds up to big savings for the average business over the course of one or two years.

      Thanks for commenting and I’ll check out thewordchef.com.

      Justin

    • http://www.financerockstar.com Nicole Fende

      Tea – I completely agree. Your whole business can’t be “set and forget”. There has to be a balance between automation and human interaction.

  • http://pajamaproductivity.com Annie Sisk

    Excellent framework for analyzing automation – I call it “building business systems” but automation works too, although maybe it’s more technically accurate to say automation is one form of building a business system, since sometimes systems aren’t really automated, per se. But research tends to illustrate over and over that the human brain thinks in chunks, and when we master a series of routine steps, and perform them over and over, we get vastly better and quicker at them. I especially like the observation that the cost (both in terms of money and opportunity/time/effort, etc.) should be carefully reviewed.

    • http://www.financerockstar.com Nicole Fende

      I agree that “building business systems” is probably a more accurate term, however I already scare people being a numbers geek. That term might have been a death knell for me.

      Time is a resource, and I’m glad that was a takeaway for you. Its your most precious asset because you can’t get more, save it up or buy it from someone else.

  • http://sharonhh.com Sharon Hurley Hall

    Excellent guide to the issues to think about regarding automation, Nicole. The key is in the planning, isn’t it – finding out what you can systematize but then keeping tabs on it to interact where necessary. Social media is a key example of that.

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  • http://www.agilecrm.com/ Sandhya Ramesh

    Automation is the latest must-have: increased results and extremely time saving. Every business – small or big – requires it these days. Automation can be applied at a variety of places – marketing, publishing blog posts, updating social media statuses etc.

    There are tons of products out there that offer automation for blog posts: wordpress is the best, I believe. HootSuite offers great scheduling of tweets and facebook statuses. Like you said, you could spend ten mins in a day scheduling, and they go off and engage customers for the rest of the day.

    Wrt marketing, what I think is important for businesses is having a multichannel automatic marketing strategy and a product that has such capability. (Disclosure: I work for Agile CRM). Marketing automation has to be – and has immense potential to be – personalized. It’s important to analyze and understand what would appeal to every individual customer. If they’re someone who tweets a lot, he has to be targeted on twitter. Many products that provide marketing solutions are yet to catch up to cross channel marketing.

    Great post, thanks!

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