I often find myself blogging on the subject of saving time. Hardly surprising when for many of us small business owners there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to cover the multitude of tasks we all have to deal with throughout the working day. Most of these tasks are in addition to our core business. We can end up spending hours every week on fulfilling some of these tasks. For a business to grow you need to be able to spend time working on your business rather than in the business.
So once again I will find myself attempting to answer the question of how we can save time.
One thing I am a big believer in is automation. Automation is one of the biggest things you can do to save time during the week. But there are additional benefits as well as saving time which give you even more reason to do it.
Why should you automate?
- First and foremost it saves time. Why spend hours doing something yourself manually if a piece of software can automatically do it for you?
- It saves money if you are paying for people to carry out some of these tasks for you.
- Eliminates user error – the more times something is redone manually by another person the greater the risk of an error being made.
- As everyone has a capacity to make a finite number of decisions in a day, it improves your decision-making ability as you don’t have to waste brain power thinking about minor decisions.
What should you automate?
In short, as much as possible! Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Social Media. Using a tool such as Hootsuite enables you to write multiple social media posts in one go, in one place and then schedule them. This enables you to write your posts in bulk and then save time logging in to social media on other occasions and getting distracted.
- Invoicing/Credit Control. Many accounting systems such as Kashflow or Xero will allow you to create invoices in bulk and create recurring invoices for regular clients in one go. You can also set up the automated credit control so that not only do the invoices go out on time, but your clients are sent reminders too. This not only has the benefit of saving time, but ensures that the credit control process is followed to the letter and nothing is overlooked which will certainly help to reduce your time to get paid.
- Sending automated emails. Using the automation function within Mailchimp you can drip feed a series of emails to your mailing list. Once it’s set up all you need to do is add the new person’s email address and it will do it in the background for you.
- Email templates. You probably find that you receive a lot of very similar email enquiries about your products or services. If you haven’t already, automate this process by preparing some templates which can be tweaked accordingly and then sent in response.
- PC Backups. Instead of running these manually automate them. If you are thinking that this wouldn’t save you any time as you don’t back up, then you need to put this in place now. Losing your files would be a nightmare for most businesses, not to mention a complete waste of time, so make sure it doesn’t happen to you and put an automated system in place asap.
- Reporting. It’s always a good idea to check reports to keep a track of how your business is going, but all too often it’s the case that businesses are spending time manipulating one set of data getting it added in to another spreadsheet and changing the formatting. See what you can do to automate this process.
- Blogging. If you have a WordPress blog they have a facility to schedule your posts for whenever you want. This gives you the option to write multiple posts in one go and then publish them all in regular intervals. This not only saves time, but also works well during times when you may be on holiday for example but want to keep a post going out each week.
- Frequently Asked Questions. If you find that you get certain questions about your products or services asked regularly one way to minimise the time you spend on dealing with these enquiries can be to create a Frequently Asked Questions page on your website. This won’t eliminate all your queries, but will cut them down. The other advantage of having such a page on your website is that you can turn it in to an opportunity to further sell the benefits of your product or service so it may help to generate more business.
- File sharing. Having to email files between colleagues internally is a complete waste of time when you can use a service such as Dropbox to give everyone access to the information they need.
- Project Management. A lot of time can be wasted through communicating the same information to people at different times. Using a tool such as Trello or Freedcamp means everyone gets updated automatically on the status of a project. So for example if Jane is waiting for Richard to finish his stage of the project before she is able to progress to the next stage with hers, she will automatically be notified. Also is means that all the files and information is in one place, which can save a lot of time in back and forth email communication.
- Sales tracking. Using a CRM such as Infusionsoft or Salesforce will automatically remind you of what you need to do to keep moving your leads through the sales funnel.
- Website Traffic Tracking. If you have Google Analytics installed on your website you can request reports to be sent to you daily, weekly or monthly. This is useful as it sends the information to you without you needing to go in and then spend ages looking around the website.
- Share calendars. I’m not sure if you would really class this as an automation or not, but I’ve included it because it saves so much time checking diaries with colleagues back and forth when you can just book something in there and then.
- Email signatures. If you haven’t already got an email auto signature then create one. Typing your name and title each time may only take a few seconds each time, but over the course of a day and a week these seconds add up. Not only that, a proper autosignature looks more professional and can also be used as an opportunity to highlight a product or service that you want to promote.
- Pay Bills. If you have bills that you pay regularly setting up regular standing orders or direct debits saves so much time each month making the transactions. Ensure that you record all of these in your P&L though as it’s easy to forget you are paying something when you don’t actually see the money going out.
- Research. Google Alerts is a great tool. It uses your search terms for your company, industry or competitors and monitors online mentions. It them compiles them and sends them to you, either in real time or as a daily or weekly report. This saves countless hours of trawling the internet yourself looking for information and ensures you are kept up to date with relevant information.
- Take payments. GoCardless will enable you to take direct debit payments from your clients. This saves a lot of time on credit control and ensures you get paid promptly. It will also integrate with several online accounting systems saving further time.
The best way to tackle automation.
So there are some generic ideas, to implement and perhaps there could be others relevant to your industry. The thing to remember is not to get fazed by looking at a list like this. You can’t do everything at once. Concentrate on one thing at a time. Automatation saves an incredible amount of time, but sometimes the set up process for an automation can be time consuming. Don’t be put off by this as in the long term this will reap benefits, but at the same time you can’t expect to get everything in place overnight.
Factoring in time each week to work on setting up each of these processes is a good place to start and work through your list. As time goes on and you achieve more on the list you will find that you have more tasks automated you are saving time each day which can then be used to start other automation processes, work on growing your business, or simply take a well earned rest.
Do you have other ideas for automating processes in your business? We’re always keen to hear of time saving suggestions so let us know your thoughts and ideas so what we can share them.
If you know anyone else who could be interested in reading this or any other blog posts please do share.