Automate Your Processes (Andrea Hattan)

Andrea Hattan


This piece is part of our Small Business Basics content series. Today’s piece by Andrea Hattan gives us the silver bullet to greater productivity in your small business: automated processes!

After you read, share with us:
What processes have you automated in your small business?


Professionalism

Automating your systems is going to help you have faster response times, get your projects done faster, execute tasks more quickly, and overall make your business more credible.

It’s also important for time savings, especially if you’re a solopreneur, or if you’re leading a small team. Automating your systems is going to help you eliminate back-and-forth communications, cut out repetitive tasks, and free up your brain space.

You should be spending your time on things that make your business money, not dedicating your energy to things that don’t require any brain power at all. Things that simply take up time. When you’re spending time writing that same email over and over, you’re not able to dedicate your brain power to doing the things that are actually generating revenue or making a difference in your business.

So where do you start with automation?

Industry-specific software

The majority of industries have a nearly-all-in-one software that helps you run most of your business.

For example, Proximity is what we use at our coworking space, The Hive. It’s our industry-specific software that helps us manage billing, member profiles, door access, room reservations, and initial emails to prospects and new clients.

In a different industry, let’s say weddings, a popular software is called All Seated. This software can create floor plans for events, manage guest RSVPs, keep track of meal choices, and manage all the vendors that are working on a project.

Before you say, “There’s no software out there for my industry,” do a little research. You may be able to use a pre-existing platform in an industry related to yours. In our case, that might be real estate—commercial leasing. You never know if one program might be able to take care of everything, or even half of the things, and you might save a lot of money that way.

Payment processing system

Next up, you’ll need a way to invoice and collect payments from customers or clients. This applies to everyone, whether you’re a service or product business.

As you’re looking at what which system you want to use, something you definitely want to look for is a system that can help you send invoices professionally.

PayPal is a very common system that people use for payment processing, when they’re first starting out. However, there is also a connotation with other people that PayPal is how you send money to friends and family. So if you’re getting a business invoice through PayPal, it might seem a little bit sketchy. You’re going to want to look for something that you can use to send invoices professionally. For example, you might want to be able to add your branding colors and logo to it. Some of the most popular payment processing systems for business use are Stripe, Square, Shopify, Clover, and QuickBooks.

You’ll also want to make sure it’s compatible with any other systems you’re using. If you have a website or customer relationship management system (CRM), you’ll want to make sure it can integrate seamlessly into whatever you’re using so that you don’t have to start over with new systems. In our case, Proximity only integrates with Stripe, which is a very common online payment processor.

Imagine people are paying you, but you have to take all of that payment data and enter it into your CRM system manually. That’s a nightmare. Wouldn’t it be nice if it just automatically transferred the data for you? That’s possible with the right systems.

Another important point: if you’re in a business where people might want to do payment plans, or you’re going to be selling memberships or subscriptions, you’ll want a system that can take recurring payments. You’ll also want to make sure that you can send a standalone payment link, if that’s what you’re going to need.

If you’re in a product-based business, you’ll want to make sure you can set different prices for different products, and that your payment system collects mailing information if you need to ship items to customers.

Finally, make sure to check if you can take payments both in-person and online, if you need that capability.

Most payment processing systems have the capability to send automatic payment reminders and past due notices. You can even set it up to send them an automatic payment reminder before their invoice is due so that no one forgets that they have that expense coming up.

That’s super important for us at The Hive because we have a membership-based model. We don’t want to have to send an invoice individually to all of our members every single month. That would take forever with hundreds of members.

Some of these systems can even keep your client’s information up-to-date. So if it tries to run their card on an upcoming invoice that they set for auto pay and it doesn’t go through, then it might send them an email automatically to prompt them to enter a new payment information. Even better, if they’ve paid any other business recently that uses the same processing system, it sometimes even updates their card information in your system too, so they never miss a payment and don’t have to worry about updating their card with every vendor.

An automated system can also make cancellations and refunds a lot easier. That way you’re not having to write a check for every refund that you have to process. You can just send it directly back to their card on file.

Customer relationship management system (CRM)

A customer relationship management system is an all-encompassing platform that you can use to manage your clients/customers. It typically covers the entire process, the entire lifetime of a customer— everything from them finding out about you all the way to them staying a client forever or ending the relationship with you. Ideally, your CRM is an easily-searchable database that allows you to gather, distribute, and store information about and to anyone you’ve ever been in contact with about your business.

A good CRM should allow you to create templates of proposals, contracts, and forms that can auto-fill based on new client details, allow for digital signatures, and store as copies.

CRMs are also great for automating communications. Say you want to notify all of your clients at once that you’re going to be out of the office. You can just send a batch email to all of those people at once.

Some CRM systems can integrate with your calendar and allow you to schedule appointments with your customers.

A big part of using CRM systems effectively is setting up workflows. This allows you to take all the tasks that you have to do with each new clients and automate them.

HoneyBook, Dubsado, and HubSpot are all very popular CRM systems. Shopify is a great CRM system for product-based businesses, especially if you’re doing e-commerce.

Digital marketing systems

Between social media posts and email marketing, there’s a lot to manage. It’s very helpful if you have a scheduler that can automatically post or send emails for you.

This is where batching comes in. You can sit down and write out all of your social media posts for a month and then schedule them to auto-post throughout the month. You can do the same thing with weekly emails, for example. That way you aren’t having to think of that day to day, which allows you to save a lot of brain space.

A good system is user-friendly and that often means having a visual planner, especially if you are looking for something to schedule out your Instagram posts. You’ll want to see how the grid is going to look before you finalize your monthly plan.

If your CRM doesn’t include email, you may need a stand-alone system. MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, and Flow Desk are some of the most popular email marketing services. An email marketing system can do broadcasts (one-time email blasts) or drip campaigns (7 emails over 7 days, for example). Typically these deploy based on different tags on your subscriber lists. Let’s say you add a tag to someone that says “new client"—then you can set up a workflow that says once that tag is added to a subscriber, it will automatically send them an email sequence that you’ve already written. It might be an onboarding process or a “thank you for joining our family.” This is often used with evergreen content. That’s just a fancy way of saying that you can use the same content over and over again and have it run on autopilot.

You’ll also want to see how your emails and social media posts are performing, so analytics tracking is important.

Filling in the gaps

Zapier that is a service that essentially acts like a bot. You can set it up to do things that you are doing on repeat on your computer. Zapier can record the actions that you take and then automatically repeat them when activated by a certain trigger.

If Zapier seems too complicated or it doesn’t seem like it’s going to take care of what you need, you might ask, “Is there an opportunity in my business for a small coding or software development project?” If you keep doing something over and over again, and you need something custom built to do that for you, perhaps a developer could create a software to automatically do that for you. A good budget option is Fiverr. It’s an outsourcing website that can match you with freelancers who can do those sorts of projects for you.

At the end of the day, when it comes to automation, ask yourself, “Is there a way that my business could look more professional? Is there a way that I could save more time? Is there a way that I could cut out some stress from my life?” These are all opportunities for automation to help you be happier, save time, and feel stressed.


Andrea Hattan @andrea
Andrea Hattan founded The Hive Wichita, a workspace and community holding space for women to grow their businesses.
Learn from Andrea and other instructors in the Hive Certified Business program!


Check out the rest of our Small Business Basics Content Series!


Tell Us Below:

Do you use any of the tools or systems above in your own business?