The “Four D” approach has always been a winning strategy for busy business owners. If you can’t Delegate the task – Do it. If you can’t Do it – Diarise it. If it’s not worth Diarising – Dump it. This approach entails applying one of four “D” actions to every new task that arrives at your desk (or on your screen).
In our current digital environment, entrepreneurs should be asking an additional question: Can the task be Automated?
This revised approach still follows the “Four D” sequence, as automating, after all, is just another form of Delegation. Except, instead of delegating to a co-worker, you are delegating to an algorithm.
For fast-growing or seasonal businesses, automation is also perfect for scaling your business operations. An algorithm can very easily handle a spike in transaction volumes, whereas manual processes might put massive temporary pressure on your staff.
Reward your team with less mind-numbing work
The advantages of business automation are numerous – some more obvious than others. Cost saving, the main motivator, is often underestimated. A task that takes five minutes every time it is done can seem trivial, but if it is repeated five times a day, that amounts to nearly 10 hours a month that you could save in resources, which can be redirected elsewhere.
A further advantage is that sparing employees from doing mind-numbingly repetitive work and freeing them up to do more creative work, can boost morale and foster innovation. When it comes to data entry, data flow automations are also usually less prone to error than manual human input. Don’t overlook the fact either, that automation can occur instantly (instead of waiting for tasks to be manually attended to), leading to better service and business efficiency.
Automating and integrating business tasks on these platforms usually follows a simple logic of “if this happens”(the trigger) then “do that”
Tools available for SMEs
With the mass migration of businesses to “the Cloud” well underway, most businesses should be using specialist web apps to accomplish some of their business processes. There are web apps available for every business function imaginable.
Picking the right ones to use when you need them allows you to build and grow your business in a modular fashion, a much smarter way than building everything from scratch in-house. You might, for example, be using MailChimp for your company’s email newsletters, Xero for your accounting, Twitter for your firm’s PR and Dropbox for online document storage.
All of these services operate in the cloud, and although they can run stand-alone, being on the web allows them, with a little tweaking, to all talk to each other. This is when the real magic of automation comes about. By plugging all of your business processes together, you can put your business automations on steroids.
For example, your accounting system can talk to your customer database, and your customer database can be in constant sync with your email mailing lists. Your email newsletters can grab content directly from your Dropbox account, and every newsletter sent can be automatically tweeted on Twitter.
In the past, this type of integration required hiring expensive API (Application Programming Interface) experts, and cost and time restraints often resulted in projects never making it through the inevitable bottleneck. Fortunately, there has been a recent upsurge in companies addressing this exact problem by offering entrepreneurs simple IPAAS solutions (Integration Platform As A Service).
Automating and integrating business tasks on these platforms usually follows a simple logic of “if this happens”(the trigger) then “do that” (the action).
So, for example, you might use Xero (your accounting web app) as your trigger app, so that every time you add a new customer to Xero, it triggers an action in Mailchimp (your email newsletter web app) which automatically adds the new Xero customer into MailChimp too (previously a staff member probably had to do this). This Xero/MailChimp automation is a simple example, but far more complex workflows can be built too.
Just about all the more popular web apps are supported on the integration platforms. By connecting them all together, automations need not be limited to only two web apps. Data from numerous sources can be tied together, filtered, parsed, and actions delayed for set time periods. A single trigger in one web app can set off a long chain of automations that touches every part of your business.
Some of the more popular integration platforms include Zapier, IFTTT and Automate. I have tried a lot of these different services and personally prefer Zapier’s user interface for my own automations. In addition to the platforms, a growing army of integration specialists offer services advising entrepreneurs on what web apps their business should be using, what processes they could be automating, and how to put together more complex automations.