5 ways to automate in your small business
As a small business owner, time is always a limiting factor so the more you can automate in your small business the better.
What are the tasks you dread? Can you automate or streamline them? If yes, then you should.
You’ll probably be surprised what a big impact surprisingly small tweaks can have on your workflow, efficiency, productivity and ultimately the fulfillment you feel in your business.
So many people get bogged down doing the things that have to be done but that aren’t what they set their business up to do. Admittedly you can delegate these tasks, but if they can be automated with a little thought, even better. Let them do themselves!
If you’ve done things a certain way for a long time, it’s often difficult to identify the time-sucks and realise that there’s a different, or better, way of doing it. So, here are five easy ways of automating simple tasks to get you started – I’m sure once you begin, you’ll be able to identify lots more areas that need attention and automation!
1. Automate your social media posting
Social media is like marmite – some love it and others hate it but you can’t get away from the fact that for small businesses, it’s an essential resource for building awareness of your products or services, developing and nurturing relationships with your customers or potential customers, demonstrating your expertise and building your reputation.
It would be very easy to spend so much time on social media that there’s little time left in the day for doing any ‘real’ money earning work.
And that’s where social media scheduling tools come in.
I use both Hootsuite and ContentCal for me and my clients. Both are great but they work in slightly different ways.
Hootsuite can be integrated with over 35 social media platforms (who knew that there are so many) including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, allowing you to plan and schedule you posts ahead of time and the system will automatically post them for you. However, Hootsuite is also very useful for monitoring what matters on Twitter in particular – hashtags, mentions and conversations.
ContentCal, on the other hand, is more of a content planning tool. It allows posts to be scheduled to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram but it’s excellent for planning campaigns and content to be shared elsewhere.
2. Get your tools and apps talking to each other
If you want to automatically tweet your new WordPress blog posts when you publish them, then there’s an IFTT recipe for that.
Or perhaps you want to post new Mailchimp campaigns to your Facebook page or add new Woocommerce orders to a Google Sheet spreadsheet, then there’s a Zapier zap for them too.
Both IFTTT and Zapier have free and paid plans and you’ll probably be amazed what tools and apps you can get talking to each other with a few simple steps once you get started.
3. Share files and document collaboration
Have you ever got confused about which are the most up to date documents for a project or got fed up with email ping pong as emails with amendments get sent back and forth between the members of your team?
Well, there’s a simple remedy.
And that’s to use shared files or shared documents in Dropbox or Google Drive. Again, there are both free and paid plans for both these products, but many people never need to upgrade as the free versions are enough for their needs.
Both are cloud based storage systems that are secure and accessible from anywhere. They are great for collaborative working. There’s the option to add comments and more than one person can be working on a document at the same time (it’s quite spooky actually to see, in real time, someone else making amendments to the document that you’re also working on!). And it’s really easy to share documents and folders with just a link.
Dropbox or Google Drive can really help you to retain your sanity! Everyone has what they need when they need it, and it’s secure and accessible.
4. Set up and forget your welcome emails
When someone signs up to your email list you don’t want them to be left waiting. Nothing happens, it’s tumbleweed and they forget about you…
So, why not automate your welcome emails that are triggered when a new subscriber joins your email list?
You can set up a simple welcome email to arrive in their inbox automatically or perhaps you decide to send them a series of emails introducing you, your business, products and services. Whichever way, you can set it up and forget it.
Mailchimp allows you to set up a single automated email with its free plan (more with the paid plans), whilst Mailerlite lets you create more sophisticated email sequences with different emails being sent out depending what people do when you sent out the previous email. For example, if someone clicks on a link, perhaps you want to send one email, but if they did not open your email perhaps you decide to send a different one with an amended subject line or maybe you decide to stop sending them emails altogether. There are limitless possibilities, it just takes a bit of thought to set it up in the first place.
If you’d like to learn more about email marketing and setting up automations, come along to the How To Perfect Emailing In Your Business Workshop that I’m presenting with Simply Great Britain in November.
5. Simplify task management
Have you ever felt like your head was about to pop because of all the things you were carrying around in it? I know I have, until I discovered Asana.
Asana is a work management platform that will help you to get everything done and never miss a deadline again. One of the features I really find useful is the ability to forward emails from my inbox to Asana where they appear as tasks, enabling me to prioritise my work rather than getting lost in my inbox. Inbox Zero is one of my aims and Asana allows me to get pretty close to this while also being able to distinguish the wood from the trees.
Sarah Liddle is The Lady in the Shed. She is a virtual assistant specialising in marketing, admin and techie solutions for small businesses, a smallholder, a sheep farmer and a farm bygones dealer. She loves supporting small business owners to do whatever they do by enabling them to use their time more effectively.