The following is a guest post by JT Ripton, a business consultant and freelance business and marketing writer out of Tempe, AZ. You can follow him on Twitter @JTRipton.
Saving time, and saving money: these are two major points of any business, especially those just getting started. Whether you’re a startup, an entrepreneur, one of the recently-minted solopreneurs or just a small business that’s been small and will stay that way for some time, time and money are two major commodities you probably don’t have enough of.
Automation can play a big role in making your small startup look—and run—like a much bigger company. Here’s where to focus your automation efforts to do the most good.
The proposal is where you start the process of making money, and trimming time from the construction of proposals allows you to make more of them in the same space.
Some of the places you can automate include converting quotes into a proposal, and allowing clients to approve the proposal directly to the invoice. The faster you can get from proposal to work to invoice, the better, and automation gets you to that point.
For those working on a billable hour basis, nothing is so important as time-tracking.
Automate this step with online time-tracking, as well as the ability to convert times to invoicing directly. A free suite of business apps such as Invoice Ninja can be a big help here, and if you also have the ability to manually set times, you’re able to get the best of automation while also allowing for those unforeseen issues in time to complete tasks that come up.
Some automated apps, like Invoice Ninja, even include the ability to use Kanban boards to better manage projects and organize workflow, a tool which means further time savings.
Whether you’re using free invoice tools with invoice templates, or using a recurring invoicing system, the more time you can take out of the invoicing process the better.
With so many tools on hand to set up and deliver invoices, not using at least one means you’re burning time you don’t have and losing out on money you should be picking up.
Some automation tools here will even allow for project files to be attached directly to invoices tasks, making it easier to see what’s been done and what’s left to do.
4. Inventory Management
If your small business focuses on supplying goods to end users, it’s a great idea to know how much you have of any one thing at any time.
Automation can help by automatically determining production schedules, as well as production order, raw materials ordering, and what you should be promising clients in terms of ship dates.
There’s a whole host of cloud-based ERP solutions for startups and small businesses that can help deliver this automation, such as Flexibake for the baking industry.
Nothing’s quite so galling as taking a big order and discovering that you can’t fill it, so take advantage of automation to keep track of your inventory and tell you what’s available when.
A business does not survive without cash flow. All other operations are, effectively, subordinate to it.
Using free online invoicing tools can be particularly effective here, as they often automate several key tasks. The ability to set up recurring billing, for example, allows several business models to function appropriately, especially subscription-based billing models. Access to one-click profit and loss reports allow for regular health checks of the business overall.
This also works in reverse, allowing for automatic payment to vendors to ensure raw material always is where it needs to be, or that critical infrastructure bills are paid.
Several marketing functions can be effectively automated, giving you all the range of a paid marketing department on a shoestring.
Whether it’s systems that can schedule social media posts to look like you’re posting all day despite having written them all on your lunch hour, tools to effectively gather leads, or tools to make contact with current and potential customers, there are a range of free apps that can take marketing and make it run almost completely automatically, with just a little input from the business itself.
Some free web apps focus wholly on scheduling, and make it easy by just allowing the user to declare when he or she is available and filling those times with appointments from there.
For those whose small business focuses heavily on client contact and meetings, a scheduling app can mean the difference between looking professional and losing face… not to mention clients.
One scheduling service that has drawn a lot of attention and helps service-oriented startups automate scheduling is Acuity Scheduling. It almost completely automates appointment scheduling by letting customers and prospects set their own meet times based on slots you’ve predefined.
While there are other tasks that can be automated, these seven will make a fine start toward building your business into the lean, agile powerhouse that it can be.
Granted, not every task should be automated; there’s still something, even now, to be said for the personal touch. However, trimming time off any task allows you to put that time elsewhere, and ultimately build your business accordingly.
Take advantage of the vast universe of web services geared toward helping your business automate, and watch technology actually deliver on that age old promise of making our lives easier.