Automation technology is transforming how businesses operate, as it allows you to do more with less, helping you scale in ways that were never before possible. Use technology to simplify and automate any manual, time-consuming, repetitive tasks you have. Accounting, project management, email marketing, social media posting, appointment booking, payment processing, database management – there is no shortage of cloud-based solutions and apps out there that can help. Most solutions offer free trials, which are worth taking advantage of to ensure they’re the right fit for you.
While many automation solutions are geared towards medium and larger businesses, there are still tools out there designed with smaller businesses in mind, such as:
A simple automation platform that allows you to integrate web applications that you use to automate workflows e.g. receive an email in Gmail, it will copy the attachment in Gmail to Dropbox, then alert you in Slack about the new Dropbox file.
A cloud software platform specialising in customer experience automation, helping you manage marketing and sales on the same platform. Set up a welcome series with email automation, find your most engaged contacts, pull in information from other systems, automate the marketing you don’t have time for. “It’s like getting an extra employee without needing an extra desk.”
Hootsuite or Buffer
Manage your social media accounts via one platform. Schedule posts for certain days/times rather than logging in and posting in real-time. It’s a great time saver (but don’t forget about community management – you still need to keep a human eye on things!).
Google Ads offers free automation features that will refine your campaigns for better results. For example, setting up automated rules can save you time by cutting down the need to monitor campaigns and make frequent, manual changes e.g. if you want to boost your keyword bid any time your ad falls off the first page of results, you can set a rule for that.
A simple automation tool that cuts out the back-and-forth emails for arranging meetings, phone calls and other appointments. You can also embed Calendly into your website so as to make use of its scheduling features but not direct customers away from your website.
A cloud-based accounting software platform that helps minimise the workload of accounting with features such as automated invoices, scheduled payments, and cash flow management. QuickBooks is also another solution that allows you to send automatic invoices if you’re working with clients on a retainer basis.
Turn data into actionable insights
Understanding your data is the number one skill for an entrepreneur right now. Data-driven insights are the backbone of your business. Financial data informs you how well the business is doing. Customer data helps to hone your product and service offering. Marketing data guides your sales and promotional activity. It’s the evidence you need to have in place and understand before making any business decisions and commencing any activity. For example, when it comes to prioritising your time, you’ll want to dedicate your effort and money to a market that drives your revenue. Without collecting and analysing your data, you won’t know what this market is. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to persuade a demographic that they need your product when they’re clearly not interested.
But – there’s an awful lot of data out there and if you’re not skilled in this area, it can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Especially when you’re short on time. Here are some data crunching tools and techniques that can help to quickly identify opportunities to pursue and issues to address, helping you to work smart and prioritise your time:
Identify market opportunities with Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends
You don’t want to waste a lot of time and money solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Both of these tools can help you look at search trends over time, keyword volumes, competition, and then drill your results down by location. You could use this data to identify products/services that are in demand in your area where the competition is low. Winner! (Remember – trends can change so keep a constant eye on these tools.)
Go deeper into your customer data with CRM software
If you use CRM software, create different customer segments e.g. ‘loyal customers’ and ‘one-off customers’ to build customer profiles based on their common characteristics. Review the products they’re buying and use this to inform future developments. You might even discover your top customers aren’t who you think they are, which will have a big impact on your business plan and marketing strategy.
Analyse your website performance with Google Analytics
Get rid of marketing guesswork by taking the free Google Analytics for Beginners online course. Google Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. This course will show you how to create an account, implement tracking code, and set up data filters. You’ll also learn how to navigate the Google Analytics interface and reports, and set up dashboards and shortcuts. The course will also demonstrate how to analyse basic Audience, Acquisition, and Behavior reports, and set up goals and campaign tracking. Ignoring your Google Analytics is the marketing equivalent of flying blind. It requires time to learn at first but once you’ve got your goals etc in place, it will be an insights machine that keeps on giving. We’ve written our own beginner’s guide to Google Analytics for small businesses.
Run A/B tests
An efficient way to see what works best by running two different versions of an advert (for example) and comparing results. You might find that using a lifestyle image in your Facebook ads is more effective than a product-based image, or you might discover through your Google Analytics that more people engage with video content on one of your main landing pages, than images. Find out what’s working best, and focus your time on doing more of it.