Let’s face it, some parts of running a business are just repetitive. And—if we’re being honest—a little boring. One way to eliminate the boredom of these tasks is simple: automate your more mundane business processes.
Imagine how much more time you’d have to enjoy the fun parts of running your business—like creating new products or drumming up new business—if you could hand off the mundane tasks to a system that takes care of the admin for you.
That’s exactly what business process automation systems can do. Effective business process management, or BPM,can help you identify processes in your company that you can automate now.
What is business process automation?
Business process automation, otherwise known as BPA, uses technology to streamline tasks that would typically require manual effort. BPA helps you hand off tasks that would be otherwise time-consuming or inefficient to manage on your own.
Some areas are a natural fit for full business process automation: Customer service workflows are a good example. An automated system can receive inquiries, analyze the issue, direct the customer to the right resource, and in many cases, help the customer find the solution without ever speaking to an employee. Artificial intelligence handles the entire process, start to finish.
You can imagine the resources that robotic process automation can save for a small business. But while some areas of your business can benefit from digital transformation, others still need a human touch.
In many cases, a company might use business process automation to start a task and bring in a knowledgeable human to finish the job.
The hiring process is an example of this hybrid workflow. An automation tool can screen applications using parameters set by the company. Once the applicant pool is narrowed down to the best candidates, the hiring manager takes over from the BPA software for interviews and reference checks.
What are the benefits of business process automation?
When you automate business processes, you are looking at tremendous resource savings in your business operations. But that isn’t the only benefit. Here are a few others.
When you automate repetitive tasks that otherwise require time, patience, and manual work, you move faster, reduce inefficiencies, and save time. Even if you just automate part of a business process, you create opportunities for your employees’ time and effort to be used in better ways.
Using technology to generate a result creates a delightful uniformity and predictability to those results. Remove the variables and guessing games from customer service interactions, and you can improve customer satisfaction.
After all, computers don’t need breaks for the bathroom and their eyes don’t get tired at the end of the day. Just flip the switch and off the system goes, cranking out consistent results.
Removing human error
One more thing you and your customers will appreciate is the lack of human error that happens when you remove humans from the equation. The automated system doesn’t glitch, have a bad day, or make mistakes. Business process management software just cranks out correct, predictable results. And if you realize you don’t like the results? Just change the program.
Bringing in new systems creates opportunities for innovation and improvement across your entire business model. Streamlining one area of business frees up time and creativity to tackle other areas. Scale the BPA across different areas of your business, and you might wind up an industry leader in innovative practices.
How do you choose what to automate?
As exciting as business automation is, it is not a good fit for every repeatable task. So what are the right things to automate?
The answer of what to optimize will vary by individual company.
Map out your company processes
Each area of your business has its own existing processes. These might be carefully crafted, or they might have a bit of a “get it done when it absolutely needs to get done” approach.
As you begin looking for areas to streamline processes, start by simply mapping all the various tasks happening, formally or informally, across the business. If you have many employees, solicit their input on their manual tasks and any opportunities for improvement.
Create Standard Operating Procedures
Standard operating procedures (or SOPs) are exactly what they sound like—standard practices in your operation. Creating an SOP in an area can reduce the risk of human error and streamline a process, and it is also an essential step to prepare for machine learning in that area. You can’t automate a system if you can’t standardize it.
This is an area where employee assistance can be valuable and powerful. Be mindful that your employees may need you to carve out time specifically for the task rather than piling it on an already full plate, but ask employees to create SOPs for their tasks. This provides a powerful resource for future new employee onboarding, job descriptions, identifying areas to outsource, and some automation practices.
Identify the areas where humans are necessary
While it would be terrific to turn everything over to workflow automation and sit back to watch the profits roll in, that’s a hot mess waiting to happen. Some use cases absolutely require a human touch, and the SOPs will bring those to light.
For example, your top clients may need a personalized customer experience, and your human resources team can’t completely outsource hiring to a computer.
But that doesn’t mean that parts of those processes aren’t ripe for automation initiatives. Do the invoices you send to that top customer really need your personal touch? How about screening hundreds of initial applicants for basic job requirements?
Identify the risks of human error
Pick out areas where human error is likely to occur. If you have eight different people doing versions of the same thing, you are going to get eight different results, and some of those are likely to be lacking at any given time.
Likewise, any area where employees are asked to perform repetitive, mind-numbing tasks are likely to be fodder for mistakes. Check the Standard Operating Procedures for potential trouble spots and work alongside employees to see the processes in action. Working with your employees to learn and understand their role will validate their efforts and build a stronger business culture, in addition to helping you identify areas for potential streamlining or bottlenecks.
Even if you choose not to automate a particular area, you may find tremendous improvement opportunities simply by looking just below the surface.
Create your prioritized list
You’ll likely come across many areas of your business where business process automation can be useful. Consider what might make BPA in one area more useful than another. Some things to consider here might be:
How long it will take to automate. Is there a program already available that can lead to full automation in a matter of days? Or will you need to create a new system to bring this area online?
The time savings. Is this a task that is done frequently, taking up valuable time across many weeks of the year? Or is it something that is time-consuming one day of the month? Automating one day’s worth of work might free up eight hours per month. Automating something done two days per week frees up 64 hours of billable time.
Customer impact. Will the automation make customers happier and more likely to continue interacting with your company? If so, that task might move to the top of the list!
12 processes you can automate now
The easier it is to automate a business process, the more desirable that transition is. There are many existing software programs and companies that offer automation solutions you can take advantage of immediately.
Here are a few processes to consider automating right now:
1. Payroll processing
Harvest, PayPal, and many others allow you to create reoccurring invoices that are sent automatically to your retainer clients. The software creates and sends invoices, tracks late payments, and even sends reminders as needed to ensure your books stay caught up.
3. Mileage tracking
Business mileage can be tedious to track without help, but MileIQ can help. The app keeps a record of where you’ve been while running in the background of your phone. Set your work hours, grab your phone, and your miles are tracked.
4. Bookkeeping and accounting
Tedious and time-consuming, bookkeeping and accounting is one area where you certainly don’t want to risk human error. Bench makes it easy to keep your books up to date, automatically pulling expenses from your bank accounts and generating reliable books at the end of each month.
5. Receipt storage
If you’ve ever been audited and didn’t have receipts, you already know how important it is to keep track of all supporting documents. Rather than deal with an overflowing box of paperwork at the end of the business year, you can easily log and track receipts using Shoeboxed.
6. Sales tax
If you do business across multiple states, you’re dealing with multiple sales tax rates and their respective filing forms and dates. Keep track of it all automatically using TaxJar. The system integrates with your online store to monitor your sales across state lines and produce the reports you need for tax filing.
7. Recruiting new hires
If you’re looking for talent, you’ll need to create the job description, but then ZipRecruiter can take care of the rest. The software sends your description to more than fifty sites, collects applications, and helps you sift through them in a single location.
8. Onboarding and training
Once you hire that new employee, you can get them trained and up to speed using Trainual. This platform provides automatic training manuals for employees to work through in the onboarding process. It tracks progress, tests to be sure they are up to speed, and gets them to work.
9. Social media marketing
Many companies rely on social media networks as an important marketing tool. You don’t need to sit and monitor your channels yourself, however. Social media scheduling tools like Buffer or Hootsuite will schedule your posts and post them accordingly.
10. Email marketing
Hand over email marketing to an automated system. Many platforms can automatically follow up on abandoned carts, order updates, and other emails. You can find many options for this including MailChimp, Drip, and GetResponse.
11. Customer support
Automated chatbots make customer service breeze. Website visitors interact with a pop-up bot that can answer common questions or direct visitors to certain pages of your site. Tawk is a free option that you can use immediately on your site, and you can even hire agents through the site to monitor your chats off company hours.
12. Your workday
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, especially if you’re starting a new business and trying to handle all the tasks yourself, you may not be ready to automate a single system, but instead, automate parts of your workday. Virtual assistants can help relieve the burden of your inbox, phone calls, customer requests, and more.
How Bench can help
If you’re looking to automate your bookkeeping and simplify your financials, you’ve come to the right place: Bookkeeping just works better with Bench. Your Bench bookkeeper automatically pulls your expenses from your bank accounts and tracks your expenses so that you don’t have to. At the end of the month, you can count on a detailed expense report that allows you to monitor your own spending at a glance. Come tax time, Bench supplies a Year End financial package that makes filing your taxes a breeze (but if you’d rather let someone else handle your taxes, we can help with that too!).
Free your time with business process automation
When you automate a business process, the goal isn’t to carve out the human element—it’s to make the humans in your business even more valuable and effective. Automation can help you maximize human creativity, innovation, and interpretation in the more critical areas of your business.