Work Less, Grow More: How to Automate Your Small Business in 2017

By Chris Ronzio

Automate your small business. A business owner goes for a jog with her pet dog instead of spending hours at her computer.

2017 sounds so futuristic. I’m just getting used to typing it, but the disappointment about not having flying cars and consumer space travel hasn’t quite faded.

Even though we don’t all have robots that make us breakfast and pick out our clothes, automation has come a long way for small businesses. Things are getting easier.

This year, don’t focus as much on resolutions (if you haven’t given up on them already). Focus on counter-resolutions—the things you won’t tolerate anymore. Stop doing all the boring things, automate them, and get back to business.

Here are 12 areas of your small business that you can start automating today.

1. Mileage Logs

As you prepare for tax season, mileage is one of the many deductions you may be thinking about. If you’re scrambling to dig up receipts and retroactively building a journal of your time in the car, give MileIQ a try this year. The simple app works in the background on your phone to keep a record of where you’ve been. You can save favorite locations and even set work hours to properly categorize your trips, and everything gets saved into a beautiful record that you’d have a hard time creating in one painful sitting.

2. Bookkeeping and Accounting

Bookkeeping is a burden for nearly every client I work with, so I developed a unique process to automate accounting and save time on the task. What used to take me hours-a-week has turned into a minutes-a-month process.

Starting with FileThis, I make all of my statements paperless, and sync them to a cloud storage folder, such as Evernote, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Then, I share access to that folder with my Bench bookkeeper, who reconciles all the data and puts together easy to understand financial statements without me ever having to lift a finger.

3. Eliminating Junk Mail

If you’re still manually deleting or archiving every coupon, newsletter or junk email that finds its way into your inbox, you’re wasting a lot of time. Sanebox collects all of this non-urgent mail and sends you digests on a daily or weekly basis. So your inbox stays clean, and you review the junk once… not dozens of times per day.

4. Blogging and Social Media

Making an impact with social media can be a full time job. If you’re not in front of the computer all day, try using Buffer to schedule your posts. Buffer lets you build a queue of information you’d like to share and schedule the posts for the optimal time. That way, you can put all of your energy into interaction.

If you use WordPress to blog about your business, check out CoSchedule. It allows you to plan, schedule, and compose blog and social media posts from a centralized dashboard. You can also provide your team members access to view, edit, and update your publishing schedule.

5. Payroll

Let’s face it: payroll is a chore. Adding new employees to the system can take hours, collecting and filing paper forms is tedious, and remembering to submit payroll or file tax documents is stressful. Enter Gusto. Just invite employees by email and Gusto does the rest. Put your payroll on autopilot and you don’t have to push a button.

6. Recruiting

When you need to hire, where should you post the job? Everywhere! ZipRecruiter automatically submits your job post to over 50 different job sites and manage applications in one place.

7. Invoicing and Collections

Tracking and reporting the time you spent working on a job can take as much time as doing the job itself. With Harvest, you can create automatic recurring invoices for retainer clients that send automatically on scheduled dates. If you accept credit cards, clients can pay automatically and invoices are marked as paid. Harvest also has an automatic reminder feature that helps you to guard against late payments. It sends clients gentle reminders about their outstanding balance at the intervals that you specify.

8. Travel Plans

Going out of town for business? TripIt can take a lot of the work out of the planning process. The service scans your inbox for reservations with airlines, hotels, rental cars and events. TripIt then builds an automatic itinerary which you can reference from anywhere. You can also share your travel plans or invite someone to collaborate in your travel planning.

9. Design

Design is important for every business, but its something that a lot of small businesses neglect. If you don’t have a trusted freelancer or agency on retainer, check out Design Pickle. The service allows you to submit unlimited design requests for a flat monthly fee. Adios clip-art.

10. Bench

Last year, I wrote about how I automated accounting. Bench is the cornerstone of that solution, and I haven’t looked back since. Bench automatically syncs transactions, and your designated bookkeeper reconciles monthly statements to create up-to-date income statements and balance sheets every month. When you trust your numbers, you can focus on improving them.

11. Storing Receipts and Documents

Nobody wants to deal with a hellish pile of receipts and documents at year-end. The ScanSnap Evernote Edition Scanner scans receipts, statements, photographs, and business cards. Once scanned, the documents are automatically filed in the corresponding folder within your Evernote account.

Shoeboxed is another powerful tool that turns your records into data. In addition to storing and organizing receipts, filing business cards, and tracking mileage, Shoeboxed can compile reports using your scanned data (such as an expense report) which you can access online at any time.

12. Trainual

Getting a new employee up to speed can be one of the more stressful tasks of running a business. Last fall, I acquired a company that built a solution for making this easy. Trainual is a simple tool for documenting your company’s processes in an online training manual. Next time you hire someone, invite them to Trainual, track their progress, test their knowledge, and get back to business.

2017 may not be the future you dreamed of, but with these tools, we’re getting close. Now, hopefully someone reading this will free up enough time in their schedule to design a flying car.

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.