Automation can make many workflows a whole lot simpler—and the less admin and data entry you do, the more time you can spend making money. That’s what small business automation is all about.
Here are 18 areas of your small business that you can start automating today.
Come tax season, a lot of entrepreneurs find themselves scrambling to dig up gas receipts and retroactively build a journal of their business mileage. If that sounds like you, give MileIQ a try.
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. Everything gets saved into a beautiful, easy-to-read record.
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.
Meet Gusto. Just invite employees by email and Gusto does the rest. Put your payroll on autopilot—you won’t even have to push a button every month (take that, George).
(If you’re in Canada, we recommend checking out Collage for a simple, online payroll setup.)
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. They get sent 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 you specify.
If you’re still doing your own bookkeeping—burning the midnight oil in a staring contest with QuickBooks—it’s time to take a look at yours truly.
At Bench, we do your bookkeeping for you. And we’ll automatically pull your expenses from your bank accounts so you don’t have to constantly send us receipts. At the end of every month, we’ll send you an expense report that shows exactly where your money is going, and an end-of-year tax package for your accountant.
Receipt and document storage
Nobody wants to deal with a Mount Everest of receipts and documents at year-end. The ScanSnap Scanner scans receipts, statements, photographs, and business cards at high speed, so you can easily upload them to the cloud.
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.
Especially if you do business in multiple states, calculating what you owe in sales tax can eat up the hours and keep you trapped in a maze of spreadsheets.
TaxJar takes the pain away by easily integrating with your online store and producing monthly “return-ready” reports, so you always know how much sales tax you’ve collected and how much you’ll need to file. You can even enroll with AutoFile to have your sales tax filed automatically when it’s due.
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 on planning with you.
When you need to hire, where should you post the job? Everywhere, ideally. ZipRecruiter automatically submits your job post to over 50 different job sites, and allows you to manage applications all in one place.
Getting a new employee up to speed can be one of the more stressful tasks when running a business. 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.
Once you start to grow your team, your employee records will add up way faster than you think. By law, things like personal information, emergency contacts, salaries, start dates, PTO records, and employee tax documents all need to be securely stored and easily accessible for a number of years. Filing cabinets are not your friend here.
We recommend using an HR platform like Collage to bring all of your employee records into one digital system. Collage gives each of your employees a personal profile where you can store their records and invite them to keep their personal information up-to-date.
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. Your inbox stays clean, and you review the junk once—not dozens of times per day.
People judge your business by how it looks. Now more than ever.
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.
Social media marketing
Letting your audience know you exist is great. Checking Twitter and Facebook all day is an addiction. If you don’t feel like being chained to social media all day, try using Buffer or Hootsuite to schedule your posts. Both tools let 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 lets you plan, write, post, and automate your future posting schedule from a central dashboard. You can also provide your team members access to view, edit, and update your publishing schedule. Perfect for keeping your blog running while you’re poolside, or just focused on other parts of your business.
Connecting with your customers via email has come a long way from the days of BCC. If you want to send a regular newsletter to your audience MailChimp helps you manage your list of contacts and build an email that looks great. It’s hard to beat in terms of features: abandoned shopping cart recovery, order notifications, follow-up emails, and access to notifications.
However, if you’re not ready to take on the ape, there are other, cheaper options available:
- Drip is one of the most beginner-friendly email marketing setups out there, but still boasts automation tools, smart audience segmentation, and other handy features.
- GetResponse is a popular tool, with a lower price point than many competitors. It features a drag-and-drop interface for building marketing campaigns.
- ConvertKit offers a powerful suite of features specifically built for creators—designers, authors, and others who sell digital content.
If you’re bad at email, especially at following up with emails that never got a response, consider switching to Gmail. Gmail has a feature that automatically returns unanswered emails to the top of your inbox so you can follow up. No need to install any fancy plug-ins or anything. Gmail will automatically remind you, and will even remind you to respond to emails you haven’t addressed yet.
You can’t communicate every little detail about your business in your FAQ. That’s where an automated chatbot comes in handy. Popping up on the main page of your website, it encourages visitors to reach out to you immediately, rather than sending an email. That means you can start chatting with them right away, cultivating them as a new lead, without cluttering your inbox.
Tawk is a robust, free option. Quick and easy to set up, it lets you monitor site visitors in real time, and set “shortcut” responses to common questions. And if you don’t have the time or patience to man your chat dashboard 24/7, Tawk will help you hire live chat agents for $1 an hour.
Customer relations management (CRM)
When it comes to CRM—overseeing a customer’s journey from first contact, to sale, to repeat business—Salesforce is the industry standard. But due to its price, many small businesses hesitate to invest in Salesforce, and end up using more time-consuming tools, such as spreadsheets, to track their relationships with customers.
Enter Zoho. It offers most of the same functionality as Salesforce at a fraction of the cost. It also includes marketing automation tools you won’t find in Salesforce’s sales CRM.
Stamps.com lets you print off postage from the comfort of your home or office. It helps take the guesswork out of shipping prices, and can save you from long post office lines.
Shipstation is owned by Stamps.com, and fills out the rest of the shipping process. It plugs into most off-the-shelf ecommerce platforms, letting you track order fulfillment, print shipping labels/return labels/packing slips en masse, and set up customer shipping profiles so you can track customer preferences and streamline future orders.
If you’re an omnichannel retailer, Veeqo can take of the inventory, ordering, packing, and shipping for you. They integrate with Shopify, BigCommerce, Amazon, FedEx, and most other relevant players for delivering your product.
Automating other digital tasks
If you’re a bit of a digital nerd and there’s something else you want to automate that isn’t listed here, fear not. IFTTT is a digital tool that allows you to connect seemingly unrelated apps to automate online business processes. And if you’ve really got some time on your hands, Zapier is another piece of automation software that will allow you to create multi-step automation (whereas IFTTT is simpler and focused on one-step automation processes, for example, “automatically record a note whenever I get a new Twitter reply”).
Part of automating your business includes cutting back on paper clutter. When you move printed material to the cloud, it’s easier to access and less likely to get lost—help you save time in the long run. Learn more with our guide on how to go paperless for small business owners.
Further reading: 12 Ways to Automate Business Processes and Boost Productivity