Business process automation
Growing a business

10 efficiency tips for business process automation

Almost every business owner would love to be able to say that their company runs at peak efficiency. However, improving your business comes with time, streamlining processes, increased customer satisfaction, and digital transformation in many cases.

For many, this means incorporating business process automation (BPA) to solve for time-wasters, from menial tasks to dire pain points. Having the ability to reduce costs and increase revenue via automation is tempting for any busy small business owner, but automator beware, not every task is apt for BPA. 

To help guide you on your BPA journey (or build on your existing foundation), we’ll cover the best tips for small businesses to incorporate business process automation into their company structure and reap the benefits of its outcomes.

What is business process automation (BPA)?

Business process automation, known as BPA, is the means of using software and technology to automate, empower, and streamline repeatable business processes. Implementing BPA software can yield multiple improvements for your small business, including:

  • Retaining more revenue 
  • Reducing production costs
  • Improving the customer experience
  • Increasing profitability 
  • Simplifying complex processes like human resources
  • Connecting multiple systems like user interface

This is all in addition to several benefits that accompany business process automation.

Benefits of business process automation

The benefits of business process automation

How can you save time to focus on what matters? Automation may be the answer. You started your business to have freedom and flexibility—not to be trapped by a demanding schedule and endless tasks. Let’s examine three potential benefits of using automation technology.

Save time

Gallup discovered that the average small business owner works 52 hours a week—39% put in over 60 hours and 86% work on the weekends. But this was over 10 years ago, fast forward to today and those numbers have only remained constant.

The benefit of saving time for small businesses is obvious: 78% of business leaders expect BPA to free up three full hours of time each and every workday.

Eliminate human error

According to a NASA conference paper in 2014, it was found that 60%–80% of accidents in high-risk industries were a result of human error. Their answer to the problem? Removing humans from the equation, otherwise referred to as automated systems. 

By implementing more automation systems, even for less high-risk elements of business like accounting or bookkeeping systems, human errors can be greatly reduced. 

Streamline workflows

In most cases, small businesses utilize multiple people or multiple systems to perform one task. For example, the accounting department of a business traditionally includes a(n):

  • Accounts payable department
  • Accounts receivable department
  • Payroll department
  • Procurement department
  • Bookkeeping department

The bottom line is that implementing an all-in-one system like QuickBooks to handle multiple accounting needs can help remove the burden of the probability of error. 

Examples of automated business tasks

Automation has never been easier to implement. There are new technological advances made with each passing year that are making business operations a breeze. For example:

  1. Automating payroll: QuickBooks accounting software allows you to automate payroll, streamline your AP department, and integrate your banking information to monitor spending. 
  2. Collecting customer payment: Shopify offers an all-in-one e-commerce platform with process automation tools that allows you to build your website, attract customers, and accept payments through the platform.
  3. Platform integration: Google Suite gives you the tools to create and share documents, integrate multiple systems such as Gmail and Google Photos, plus create presentations through the Sheets app. 

5+ small business tasks to automate

illustration of a graph explaining tasks to automate vs ones not to automate

The average business owner’s day is filled with big decisions, back-office problems, and personal conversations, but there are plenty of smaller, more menial tasks in the mix too. That means there’s no shortage of responsibilities that business owners can completely automate. Some tasks that are ripe for automation include:

  1. Responses to frequent emails
  2. Recurring invoices
  3. Payroll
  4. Task management
  5. Reporting on metrics

1. Responses to frequent emails

Email can take up a lot of time. Business owners spend an estimated 25% of their time on email.

If you’re frequently on the receiving end of similar messages or frequently asked questions, there are ways to speed up your response process optimization.

Canned responses in Gmail are one of the best ways to do so. It’s not total automation, as it’ll still require selecting the right response, but it’s a major time-saver. Canned responses allow you to save emails you frequently compose, drop that body copy into a message, and then edit as needed or simply click send.

2. Recurring invoices

Bookkeeping can feel draining. In fact, a reported 40% of business owners claim it’s the worst part of owning a business.

It’s also unavoidable since bookkeeping is part of owning a business. All told, 40% of small business owners spend more than 80 hours each year on accounting. Much of that time is spent sending and following up on invoices and purchase orders.

Fortunately, a variety of process improvement solutions exist to offload invoicing—especially recurring invoices you send month in and month out as well as automatic reminders to clients who may have forgotten to pay.

3. Payroll

Another tedious and time-consuming part of accounting is payroll. If your employees still receive paper paychecks, that’s tough to automate. On the other hand, if you’re using direct deposit, there are plenty of tools that can help take payroll off your plate completely.

Once you’ve set up payroll software, automatically scheduling, entering data, sending, and tracking payroll can quickly become a set-it-and-forget-it task you only need to revisit when changes occur.

4. Task management

You’ve likely heard the whole “working on your business, rather than in it” cliché. It’s cliché for a reason—the average entrepreneur spends 68.1% of their time working “in” their business.

Solutions like Zapier (workflow automation software) can coordinate actions between different apps and save you from repetitive tasks like adding items to your digital to-do list, setting up folders, or queuing up reminders. There’s plenty of task management inspiration in this video.

5. Metrics reporting

Numbers matter to your business. You want to know how many real-time visitors you’ve had to your website or how many sales you’ve made in the past month.

Constantly compiling and sharing that information involves a substantial investment in time and attention. But it doesn’t have to.

For online metrics, Google Analytics makes it easy to set up custom reports and then send them to yourself, your employees, or your clients. Other platforms like QuickBooks include the option to set up templates that will automatically get emailed to you on a recurring schedule.

6. Additional tasks to automate

Why stop here? There are endless possibilities when it comes to automation, some of which may be right in front of you posing as non-automatable tasks. Examples include:

  • High volume of tasks
  • Multiple people required to execute tasks
  • Time-sensitive nature
  • Significant impact on other processes and systems
  • Need for compliance and audit trails

Depending on the task itself, these tasks may be automated if they can make your day-to-day easier and be put into an automatable process. 

5 small business tasks not to automate

You’re ready to sing the praises of automation and remove a ton of menial tasks from your to-do list—but not so fast. Automation can be great, but it’s not meant for everything.

Below are five tasks you should not consider automating in your business.

1. Touchy customer problems 

One of your clients or customers has a time-sensitive problem or a touchy complaint. This is a time when you need personal contact. For more complicated interactions, 40% of customers actually prefer skipping email altogether and talking to a real person over the phone. 

Even further, about 1 in 3 people say the most important aspect of customer service is speaking with a knowledgeable and friendly agent. Customer service is an important factor in the choice of loyalty to a brand, according to 96% of consumers.

2. Client and employee onboarding

If your business is continuously onboarding new clients, customers, and new employees, rest assured that pieces of this process—such as reminders or educational emails—can be automated.

However, the onboarding process is a crucial time and automation shouldn’t encompass the entirety of these early interactions.

Remember that you only get one chance to make a first impression, so you need to give new customers and clients some personal attention and establish a solid relationship before you introduce any automation.

3. Employee recognition

Your employees mean a lot to you, and you want to consistently recognize them on a job well done—especially when 69% of employees claim they would work harder if they felt like their hard work was better recognized.

According to data from Gallup, 28% of employees say that the most memorable recognition comes from their manager, followed closely by a high-level leader or CEO (24%).

Effective recognition is, according to Gallup, “honest, authentic, and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized.” Those boxes are almost impossible to check with an automated process.

4. Creative work

While automation boosts productivity, concerns swirl over whether or not it will completely replace humans in some positions.

Here’s the good news: Automation hasn’t yet found a way to replicate the human brain, which means more creative tasks—from brainstorming your next product to designing graphics—can’t be totally automated (although, many times, they can be delegated).

5. Building relationships

Automation can help immensely in creating and maintaining healthy relationships, this includes:

  • Reminders about important dates
  • Notifications about emails to follow up on
  • Sending gifts as well as “handwritten” thank you notes.

Just like customer problems and complaints, crucial moments and difficult conversations demand personal attention. And similar to employee recognition, celebrating big wins and major accomplishments requires face time—or at least the closest digital equivalent.

In other words, in spite of all their power, bots shouldn’t be relied on during the highs and lows of the business relationships that matter most.

BPA implementation tips

Now, saying you want to automate and implementing automation are two different elements. One requires you to create a plan, the other requires follow-through. Here are some tips to get your business process automation up and running:

  1. Create a plan of action: Figure out which processes you want to automate and a timeline for implementation.
  2. Document the processes: Create a well-documented use case of procedures to refer to if automation were to fail. This is basically how you would perform the task by hand. 
  3. Begin conversion: Start slow and steady to implement new automation processes that you planned out in step one. 
  4. Audit trails: Double-check your processes through auditing on a regular basis.

Use automation  to your advantage

Time often feels like a business owner’s most limited resource. Automation efforts can be a powerful weapon for your small business—provided you identify the best times to use it.

What’s the simplest way to identify functions that can easily be automated using BPA software? Keep an eye out for:

  • Tasks that you’re doing on a repetitive or frequent basis
  • Tasks that don’t require a human touch or personal connection
  • Tasks that are mindless and don’t require a lot of mental energy

Regardless of what you automate in your business, whether it be bill payment or accounting procedures, be aware that it shouldn’t be completely out of sight and out of mind. Set a reminder to check in occasionally and ensure things are working properly. You’d hate for something to run off the rails while you’re blissfully unaware.

Finally, approach automation with the right strategy and you’ll be able to carve out more time for what really matters: helping your business continue to thrive.

Mail icon
Get the latest to your inbox
No Thanks

Get the latest to your inbox

Relevant resources to help start, run, and grow your business.

By clicking “Submit,” you agree to permit Intuit to contact you regarding QuickBooks and have read and acknowledge our Privacy Statement.

Thanks for subscribing.

Fresh business resources are headed your way!

Looking for something else?


From big jobs to small tasks, we've got your business covered.

Firm of the Future

Topical articles and news from top pros and Intuit product experts.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.