When you run a small business, it’s easy to become time strapped because you have to wear so many hats. But it’s now possible to automate some of the more mundane tasks with specialized software, which will leave you with more time to plan for your business’ growth. If you’re still doing most things manually in your business, here are five areas where automation could save you a lot of time.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
CRM software allows you to more efficiently interact with your prospective and current customers. With it, you can effortlessly track sales leads, appointments, the number and types of contacts you have, and conversions from prospects to customers, without having to keep track of it all manually in spreadsheets or other software. Your sales manager can also use CRM software to stay on top of the sales team’s progress, and sales reps can stay on top of their own leads and appointments. Most CRM systems these days operate in the cloud, so instead of buying expensive software, you can simply pay a monthly fee and access it anytime you want. Intuit is offering a free 30-day trial of its QuickBase CRM system.
Making payroll is more than just cutting checks to your employees once a week. It involves filing the correct payroll forms with the IRS, calculating the right amount of taxes due, and paying those taxes on time. When you do your own payroll, it not only takes a great deal of time, but if you make mistakes, you could pay heavily for them in the form of fines and penalties. But an online payroll service can eliminate the risk of mistakes and save you valuable time in the process. The type of service you need is typically determined by the number of employees you have, but the services included range from direct deposits into your employee’s bank accounts, calculating withholding taxes and then paying them to the appropriate government office, staying on top of tax rate changes, tracking vacation, overtime, and sick leave, preparing W-2 forms, and managing health care plan contributions. The cost for these services typically range from $20 to $80 per month.
Accounting is another time-intensive area where you can automate the process and manage your books more effectively. You can sync your bank accounts and financial apps with your accounting software to get up-to-date reports and analysis, keep track of your expenses for tax purposes, pay bills, and send customized reports to your accountant. QuickBooks offers a free trial, and plans start at $8 per month.
It’s important for small-business owners to stay on top of their accounts receivable, and one of the best ways to do that is to invoice early and often. But filling out and sending an invoice every time a customer makes a purchase can consume a lot of time. That is, unless you automate the process. Automated invoicing features, such as the one included in QuickBooks, allow you to set up a custom invoice template, keep track of which accounts are paid and which ones are overdue, schedule invoices for reoccurring accounts, and quickly convert estimates to invoices. Automating this process will save you energy and ensure that your invoices go out on time, which will keep the cash flowing in your business.
Managing your inventory can take up a lot of time if you do it manually. After all, you have to enter the information for each product, keep track of its location, delete it when it sells, and predict when you need to reorder it. But when you use an inventory management system, it will automatically keep track of your products’ location and availability — and it will automatically calculate how much product you need to reorder and when. You will be able to scan bar codes instead of typing in product information by hand, and if you need to retrieve information about a specific lot number, most inventory management systems allow you to do so easily. You can purchase a separate inventory management system, or use Advanced Inventory, which comes with and integrates fully with QuickBooks Enterprise Platinum. Try it for free, and if you like it, you’ll pay about $80 per month for a subscription.
Social media marketing is a must in today’s business environment, but it can take a lot of time to keep up with all of your accounts. In addition, if you use multiple channels, you probably perform a lot of repetitive tasks every day. Luckily, there are some social media automation tools that will help you get a handle on the job and free up some time for other important business functions. For example, SocialOomph allows you to queue your evergreen content so you can share it more than once at predetermined times. The service will even allow you to reword your messages so the content goes out fresh each time. You can sign up for a free account or upgrade to a professional account for $36 a month. Dlvr.it also automates your social media marketing by allowing you to post content to all of your channels in one step, rather than having to individually post them. The basic service starts at $10 a month. Finally, AWeber automates your email marketing by allowing you to set up a series of emails that automatically go out to prospects or new subscribers on a predetermined time schedule. You can get a 30-day free trial, and the services start at $19 a month.
Automation tools are becoming the norm for today’s busy entrepreneurs. Are you using them to make the best use of your time?