Last year, I shared a list of my favorite small business automation tools.
I explained how to put payroll on autopilot with Gusto, track mileage with MileIQ, streamline employee training with my company, Trainual, and automate accounting tasks with Bench. If you haven’t seen that list yet, it’s a great place to start.
Now, one month into 2016, it's time for another recap. Remember that as your business grows, you should be doing less.
These automation tools will help you focus more on improving the product or service you offer, and less on everything else.
If you’re still using Post-It notes or a Google spreadsheet for the passwords that guard your digital life, this is the year to stop. And with 1Password and 1Password for Teams, there’s no excuse. This simple software makes it easy to collect, generate, and recall all of your complicated passwords, without wasting time remembering them.
What I’ve gained in weight this year, I’ve saved in time, thanks to Postmates. It’s an Uber-for-Food delivery service that makes ordering and reordering lunch at the office as simple as the touch of a button. Postmates brings your local restaurants to you, so you don’t have to waste time driving to them.
Outsourcing Simple Work
In 2014, two of the top sites in online outsourcing (oDesk and Elance) merged, and last year, they re-launched as Upwork. If you’re new to hiring remote workers and outsourcing work, this is the place to start. Just post your project or job, select your favorite candidate from around the world, and be amazed as your workload fades away while you sleep.
Tracking Your Jobs
One of the hardest parts of a growing business (especially a service business) is to know exactly where each job is in your workflow. Pipefy makes it easy. Just create a “pipeline”, and move your jobs through various stages. It’s as easy to use as Trello, but gives you the power of automation for emails, tasks, alerts, and other integrations.
Learning a Language
This year I learned to speak Czech. And Polish. And German, and French, and a little Mandarin. Okay, maybe I just downloaded Google Translate (iOS and Android). But seriously, that app was a lifesaver in Europe. Open the app on your cell phone, point it at a sign or a menu, and the app literally translates foreign words to your native language. It’s not perfect, but it sure beats studying.
If you’re still sharing an email inbox to take orders or support your customers, stop the madness! You need a ticketing software, and this year none impressed me more than Help Scout. Their simple design makes getting started a breeze, and their contact forms suggest answers to your customers to cut down on incoming messages.
Answering the Phone
Does the phone interrupt you all day? Well, maybe you need a receptionist. For less than $70/week, Ruby Receptionist will team you up with someone to act as a first line of defense in the fight against incoming calls. Your Ruby Receptionist can provide simple info, take messages, or even transfer calls that meet your criteria.
Keeping in Touch With Clients
When my clients tell me that “word of mouth” is their top referral source, I ask how they track the last time they’ve spoken with their top referrers. When they stare back at me in silence, I recommend Contactually. They help you categorize your key relationships, and then follow up on a regular schedule, so you can close more business.
Juggling different calendars and putting together the monthly schedule is a huge chore. Last year I fell in love with WhenIWork’s open shifts feature, which lets employees trade shifts with others or pick up available work without you, the boss, ever having to lift a finger. Once you’re up and running, putting together future monthly schedules gets easier, too—just copy a previous schedule with one click, edit as needed, and publish it in seconds.
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.
Invoicing and Bill Payments
Creating invoices and paying bills form a large part of the minutiae of running a small business, but they shouldn’t take up more than a few minutes of your time. Speed up the invoicing process with FreshBooks. The app lets you track your expenses and billable hours. It also generates and sends online invoices to clients.
Scannable or Shoeboxed can help automate the storage of receipts and other financial records. If you have plenty of bills and invoices to pay each month, send them over to Bill.com and the app will handle the rest.
Working With Data
It’s amazing how many multi-million dollar businesses are run on a spreadsheet. Now that Fieldbook exists, there are sure to be more. Fieldbook lets you create several connected spreadsheets (like a database), then click through the information as if you have your own custom software. You can view, sort, filter and search to your heart’s content.
Social Media Automation
Imagine if you didn’t have to spend an hour or two each week scheduling social posts. Unlike other social media scheduling software, Edgar lets you store your social posts in an online library. The app then recycles your social content by re-posting it to your followers on a rotating schedule. It’s a great set-and-forget solution, especially if social media marketing takes up too much of your time.
There's no doubt that successful entrepreneurs are hard workers. But we tend to be bad at learning how to stop working so hard.
Even though automating the harder parts of your small business won’t save you from all of the challenges of being an entrepreneur, automation will make the business of being in business a little easier, and help you focus your time on tasks that make your business grow.