“When I grow up, I want to spend all day at the office answering emails and collecting paperwork,” said no one ever.
But the reality, especially for small business owners and their employees, is that routine office tasks can easily consume an entire workday. In a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, small business owners said they devote two-thirds of each day to finances, communications, sales, and management—and only one-third to actually conducting business.
When your to-do list usually runs over into the next day (or week), little time remains for the most important aspects of the business, like developing strategy and relationships.
One solution for having too many tasks: hiring more people to do them. But there’s a better alternative, especially for small businesses short on resources: automation.
Automation software like Infusionsoft can take care of the tedious tasks you don’t have time for, like sending introduction emails, appointment reminders, and documents—and even collecting coffee orders from your staff.
When busywork is automated, tasks always get done, even when your employees forget about them or call in sick. Your staff can focus on the work you hired them to do. And no one’s half-caf, sugar-free, vanilla soy milk latte is ever ordered incorrectly (phew).
Here’s a look at automating five common office tasks.
1. Respond to emails from prospective customers.
The average person receives 88 business emails a day, according to The Radicati Group, a tech market research firm. If you spend a quick five minutes answering each one that adds up to 7.3 hours. Throw in a lunch break, and the workday is over.
You can’t and shouldn’t automate every email response, of course, but software can pitch in, especially with replies to prospective customer inquiries. When a prospect fills out a contact form, the software automatically replies with an email.
In one template response message, you can welcome the newcomer, send your rates, and answer frequently asked questions. Best of all, the prospect may not know your response was automated: If you write with a conversational tone, and if the software picks up the prospect’s name from the contact form, the email looks like you just typed it up yourself.
2. Streamline repetitive tasks.
Say you mail every new customer an informational packet or, if you’re really nice, a box of cookies. But sometimes, you get so busy with other work that it takes you weeks to mail the gift—or you forget to send it altogether.
No customer goes cookie-less if automation software is in charge. When a tag is applied to a new customer, the software reminds you that it’s cookie time.
Plus, it pulls the customer’s address from your records so you don’t have to look it up.
If you’re not the cookie-sending type, that’s OK. The same strategy can apply to practically any task you need to complete more than a few times. With a process in which Task A is followed by Task B, automation software can help keep you on track.
3. Send and receive documents.
Our increasingly digital world still leaves a paper trail. Following every step personally is a drain on time and resources. Take yourself off the trail (for the most part) by automating processes that collect and send documents.
The paper-swapping process starts when you use automation software to tag the people you’re targeting. The tag prompts a document—like a W9 tax form for new contractors, for example—to be emailed to the customer. When the form is filled out and returned to you, make a note in the system that the process has been completed. Without that note, the software automatically follows up with reminder emails, sparing you from chasing down papers.
4. Send appointment reminders.
Customers need reminders (and sometimes reminder reminders) about their appointments, but that doesn’t mean you need to take the time to notify each customer personally.
Let software play the role of secretary by automating appointment reminders. When a staff member completes a web form containing the customer’s name, email address and appointment time, the form triggers automated emails to be sent to the customer. Schedule a confirmation email immediately after the booking, with reminders sent the week and day before the appointment.
5. Order coffee for the team.
Even the greatest intern in the history of interns couldn’t beat automation software at a coffee run. The typical order process is inherently inefficient. To collect orders, someone might spend a half-hour roaming the office, doubling back in search of those who were M.I.A. Or maybe someone asks for orders via a group email, triggering a chain of annoying “reply all” responses that clog inboxes all morning.
Automation software streamlines the process for everyone. An automated email directs your staff to a web form in which they can enter orders. After a “last call” email is sent to non-responders 15 minutes later, an order summary is automatically sent to the coffee runner. Everyone gets what they wanted, and no one spent more than a moment on the ordering process. Cheers!
Want to find out more ways to automate tasks? Download the e-book “25 Things Every Small Business Should Automate” below.