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Author Vadim
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Where to start automation in small business?

The term "business automation" is quite broad. For some, it only means automating physical processes, such as building a product. For others, it’s automated email distribution with increasing of customer activity.

The rapid growth of information, multitasking and high speed of decision-making are forcing more companies to buy specialized software for the optimization of business processes. This allows to maintain a competitive level, meet the modern requirements of customers. And if large enterprises understood and considered the potential benefits of automation long time ago, small and medium-sized businesses are just beginning to assess the benefits of optimizing internal processes and replacing employees with specialized IT solutions.

Why small business lags behind? 

A huge amount of materials about how optimization of business processes is useful and necessary are written. Large corporations know very well that in the long term, timely automation of internal processes can bring cost savings up to 20-40% of the budget. Specifically for this purpose, in the finance department employees are engaged in calculations and economic validity of such decisions, so that in the end the Manager clearly understands the cost of integration, payback periods, as well as non-economic benefits in the form of more efficient distribution of employees’ working time.

In turn, medium and small businesses rarely have the necessary tools and resources to buy or implement automation systems. In addition, today entrepreneurs rarely proceed from a long-term perspective, most plans and goals are set for a maximum of one year. In such conditions, it is impossible to estimate and calculate the real benefit from optimization, as it is quite difficult to calculate the same payback on solution implementation.

In addition, in small companies, the Manager often combines several functions, which means that there is no time to delve into the principles of implementing solutions for automation and personnel training. Often they don’t pay proper attention to the personnel training, not only because of lack of time, but also due to budget savings. Ideally, the implementation of the project takes from one to two months, after that changes take root another 4-6 months.

Automation is often the first experience for small companies, and internal processes are not formalized and focused on specific people who personally control everything that happens in the office.

When is automation needed?

First of all, automation tools are necessary for repetitive and complex processes. Almost any of the operational, managerial or service processes of small or medium-sized businesses can be automated with the help of specialized solutions. Such processes may include the conclusion of contracts and tracking their implementation, payments, accounting for all actions within the company – whether calls or changes in plans, monitoring of employees, workflow, and others. At the initial stage, you may need minimal features, such as automatic callback capability, customer accounting, or internal operations.

For example, there is a very clear trend towards automation in transport logistics. Fewer and fewer companies prefer to use the services of forwarding agents who perform all operations manually, and therefore very slowly. Instead, the demand for automated solutions is increasing. This significantly saves time for customers and transport companies, allows faster processing of orders, and ultimately leads to economic benefits. Another serious problem is the opacity of this market – platforms for optimization solve this problem, marking unscrupulous performers at the stage of registration.

Developers see growing interest from small and medium-sized businesses, so they strive to transform their services to the needs of companies. As a result, more and more vendors are starting to work on subscription, offering their solutions in special packages for a small but constant fee. This approach allows smaller companies to begin using the system to automate and keep on a competitive level. In addition, all large companies already have licenses for running software, which means that there is nowhere else to grow in this market. This is one of the main reasons for large vendors entering the markets for small and medium-sized businesses.

Practical advice for small companies

  1. First, it is necessary to calculate the cost-effectiveness and the need to purchase/integrate a system for automation. If you have one person working and the number of your clients is less than ten, you probably won't need an ERP or CRM system. But it is useful, for example, to set the function of automatic callback when an online application appears.
  2. It is necessary to understand what functionality you need. Here you can select several directions or modules that will eventually be included in the solution. This can include procurement management, planning, accounting for all internal operations of the company, and so on.
  3. First of all, it is necessary to entrust the automation with repetitive tasks that take a lot of time and effort and can be performed without involving a person.
  4. Automation of business processes is necessary primarily for entrepreneurs to have a little free time. In addition, small businesses suffer losses from cash turnover, so it is important to reduce costs.
  5. To make automation painless, it should start with the most simple processes. Almost any kind of business should start with the automation of marketing operations. As a rule, such processes are monosyllabic: the client subscribes to the newsletter, the system automatically sends him a welcome letter.

Today, there is a wide range of programs for automation, so it is important for the company to clearly understand what kind of functionality and a set of tools it needs. You have to weigh everything and make the right decision.