Business Process Automation, also called Workflow Automation, is more accessible now than it ever has been with most businesses using some SaaS (software as a service) or web-enabled software. Automating routine processes can make you more efficient, improve accountability and standardize your customer interactions.
Where do you start? Practice Kaizen...start by making one small, impactful change. Determine one process you think is (1) time consuming, (2) time-sensitive, (3) requires multiple people, and/or (4) has a high volume in your organization. Some examples are: managing incoming leads, approving expense reports, sending out product announcement emails, and lead nurturing.
As an example, I realized that managing my appointments via several calendars was becoming a challenge. I was using Notes, Act! and Google over 2-3 different devices. It was difficult to schedule appointments with clients because there was a lag in between emailing them and getting a response, and also because not all of my appointments were on all of my calendars since this was a manual process.
Think about how the process you want to automate would work in a perfect world. Now determine what steps should be taken to complete the task from start to finish (which may be different from what actually happens in your business today). Write those steps down in a spreadsheet, word processing document, mind map, note application or (gasp!) on paper. Just make sure you have a clear vision of each step that needs to occur to complete the task.
For my calendar automation process, I knew the best solution would be one where clients could see open times on my calendar and schedule a time that was convenient for both of us. Whatever system I chose would need to be able to update my Act!, Google and Notes calendars so that I could see everything that was scheduled on any of my devices, anywhere, any time.
The next step is to determine what tool or process you’ll use to automate. This could require some research. You’ll need to find a feature or tool that is either within your current system(s) or possibly use an external tool or integration. If you have a trusted advisor for your current software, this is the first person to contact for advice. It is likely that they will save you time and money with their experience.
Being an Act! Premium user and consultant, I immediately started looking for an integration that was web-based and could integrate with Act!. Zapier offers many SaaS integrations between various software platforms, so I began searching their offerings to find a calendar service that I could integrate with Act!. I settled on Acuity Scheduling, and it had even more features than I’d originally been looking for.
Finally, we get to implementation. Implementation is going to vary from one tool/process to the next. Having a clear outline to accomplish the goal for your automation process will greatly decrease the implementation time. I have also found that many programs have either a $0 tier level or a free trial period so that you can try the service before you commit to a monthly or annual fee.
For me, there was a short learning curve for Acuity Scheduling. There was set up involved to create appointment types and scheduled hours, but they included "walkthroughs" every step of the way. After that, the set up required creating the “zaps” in my Zapier account that would check for data at Acuity Scheduling and bring that into Act!. Acuity Scheduling will also read data from/to a Google calendar. Along the way, I discovered that I could send myself an SMS each morning that was a reminder of the day’s appointments. Bonus!
Don’t forget about training and analytics. Yes, even if you are a solo-preneur, training is important. Make sure you and anyone involved with the new process knows how it works - and - how to determine if something goes wrong. Your process also needs to allow for “what ifs.” For example what happens if:
- the data is not as expected?
- Some data you count on in the process is missing?
- Someone leaves the company?
- The tool is inaccessible?
If you aren’t using some form of business automation, it's time to get started. It will take some extra time to get your new process up and running, but the time it saves will be worth it.
If you use Act! and want to discuss automation for your business, use this link to schedule a 15-minute discovery call with me to discuss your needs.