“As a small startup, we didn’t have the budget for a back-office tool,” recalls David Wieseneck, vice president of finance at the mobile marketplace, letgo. In fact, when he started, he could count the entire staff on two hands, and the “finance department” was just a fancy way of describing Wieseneck writing checks from the startup’s bank account. Yet, even a small staff needs business tools to help get the job done, especially when travel and expenses start piling up.
Automating business processes shot to the top of the priority list. “We needed tools that were affordable enough that I didn’t have to ask our CEO for extra budget, and also a solution that could be set up in literally an hour,” Weiseneck recalls. He’s not alone. A recent survey from The Alternative Board indicates 63 percent of small business owners work more than 50 hours a week, yet just a little over a third of that time is spent working on the business.
The easiest way for an IT professional to help owners and staff reclaim some of that time is strategically automating business processes by deploying business tools that can free up everyone to work on more important tasks, like making sure customers are happy or identifying new markets. Check out four great examples to get you feeling inspired:
1. Expensify: Convert receipts and spreadsheets
Weiseneck needed help with travel expenses, because frequent traveling came along with the headache of reporting every flight, meal, and carfare, not to mention the hours he spent elbow deep in paperwork, spreadsheets, and other reports.
After doing their due diligence and vetting which options worked best for the business, his team selected Expensify’s cloud-based mobile app, which offered excellent customer support, a variety of integrations, and the ability to reimburse employees within a day. “It’s the perfect receipt and expense management tool for any startup looking to save time, ensure compliance, and take control of back-end organizational processes without breaking the bank,” he says.
2. MailChimp: Take the pain out of email campaigns
Although many business owners lament the time spent poring over their email inbox, an email newsletter can be one of the best places to build your company’s brand and make it essential to customers. According to Pew Research Center, 77 percent of the US population owns a smartphone. You can bet social media isn’t the only reason for them to check it, as nearly everyone has email. But not every business has the staff to produce the content and layout for an attractive newsletter on the regular. That’s when tools, like MailChimp, come in—automating the production and sending can help reach more customers.
Stephen Rose and his wife own The Peach Truck, a small, seasonal business that takes the best of the fruit from Georgia and sells it throughout the Midwest. Rose realized his customers like to get behind-the-scenes glimpses of growing peaches. To send them updates on weather, crop conditions, and more, Rose uses MailChimp. Sending these campaigns to The Peach Truck’s email list pulls in open rates between 37 and 46 percent, proving there’s a captive audience out there.
Rose also uses MailChimp’s list segmentation tools to send personalized campaigns to customers based on geolocation or how and where they signed up. “We might send some special offers to our customers who order online,” he explains. Personalization and customization are important factors to consider when vetting new tools.
3. Infusionsoft: Respond quickly to customer requests
Speaking of email and customer success, here’s a disturbing statistic: When a customer fills out a contact form on your website, waiting merely a half hour to respond drops your odds of converting them to a lead by 21 times, versus calling within five minutes, according to the Lead Response Management Study.
As an IT pro, you can make a strong case for using software, like Infusionsoft, to automate email responses. The email response can be sent immediately or timed to your preference. A drop-down menu directs the message in identified categories, such as a new customer inquiry, question, complaint, or request for pricing, and customized emails can be dispatched accordingly. Likewise, if anyone on staff finds themselves frequently responding to the same questions, they can send out automated responses to those, as well. The software collects data on each customer, also saving a ton of time in administrative data entry.
4. Occasion Station: Find the perfect, personalized gift
Sometimes, a business process can serve both work and personal life. “Back in 2014, I was busy managing an acquisition I’d made when I realized how little time I had for leisure or my family,” says Felix Odigie, founder of Occasion Station. “In fact, the issue had become so severe that I regularly failed to keep track of important events in the lives of family members and close friends.” Gift cards, although popular, just aren’t personal enough.
He told Black Enterprise, “Whether an individual or small business, when you join our platform, you are assigned a personal shopper to assist you with all your gifting needs—as many times as you would like.” In other words, you’re covered when you need to find something that says thank you to a customer or colleague or if you need a gift for your significant other’s college friend’s wedding coming up next month. IT pros offering this solution to everyone on staff may find themselves on the receiving end of a personalized gift themselves once everyone realizes how much time they’ve saved shopping.
When you’re doing your due diligence to vet these or any other time-saving business tools to automate processes, always remember to keep security in mind—if you deploy an unsecured tool, you could open your business up to cyber attack. And don’t forget: Busy doesn’t always equal productive. Loads of small business owners and their lean workforces waste time on manually performing repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Couple those obligations with life outside of work, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. Keeping technology at your side will enable you to spend time on the things that matter most.