What is workflow automation?
Automation software makes it possible to create workflows that can be triggered by conditions you set. These can be time conditions or employee/customer actions, and you can have filters for location of customer or product, progress of payment, new or old queries coming in … just about anything.
Workflow automation systems are designed to free up your employees’ time so they can focus on more valuable tasks that call for human intelligence.
With the right workflow automation software, your team can automate time-consuming tasks that are repetitive and don’t require a creative approach.
In this blog post, we will discuss the key advantages of workflow automation for small businesses.
First, we’ll start with a clear workflow automation definition. Then we’ll explain how you use automation software to create workflows.
Finally, you’ll read about how your small business can (and should) enjoy much better productivity and an improved bottom line with workflow automation.
Let’s get started.
What Is Workflow Automation?
When you use automation software, you create workflows that instruct the application for what actions it should take on your behalf.
Think of it as delegating work that’s just too boring and repetitive for you to do, but instead of assigning this work to a person, you have assistance from an intelligent software.
For example, with email workflow automation, you can schedule emails to go out every Friday morning at 7 a.m. to your audience. You’d automate the sending of these emails so you don’t have to sit at the office and press the “send” button first thing in the morning.
Now, of course you can say “But wait, even Gmail and Outlook allow me to schedule my emails!”
Yes, but with CRM workflow automation, you can do a whole lot more – you can segment leads or prune inactive contacts from your list without even having to be there.
The thought of letting software execute your business tasks can be a bit scary for some business owners. That’s not exactly what’s happening though.
You set the rules and the software just executes them. These rules comprise the automated workflow.
Let’s use the example of email workflow automation again to show you what we mean.
In this case, you automate a follow-up email to your leads. If you hear from the lead, then the workflow wouldn’t keep sending (these) emails. But if the lead doesn’t respond after first signing up with your business or blog, you could let the software send reminder or follow-up emails.
Again, you can say, “But I can do all that myself!”
True, but for how many contacts? As your business grows, you’ll have to keep track of hundreds or thousands of subscribers, and that’ll take up all of your day and more.
With workflow automation, you tell the software what to do, and since it isn’t a human, it can work day and night to contact thousands of people for you, with the right message at the right time.
You will write these messages in advance yourself, but the software can guide you with templates and an easy-to-use drag-and-drop editor, so you don’t have to do much work and still get great results.
Remember, all the global brands contacting you relentlessly with welcome and follow-up emails are using workflow automation software 😊
How to Automate Business Processes
You’re certainly interested in creating a business automation workflow, but you admittedly have no idea how to get started. Allow this section to be your guide!
Determine Which Processes Require the Most Time
If you really wanted to, your small business could automate most of if not all your processes. Yet it’s only beneficial to use workflow automation on the tasks that take up the most time.
You’ll need to begin logging your tasks and tracking productivity around the office. This makes it easier to determine where your energies and time are being wasted.
Your small business might decide to automate some or none of these areas, but those are a few good ideas to get you started!
Determine Your Automation Goals
What are you trying to achieve through automating business processes? We’ll talk in the next section about the benefits of workflow automation, so maybe you read the rest of the article and then come back to this point.
The goals should not only benefit you as a small business owner but your staff as well.
Select Automation Software
If you don’t already have automation software, that’s the next order of business. Many marketing/sales tools and CRM solutions have automation features built right in.
For instance, the all-in-one marketing, sales, and support software EngageBay offers automation workflows. This is an alternative to pricier marketing and sales solutions such as HubSpot. EngageBay was created for startups and small businesses like yours.
EngageBay’s monthly plans are simply the most pocket-friendly, and the integrated CRM is actually free to use, forever!
Here’s a guide courtesy of EngageBay on how to build an automation workflow. If you’re more of a visual learner, this video also explains workflows quite succinctly.
Create Your Workflow
Once you have your workflow automation software at the ready, you can get started building your first automation workflow. It can be any business process, simple or complex.
With a software like EngageBay, you won’t need to be tech-savvy, and you can still get all your regular business tasks automated.
Track the Workflow’s Success
Using an automation workflow is only useful if your small business is benefiting from it in revenue.
By tracking the success of your workflow through real-time analytics, you can determine what you’re doing correctly and if you need to tweak anything to be more successful in the future.
The 7 Key Benefits of Workflow Automation Software
Now, let’s delve into the 7 key advantages of workflow automation. If you’re not yet convinced that you need automation software, you will be by the time you’re done reading this section!
Let’s start with the most obvious benefit, which is that workflow automation saves time. Although it only takes a minute to send an email or post your latest blog, how many other manual tasks do you lose time to every day and week?
Data entry is one of those unavoidable tasks for businesses of all sizes. You try to stay on top of this task, but sometimes you just don’t have time. Then you have a mountain of work to do that requires most of the day to complete, maybe even longer.
You can also easily get tangled up with back-and-forth communications with a customer who’s trying to schedule an appointment. You’re grateful for their business, but it takes a lot of time to hammer out all the details. Not anymore with workflow automation.
The amount of time you’ll have added back to your calendar can be reallocated as you see fit. If you’re getting behind on other tasks that you can’t automate, you should be able to complete them.
Reduces the Rate of Human Error
Humans are imperfect, and that’s normally okay, except when it comes to numbers.
You don’t want to flub an invoice or mistype a digit when doing data entry because these mistakes cause complications. Your client will angrily come back to you and ask you why their invoice was higher than the amount you two had agreed upon.
Data entry errors and other internal mistakes with numbers can take longer to become apparent. You would hate to make an incorrect financial projection or overblow your budget because of simple human error, right?
Financial workflow automation is among your most valuable tools as a small business owner. You’re diligent about managing the money that comes into your company as well as that which goes out, and automation will help you be better at it.
You can automate bill payments so you never forget to pay a vendor on time. Some software can automate payroll tasks too. Your employees will always be paid on time even if your HR rep isn’t the one to physically do so.
You don’t want to forget about unpaid invoices, but sometimes you run out of time to track them, right? Within your automation workflow, you can schedule follow-ups so no client gets away with not paying you what you’re owed.
Allows for More Multitasking
We all wish we could do 16 tasks at once, as that would make life so much easier. Yet most of us can’t even handle more than one task.
That’s not to be rude; there’s science to back this up. According to a Forbes article from 2017, only two percent of people can handle doing several tasks at the same time. Most of us, 98 percent, cannot.
The article mentions a 2001 study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance that found that when most of us try to multitask, we hurt our productivity by a surprising rate of 40 percent.
Although most humans will never be great at the whole multitasking thing, workflow automation can make us look like we are.
You already know that productivity suffers when you try to multitask. Yet when you take tasks one at a time, if they’re time-consuming enough, the productivity of your employees begins to plummet.
It doesn’t matter if you have certain sectors of your staff who work on sales versus marketing tasks; at some point, there will be a task that takes a lot of their time.
We discussed in the last section the tasks on the financial end of things. For marketing, it’s appointment-scheduling, emailing, posting on social media, tracking website traffic, and registering events.
Imagine these tasks like holes in what is otherwise a perfectly smooth concrete path. With workflow automation, those holes are paved so it takes less time for your employees to get things done.
Increases Customer and Vendor Trust
Not only do vendors get angry when they realize you invoiced them for too much money, but they’re going to be suspicious as well. What is going on with your company that caused such an egregious error?
If it’s a one-time thing, then they can probably forgive and forget. Yet if you make mistake after mistake on invoices and other financial documents, you can likely kiss that vendor relationship goodbye.
Customers too expect accuracy in things like order confirmations, receipts, tracking, and appointment details. Slipping up one too many times can cause you to lose customers.
Workflow automation eliminates the risk of human error, as we talked about before, so you can be confident that your customers and vendors are getting the right information. This maintains the professional relationships you have and can build trust as well.
How many of your employees hide behind mountains of paperwork? If your desk is also cluttered by too many files, it’s a good idea to consider a business automation workflow.
As your HR team automates tasks such as employee management and payroll, those paperwork mountains will begin dwindling more and more until they’re gone. Even better is they won’t pile back up again.
Keeps Your Company Available
Customers these days don’t like to wait. You have only 24 hours in a day though, and your small business can’t be open all those hours.
Workflow automation can make it look like your company is available around the clock. Whenever your customers contact you, the software can send instant responses.
Your workflow automation can also trigger actions such as adding contacts to a new list or an ongoing email drip campaign based on specific actions they take, such as sending you a query about a product.
Since you don’t have to be available for your customers to hear from your brand, it helps immensely with customer engagement and improves your bottom line in the long term.
Workflow automation can help companies shed the manual tasks that suck up too many valuable hours.
This way, your small business can multitask without hiring large teams, increase productivity, boost sales, improve the bottom line, and most importantly, enhance customer and client satisfaction.
If you’re new to this space, you’ll find that there are plenty of excellent software that can help you with workflow automation.
On the other hand, EngageBay has a free forever plan so you can try the software and understand its rich feature set well before you decide to scale.
When you do that, the monthly plans start at just $7.79, and the integrated CRM still remains free.
If you’d like to know more, check out how much love we’re getting on the software reviews platform SourceForge.