The Business Automation Decision

Being a small business owner inevitably means having a full plate, which includes everything from paying bills and managing inventory to supervising employees and marketing products or services. Together, these tasks can be overwhelming, which is why many find the best solution is to automate as many processes as possible to reduce total management time and, ultimately, accelerate their 'Net success.

Luckily, there's software for that. Business automation solutions are any program/platform that helps a company integrate disparate processes of its regular business operations into a single platform, which can include back-end business processes like payroll, billing or IT infrastructure, or consumer- facing operations like Internet marketing or customer management. In essence, these solutions are meant to put these processes on "autopilot," eliminating or reducing the tasks a business owner has to address. In reality, however, not every solution is useful for every company (since few, if any, can do everything on their own).

That is why businesses must first figure out which of their particular processes would provide the most value if they were automated, and then find a solution that can do that for them.

Assess Needs

There are numerous offerings available that can help companies automate essential business operations, some of which are more valuable to enterprises than others. For example, a business owner wanting to reduce payroll processing can use a platform such as Ascentis. One looking for marketing automation (e.g. email marketing, lead nurturing, lead scoring and more) can use Marketo, while Chargify or Journyx can automate customer billing, and SugarCRM can be leveraged for customer relationship management.

Once a business knows what should be automated, there are several considerations to make during the software selection process (e.g. cost, scalability, customization, support, etc.). Smaller businesses, almost by definition, will need a solution that is easy to install, configure, customize and maintain, without requiring a massive IT department (and budget).

Many people view business automation software as a sort of clockwork solution, where they simply set the automation solution in place and forget about it, but this inaccurate perception often leads to ill-informed expectations and poor implementation.

Make the Best Choice

Among the first things to look for when selecting business automation software is its level of integration complexity. In other words, it should work nicely with any other automation solutions currently in use, so data can be shared amongst them to collect and utilize the information in the most useful way possible.

Another important factor in selecting the optimal business automation software is to choose a vendor with a proven record of accomplishment. Of course, it's important to pick a solution that will offer the features and capabilities that are needed, but opting for a new, yet unproven solution, may result in working with a company that can't meet the business's needs from a customer service standpoint. This is why so many small businesses prefer to go with more "high-quality," established solutions like QuickBooks, to automate processes such as customer billing. Unfortunately, these solutions often don't provide all of the functionality that a business may require.

And although the whole point, as it were, of using these business automation solutions is to allow owners to rest easy knowing that the nuts and bolts of their company are taken care of on a daily basis, all of them do still require some sort of monitoring to ensure that they're running smoothly and being updated. However, some programs, such as Journyx, offer maintenance contracts that will automatically re-evaluate and update deployments regularly, which further reduces responsibility.

Automate Away!

For small business owners who continually find themselves on the short end of the stick (money and time wise), it may just be time to start looking for business automation software that can help improve the quality of business operations. They should start by identifying areas that could benefit the most from being automated, and then seek out solutions for those specific tasks.