Most small business owners dream of building things, helping people, or practicing their craft. Very few fantasize about sending invoices, doing inventory, or writing e-mails. Yet many ventures get bogged down by administrative tasks because they use inefficient processes that siphon time and resources from their core purpose.
In his groundbreaking book The E-Myth, Michael E. Gerber drew an important distinction for entrepreneurs and small business owners: There is a difference between working in your business and working on your business. Most people dream of starting their own business because they have a passion, perhaps baking cakes. Eventually, however, time spent baking cakes gives way to time spent doing payroll, paying vendors, and ordering supplies.
The challenge for entrepreneurs is to create a scalable, systemized business that works with minimal involvement by the business owner. Today, that means automation.
Is your company living up to its potential? Ask yourself the following questions.
Does your business do any of these?
▢ Rely on paper files for recordkeeping? Handwritten thank you notes to clients are a nice touch… but handwritten invoices, order forms, or accounting ledgers are a problem. A recent survey by Wakefield Research & Concur found that 84 percent of small businesses still use some kind of manual process. Nearly one-half – 49 percent – use handwritten records to track, manage, and analyze their spending. And 60 percent store critical data in file cabinets.
▢ Keep records on spreadsheets or Word docs? Excel workbooks and Google Sheets are for financial reports, tables, and mathematical calculations – not tracking customer orders. Word processing documents are meant for reports and letters – not address lists. Using the wrong tools can waste time and make your business less efficient.
▢ Manage projects through meetings or round-robin e-mails? Few things kill productivity faster than drawn-out meetings or chains of e-mails with multiple people CC’d on every reply. Meetings are time-consuming and often unnecessary, particularly if the point is to update the status of a project. Valuable information can easily get overlooked when it’s buried in an inbox full of e-mail. Instead, digital dashboards can make progress easy to track, eliminate redundancy, and improve communication.
▢ Enter data more than once? If you’re entering data such as customer addresses or order details into more than one system – or even in more than one place in the same system – it’s time to stop. Each of these processes has the potential to introduce errors at the time of entry or later, if something changes and has to be updated in multiple places. Many businesses have separate software systems for marketing, customer service, order fulfillment, accounting, human resources, and so forth. If they aren’t integrated, you are squandering valuable resources.
▢ Log in and out of multiple platforms to collect vital information? Numbers are important when you want to see how your business is doing, but too often, information is scattered across different systems. Low-code platforms enable you to build centralized dashboards that can pull data from disparate systems and put it all in one place where it updates in real time.
If you answered “yes” to any of these, chances are your business isn’t as efficient, agile, or profitable as it could be. Other warning signs are if customers have been frustrated by your processes or employees have had to find “workarounds” to do their jobs more efficiently.
Consumers are more tech-savvy than ever. In a study commissioned by Microsoft, more than 90% of consumers said they would consider taking their business elsewhere, rather than work with a company that uses outdated technology.
It can be tempting to hang onto legacy systems and cobbled-together technology solutions that are familiar. Many business owners subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. But there are hidden costs to using outdated technology. One study found workers waste an average of 520 hours a year on repetitive tasks that could easily be automated, costing businesses an average $13,203 annually per employee.
How low-code tools can help small businesses
Large companies often have teams of in-house software developers to design custom applications for them, but that is not feasible for most small businesses. Historically, small companies have relied on off-the-shelf software, which is not always a great fit and usually requires stacks of different systems for different processes.
Modern low-code and no-code automation tools have changed that. They enable businesses to create customized applications and dashboards at a fraction of the cost of custom programming. Here are some of the benefits:
Increased productivity and efficiency – In smaller companies, labor is often one of the biggest expenses and employees often wear multiple hats. Being able to automate mundane tasks and streamline workflows is a win for any business, but it is particularly valuable for small businesses where owners and employees have so many demands on their time. Low-code app building can free your team to focus on higher-level tasks and be more productive.
Lower the risk of human error – Among businesses that still use manual processes, the Wakefield & Concur study found 42% reported errors in matching invoices to projects or clients, 42% had errors in reconciling invoices, and 41% reported getting hit with late fees from vendors. Automation tools can minimize errors like these and also provide time-saving options like the ability to search for records digitally.
Project management – Low-code can be game-changing for project management, particularly when the people working on a project aren’t in the same location. Instead of an inbox full of e-mails, imagine having a single dashboard to track progress and see status updates at a glance. Project management apps can be customized to exact specifications and ensure that valuable ideas and potentially meaningful conversations don’t get lost or dispersed across geographies, devices, and software.
Order tracking and Inventory – Running out of stock or having too much stock can be expensive. Automated systems can sync and centralize inventory, establish low stock alerts, and provide real-time visibility into stock counts and order statuses.
Record-keeping – You should never have to enter the same data more than once. It’s not only inefficient, but it increases the chances of errors. Low-code tools are great for automating repetitive tasks like data entry and making it easy to search for records.
Analysis and reporting – Agile businesses monitor what’s working and what isn’t, and adjust accordingly. Analyzing performance should not be a monthly, backward-looking event, but rather a continuous activity that happens in real time. Low-code platforms are great for improving visibility into operations through dashboards and reports. These are valuable for trend-spotting, analysis, and encouraging continuous improvement.
Data backup and availability – A company’s data is one of its most valuable assets, and it’s important to make the best use of it. Keeping data secure and accessible is important. With low-code and no-code platforms, data is stored in the cloud and is accessible from any device.
How to automate your small business’ processes
The exciting thing about low-code and no-code platforms is that they are user-friendly. With a little practice, anyone who is adept at using Excel or other common business software can become a successful “citizen developer.” Vendors can help with training resources, troubleshooting, and customer support. So can independent consultants like Watkyn LLC.
Sometimes business owners are too close to the problem to examine it objectively. Or they aren’t aware of the incredible improvements in technology and options for automating their business. That’s where a consultant can be enormously helpful. Watkyn can audit your systems and find the hidden inefficiencies. We can help you choose a low-code platform to automate repetitive tasks and streamline your workflows. We can also train you and your employees to make the most of that platform.
For help automating your small business processes, you can reach me, Phillip Dennis, at (954) 900-6690 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.