Make work easier with automation

Wishing you had time on your hands? Here are the best basics for getting started with business and marketing automation.

Automated processes may seem out of reach for small businesses, but there are some things you can automate for very little cost – from repetitive administrative tasks to marketing. Here are some ideas on how to get started.

Automating the admin

Any task that’s the same action repeated over and over is worth automating. Think responding to enquiry forms, order flows, adding or updating CRM contacts, or invoice creation. All of these processes can be automated with a workflow system like Zapier, which connects software together, so something that occurs in one piece of software (a trigger) causes something to occur elsewhere (an action).

Carving out time to plan out the process may seem like a bit of a pain, but it’s worth it in the long run, as the same processes will continue with little involvement from you.

As an example, I have a client who used to manually send out course evaluations a week after a course. Using Zapier, we’ve now set up a spreadsheet to collate all bookings, contact data is entered automatically from her eCommerce system, course dates are auto-filled, and emails are sent automatically from her Outlook email address with the course evaluation request at the right time.

Following this, her pre- and post-course communications are now all automated, invoices are created and marked as paid where appropriate, contact data is added and updated in the CRM automatically, and my client suddenly has much more time on her hands. Outside of her website and invoice software (which are required regardless), the only technology she pays for in this instance is Zapier.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation for me is about marrying efficiency and personalisation. It must improve the user experience for both parties, otherwise it doesn’t work.

I’ve found that you don’t need to break the bank by signing up to expensive platforms. You can actually automate quite a few basic marketing processes, using free or low-cost technology to boost your efficiency.

What you want to achieve with marketing automation will be determined by your strategy, but by being mindful of the goal at the start, you can ensure that the data you collect is ready to be segmented without many intervening steps. Options for marketing automation reach far and wide, but for an SME dipping your toe into automation, I would recommend starting with processes like:

  • Form responses and workflows
  • Social media posting
  • Drip email campaigns

When you think marketing automation, chances are you think platforms like HubSpot – which is fabulous for things like automatic segmentation, data and campaign management, lead scoring and funnel management. It can be scaled, but gets pricey quickly, so it’s not a place I’d recommend starting.

Getting started with the basics

There are four steps to marketing automation:

  1. Data collection
  2. Segmentation and targeting
  3. Workflow automation
  4. Delivery

For the basics, I would start with sorting your website auto-responses – for example every time someone completes a form or places an order on your website – what do they receive? Could it be more personalised? Could you be keeping a lead warm for longer, with more touchpoints? As I already mentioned, setting up the data collection process with the other steps in mind will mean a clear path for automation and less room for error.

For your social media, I’d recommend using a platform like Hootsuite, which is free for three platforms, and you can save time by scheduling repeat posts. Zapier can be leveraged for tasks like automatically sharing Instagram posts to your Twitter account, or responding to new followers with a set message.

For drip email campaigns, you can use email software that offers automation like MailChimp, or even automate them from your own email account if you want it to appear to have a more personal touch.

As with most marketing, automation is a matter of testing, learning and optimising. Once you have the basics nailed, you’ll probably start noticing other areas of your business where you can expand your automation, for both admin and marketing.