The last couple of years have seen a lot of brouhaha over automation taking over jobs and disrupting industries. While a lot of it is true, the tales of automation taking over the world have been greatly exaggerated. Today I want to give you an overview of where automation is at and what it can do for your small business. What I don’t want to do is sell you a Ted talk or a vision of robot overlords doing all our work for us.
As small business owners, there are two things that we focus on in our work on a day to day basis:
- Value creation
- Value maintenance
We’ll talk about small business automation in these terms so that it can be applied today to day decision making on what to automate and how to do it.
Automating value creation at your small business
“This week, Hewlett-Packard (where I am on the board) announced that it is exploring jettisoning its struggling PC business in favor of investing more heavily in software, where it sees a better potential for growth. Meanwhile, Google plans to buy up the cellphone handset maker Motorola Mobility. Both moves surprised the tech world. But both moves are also in line with a trend I’ve observed, one that makes me optimistic about the future growth of the American and world economies, despite the recent turmoil in the stock market.
In short, software is eating the world.”
– Marc Andreessen, Spring 2011
In the earlier days, the software world was separated from the brick and mortar world. All the earlier, big software products existed in a world of their own – Facebook, Twitter, even e-commerce behemoth Amazon was not eating into brick and mortar sales until the last couple of years.
Things have changed massively in the 6 years since Marc Andreessen wrote about software eating the world. Amazon has been growing so fast that it now it owns twice as much square footage than it did in 2012. Restaurants that don’t have a physical store and deliver food through Uber eats and Postmates are becoming increasingly popular, a gym in 2019 is not just competing against other gyms, it’s competing against Netflix, Strava and Nike run. In short, software is everywhere.
But what has also changed is that it is now quite easy to create your own software.
Once upon a time, creating good software was limited to a species that small business owners did not understand that they called “coders”. The last couple of years have seen a lot of tools pop up that help you create your own software without writing any code at all. This is a type of business automation that did not exist even 3-4 years back. You no longer have to hire a full-fledged agency to build you a website or hire 3 developers just to make and maintain a small internal tool.
Here is a list of no-code tools and what you can use them for.
Creating a CMS driven website
A good CMS driven website has been essential for a small business for a while now, but it is surprising how few small businesses have this. These are a few tools you could use to make a CMS driven website.
- Webflow – Simple SMS, good design
- WordPress – Always reliable with extra customization
- Wix – Build a website like building a Lego
- Intro to web development by Lambda School
- Class Central – Pick of the best intro to web development classes out there
Creating a simple landing page
If you want to create a simple landing page for marketing your business, running Facebook ads or to promote seasonal offers, these are some of the tools that you can use.
- Carrd – Simple single page websites if you want to make something quick
- Instapage – More number of features, more customization
Now we are getting to the true magic of what automation can do for you. Imagine making a web app or mobile app by yourself 2-3 years back? You would probably have to quit working on your business for sometimes and spent all your time pulling your hair out as you make your way through the nuance of software and code. No more. Use these tools instead:
- Mobile app with Thunkable
- Voice app using Voiceflow
- Complex web app combining Zapier and Airtable
- Facebook Messenger bot for your shop powered by Octane AI
- Turn a Google Sheet into a website with heet2Site
- Internal dashboards and tools with Retool
Resources for helping you with creating apps without code
Automating value maintenance at your small business
So you have a business that is running smoothly. Now all you want to do is either run it sustainably with as little overhead as possible or focus on growing your business without being bogged down by the mundane day to day repetitive tasks. These are a few tools that will help you do just that
Automating repetitive small tasks
Things such as organizing all your Facebook leads/comments in a Google sheet so that you can reach out or respond to them, capturing more data in Dropbox or your favorite note-taking apps. These are the most popular tools you can use for that
- Zapier – Connecting apps that you use for businesses so that you can avoid mundane and repetitive tasks
- IFTT – The same use case as Zapier but more for personal and home tasks
- Airtable – Not a big fan of Excel or Google Sheets? This is an app that gives you all that functionality without any of the headaches.
Automating your marketing and sales
Marketing and sales productivity can take a hit if you spend a lot of time doing things that can be automated with ease. A lot of salespeople say that finding and qualifying prospects take up a lot of their time. In fact data entry has been the chief complaint of salespeople for a long time.
A few tools you can use to automate marketing
- LinkedIn Sales Navigator/Mattermark+ Hunter.io – Find emails and details of the people you want to prospect
- MailChimp/Klaviyo – Create aesthetic emails to send out to prospects or customers
- Hubspot – All in one tool to automate marketing and sales
- Wordstream – Struggling with Google Adwords? Let the marketing experts at Wordstream help you
Automating Customer Engagement
So you’ve got customers and you are running a good sustainable business. But, have you tapped into your existing list of customers to make them loyal users who use your business again and again? You have all the data you need and instead of painstakingly going through your database to reach out to random users with the hope of winning them back, you can use automation to make a process for it.
This is what we help you do at Gleantap. Automate your reach outs to existing customers via text, email, and mobile push notifications.
Customer engagement is becoming even more important in 2019 because unlike 10 or even 5 years ago, a lot of products are competing for the attention of your customers. Attention, as you know, is the new currency and you don’t want to be left behind, especially when you can do it with less effort than ever before.
I know, I know. Of course, there are other tools that help you do this, I’ll do a review and a list of the other tools in another blog 🙂
Automation has a lot of promise, especially for small businesses that want to keep overheads light and reduce the number of mundane tasks that you have to do every day. You can use these tools to automate parts of your value creation and value maintenance and this will help you focus on the things that are more important – be it spending time with your kids or on focussing on growing your business.