Quick question for you small business owners out there – What is ONE THING you wish you had more of? Everybody, answer all at once –
That’s right – time!
If only we had more time in the day, then surely we would get caught up and not feel so rushed. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who is constantly thinking “Maybe next week I’ll get caught up and be able to spend more time on x”.
Well, I have good news and bad news for all of us when it comes to managing time. The world of automation is upon us. There now are so many tools out there that we should be able to automate all sorts of tasks that we do manually now. That sounds like good news, doesn’t it? So why do I say that it’s good news and bad news?
Save Time with Automation!
The trick is to determine WHAT to automate and WHAT to hold onto. Case in point. I received two emails from two different companies in the last couple weeks. They seemed remarkably similar to me. See what you think:
Hi Kelly — I hope Learn Start Grow is doing great this year. It seems you are around the Altoona area, it must be mostly sunny today in the day time (39 F). We’re inviting people with similar backgrounds to an exclusive session below.
I like what you do, and I was intrigued when reading about your company. If I understood it right, Learn More to Start or Grow your Business. It sounds amazing, and I look forward to learning more.
– – – – – – – – –
Hi Kelly — I hope you are having a nice week. It seems you are around the Altoona area. Have you been to Centennial Park? I’ve heard nice things. We’re inviting people like you to an exclusive session below.
I like what you do, and I was intrigued when reading about your company. If I understood it right, Learn More to Start or Grow Your Business. It sounds interesting, and I look forward to learning more.
Did you read these and think – Wow! This person must have done some serious research on you Kelly! They know where you live and what the temperature is!!
AND they have heard nice things about Centennial Park in beautiful Altoona. They must really care about you. Plus, they like what you do and want to learn more. And they clearly have been to your website where it says in giant letters “Learn More to Start or Grow Your Business.”
Or did you think (as I did) – Wow! This sounds like a message that was artificially generated by a program that looks up where I live and tries to incorporate that into the message to make it feel like they know me. They probably sent thousands of strange messages like this to thousands of companies without any concern about what I do and who I serve. I wonder how much that cost and if anyone took the bait?
Don’t Automate Personal Messages
That, my friends, is a suggestion on what NOT to automate. In a situation like sales or lead generation, the more personal you ACTUALLY are, the better. Your prospective customers would never expect you to comment on a local park or the current temperature in their town. Instead, they want to know that you understand their business issues and have a solution to help.
Instead, take the time to really understand your prospects and how your particular product or service will help them make money, or save money or time. And if you are going to reach out by email it should ideally be to people who know you already. I’d hazard a guess that unsolicited emails are not the most productive method of sales outreach. And unsolicited emails written by a bot are even less productive or successful.
Now you could certainly consider a little content writing help from a tool like Copy.ai that can help create copy for your website, email newsletters or social media posts. But don’t post anything until a human has read it, as AI hasn’t fully evolved just yet.
Some Helpful Places to Automate
So where does it pay to try to automate processes? To some extent that depends on the size of your business. However, in times like now where small businesses are having trouble hiring employees, finding ways to automate tasks can really be beneficial.
- eCommerce: Are you selling any products or services online? Maybe it’s time to look into it, even if what you’re selling doesn’t seem to lend itself to online sales. Research shows that nearly three-quarters of B2B decision makers are open to making “fully self-serve” purchases of $50,000 or more. Are you selling anything online?
- Project Management: There are plenty of tools (many with low cost or free versions) that can help manage projects even across multiple locations – or with a hybrid work situation where some work from home and some are in the office or shop. Take a look at tools like Basecamp, Trello or Asana.
- Calendar management: If you’re not already using Calendly, it’s time to set it up. I’m not making any money from this suggestion; I just feel that it makes the “schedule a meeting with me” option so much faster and easier. Prospective customers, vendors or employees can access your calendar and schedule a Zoom call or phone call without you being involved at all.
- Other options: Consider automating your social media posts so you don’t have to do that yourself or assign the task to someone else. Make sure your purchase order and invoicing system is as automated as possible. Same thing with payroll.
Robots aren’t replacing humans just yet
There has been a lot in the news lately about robots taking over all sorts of jobs, including serving food at restaurants, cleaning up tables at Google and helping parents get their hands on the latest toy.
When it comes to industrial robots, the current labor shortage is making them more and more attractive. Orders for robots are higher than ever this year. And smaller factories are finding that the emergence of robotic modules that connect over the assembly line can replace low wage employees. This can even make it easier to re-shore manufacturing facilities. Yup, U.S. built robots might be taking jobs away from China.
But the robots still have a lot to learn from humans. For example, voice assistants (like Siri or Alexa) have become more and more popular. But they are really just searching the Internet for an answer, and that answer may not be accurate or helpful. Recent research shows that you should not be asking health-related questions of your voice assistant, because they are prone to find medically incorrect information or no information at all. And using a chatbot for customer service works just great, until customers get angry. The chatbots have not yet figured out how to handle an angry human.
Now a robot for fun might work just fine, like Amazon’s Astro robot now available for Christmas gift giving. But you need to be comfortable with a new level of surveillance if you have a robot that sees and hears you following you around the house!
Small vs Large Businesses
As a small business owner, it is becoming more and more important to pay attention to these technology trends. What options can help your business save time or money? And what options still need a little work?
Where can a robot or an automated system help keep things moving forward or limit your need for help? And where is it important that the humans remain in charge? Or even that the humans don’t seek to automate a difficult task. I’d be willing to hazard a guess that you have never laid off hundreds of people by Zoom!
Make sure to set aside time to regularly consider the future of your small business and how you can continue to operate a successful business as the world embraces technology and automation. And bear in mind that sometimes that personal touch of a small business owner is a lot more appealing than the automated or time-saving choices being made by the bigger corporations!
So much change is underway, it can be a challenge to keep up with it all. How will automation, blockchain, climate change, demographic shifts and other external forces impact your business and your customers? Join me to keep an eye on these topics and more, to prepare your business for a successful future. Start by subscribing to my biweekly blog posts by email so you don’t miss anything!