by Jim Martin
We live in uncertain times. Particularly as entrepreneurs. Even when we have stability, we worry it may be fleeting, since so much of our professional lives are outside our control. Hiring a new team member is a gamble, not just for the balance sheet, but because we may not be able to guarantee their paycheck.
You might keep payroll down and revenue up by automating parts of the business you had not considered. Here area few areas where automation could improve your bottom line.
Marketing Automation. A lot of people look at marketing as an art, but it’s really more of a science, relying heavily on experimentation and analytics. You might use one full-time employee, or maybe even a part-timer or freelancer, instead of hiring a whole team, IF you provide that one savvy marketeer with a package of inexpensive marketing automation tools. That’s what ecommerce retailer DollarHobbyz.com has done to scale business rapidly but cautiously. “We are in an age where there truly is an app for everything. The collection of great business apps for email, shipping, inventory, social media management, and more, has allowed us to increase our productivity and, ultimately, revenue,” cofounder Richard Arkell said. “We’ve invested many hours researching and implementing the most beneficial apps, and they have paid off a hundred-fold.”
Arkell added that their two-man marketing team uses apps to multiple their effort, but not their monthly budget. DollarHobbyz marketing team uses an array of tools: Moz SEO and website management tools; Ahrefs for social media and search engine automation (SEO); dotmailer email marketing and automation; Buzzsumo for content marketing and competitive analysis; and SEMrush for SEO and search engine marketing (SEM).
“We may only have two people in marketing right now, but they can handle what many companies devote entire teams to,” he said.
Sales automation. There are many sales tools, including, but not limited to customer relationship management software or CRM. You might start out with an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet, but you’ll eventually (particularly if you have a distributed sales team focusing on sales that take more than one call) have to upgrade to a CRM. While your team is small (five or fewer), you can’t go wrong with small business-focused CRMs like ZOHO or Insightly, both which have decent freemium plans (usually free up to a certain number of contacts). Opt for a sales tool that keeps your prospects’ contact information in order, works to prevent confusing account duplication and has some customizability. Since open-ended questions and their open-ended answers are important in building and maintaining client relationships, it’s nice to have a CRM with large text boxes where you can internally share details about the client and the sales process.
Customer support automation. Customer support software is a touchy topic; over-automating could not only lose future business, but risk your current customers. Good support automation means giving clients multiple places where they can find answers. Searchable knowledge-base tools automate the answering of common questions from pricing to payment to some technical questions. Social media tools like Hootsuite and Buffer may fit into the marketing column, but are most important for customer support. When something goes wrong, when customers are frustrated or can’t find your contact info, they resort to the public arenas of Facebook and Twitter first. To seem responsible and be responsive, you must use a social media monitoring tool that you and your colleagues have connected to your cell phone for fast response, any time, any place. Even if you simply respond by asking them to send you their problem details so you can fix it first thing Monday morning, both your current customers and those prospects peeking in on your social media channels will note you responded within the hour.
Once you’ve automated the basics, make sure customers know how and when they can get in touch with an actual human being. Your website footer and your social media must have a phone number or in-use Skype for customer service. You should show when support is available (and specify time zones), but then also offer a place with a simple form they can fill out with phone number and a few different times (with area code) to call them back.
When something goes awry, or even when a customer is clearly satisfied, other team members need to know. Opt for a customer support or tech support tool that integrates with your CRM or sales tools so that the sales rep can know if something went wrong on the support end and be prepared with how the call was handled. Most importantly, remember, you can automate but you can’t lose the human touch in your business, particularly with customer service.
Go with what works for you and your business. As a CEO or manager, you should examine each of your business processes and determine where automation will work for you and for your customers. Take advantage of business software free trials to experiment, and focus on tools that work together to streamline your operations. While software expenses are tax write-offs, adding more tools than you can use will slow you down. Experiment with the right level of automation for you and your team. And it’s not just automation that will grow your revenue rapidly. “Another huge contributor to keeping costs down and revenues up is teaching efficient practices in all areas of the business - whether it’s as complicated as assembling a product or as simple as teaching keystroke shortcuts on a keyboard, every efficiency means higher productivity and lower cast,” Arkell said.
Always look for the right combination of the human touch and the tricks of technology to make your business prosper.