Boosting Your SMB's Efficiency with Automation Tools

edited August 2023 in Business

Surveys show that as much as 94% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have repetitive, menial tasks in their recurring to-do list. This calls for more attention to task automation in the office. But what is automation, and what are automation tools?

Put simply, automation tools are software that can streamline and “automate” routine tasks in a workplace. They free employees from having to engage in menial tasks that take up time and mind space, thus allowing them to invest more energy in higher-level tasks that require decision-making, innovation, and critical thinking. This is why they are often used in Business Project Management (BPM) – with merely a few keystrokes, automation tools can easily take care of some necessary but trivial business processes. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) has also improved task automation, as AI can use “past experience” to refine task performance over time.

Automation tools: why they are essential for SMBs

Automation tools can service both large-scale corporates and small-to-medium businesses (SMBs), but the reason for their significance differs slightly. In SMBs where resources such as time, funds, and manpower can be scarce, automation tools can really be a game changer. Here are some examples of why: 

1) It reduces errors 

When engaging in technical tasks, humans are always prone to error. From data management to message replies, automated tools are convenient as they operate with high levels of consistency. It may, at times, eliminate the risk of costly human-caused mistakes. 

2) It boosts collaboration among colleagues

As automation tools are designed to improve multiple areas of the workplace, less time is now spent on document management, and more time on collaboration and building the discussions that matter for business.

3) It cuts costs in daily operations

Although automation tools are often not free for use, in the long run, they can still be significantly cheaper than hiring actual personnel. Personnel require not only salaries, but also benefits and other costs related to training; automation tools require none of these, and the consistency is still there even when there is a handover in personnel. 

4) It creates quick, automated marketing, and customer service 

Automation tools can literally work around the clock, and interactions can be made with customers at every touchpoint. Marketing automation tools can not only serve as prompt customer service representatives, but also it can send or publish marketing materials at regular intervals. The promptness of automation can elevate customer satisfaction; automation tools can also help businesses create a professional outlook, and employees would not need to worry about feeling overwhelmed when going through their inboxes. 

Downsides of automation tools for SMBs

While not many in number, automation tools can also come with certain downsides, which may sometimes take a larger toll on SMBs. Consider the following possibilities:

1) Unexpected expenditures

To begin with, automation tools require extra planning with regard to expenditure. The expenditure does not stop at the purchase of software itself, but also any maintenance costs.  

2) Potential cyber risks

With cyber attacks getting more sophisticated, automation tools may also be a channel for criminals to seep into your data. Companies may therefore find themselves to be more susceptible to harm if their automation tools are not well protected.

3) Human intervention is still sometimes required

No software is perfect, and automation tools can occasionally break down. Take self-driving cars as an example: while they are hugely convenient and seemingly safer for society, updates and fixes should still be expected. Automation tools can also make mistakes when certain conditions are not optimal (e.g., accidents may happen with self-driving cars during evenings with poor visibility), which implies that updated safety hazards should be put in place as well. 

4) Automation tools can render some employees redundant

Finally, with the work efficiency of automation tools, there also arises the concern that some employees may be made redundant. There is hence the need for businesses to re-evaluate what type of manpower is needed and how to manage excess staff if automation tools were to largely take over. 

Automation for small businesses: some tools to use

When it comes to work automation tools, there are various types to consider, but the general ones include marketing automation tools and data automation tools. Examples of work automation solutions in different aspects of the workplace include the following:

1) Communications and marketing

MailChimp is a well-rated software that can help with automating emails and newsletters to thousands of subscribers, mostly for marketing purposes. It can also help users build their landing page, do A/B testing (i.e., splitting the audience on social media to test marketing strategies), and create social media advertisements.

2) Document organization

Airtable is a site with pre-made templates that automate the creation and sharing of data. Its strength lies in how it can be used with widely popular sites, such as Google Workspace, Facebook, Twitter, and Slack. Its interface is color-coded, clear, and highly user-friendly.

Docusign and Jotform can help companies stay organized with documents that require signatures, and they can also help automate the collection and storage of legally binding documents. Jotform even comes with hundreds of pre-established templates of forms to work with. These can include anything from HR files (e.g., leave request approval forms) to sales documents (e.g., customer registration and product order forms). 

3) Social media

Napoleon Cat is a useful automated tool that helps with ‘housekeeping’ and analysis on a business’s social media platforms. It can, for instance, help reply to repetitive questions on social media inboxes. It can also help analyze marketing and outreach performance on social media, helping a company visualize steps for improvement. 

4) Everyday business tasks

Microsoft Copilot is a powerful AI tool that can automate a variety of basic tasks for small to medium sized businesses. It can help with tasks such as generating code, writing documentation, creating presentations, managing email, and automating tasks. This can save businesses time and improve their productivity. As Copilot continues to develop, it will likely be able to automate even more tasks, making it an even more valuable tool for small to medium sized businesses. Unfortunately, Copilot is only available in a paid, private preview exclusive to a limited number of enterprises. However, when this tool becomes publicly accessible, it is certain to be immensely beneficial for numerous small to medium-sized businesses

The above-mentioned tools require little to no coding skills, so employees can get used to them immediately. In addition to saving time and operation costs, many of these automation tools are also affordable for SMBs, so they are worth the investment if strategically planned. With multiple tools at hand–each with its own purpose–it is also important to remind employees which tools are available and to have them make use of automated tools to the fullest.

The future of automation for SMBs

The advent of artificial intelligence implies that automation in the workplace is here to stay. Businesses need to develop versatility in embracing the possibilities of automation tools in redesigning the office. In this exciting path ahead, however, issues of safety – data security, privacy, and cybercrime – should still be continuously examined for more peace of mind among future users. 

Esme Lee is a science writer and editor in the UK, carrying a passion for tech copywriting. She has a background in educational neuroscience and holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge.


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