The ultimate guide to automating business processes

Written by Maddy Leslie

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Communications automation
    1. The basics of automating communications
    2. Progress reports
    3. A few rules for good measure
  3. Marketing automation
    1. Switching from analogue to digital
    2. Following customer footsteps
    3. Marketing automation tools
    4. Doing better business
  4. HR and administration automation
    1. Is it worth automating such little tasks?
    2. Every second counts
    3. The cherry on top of admin automation
  5. Bureaucracy or your business: Only one will survive
    1. You can’t make more time, but you can increase its value
    2. What about my job?
    3. Important vs valuable
    4. See a need, fill a need

Introduction

01-chapter-Chapter 1- Introduction-01

Automating business processes is on the side of the angels. The robot angels, that is. We’re not saying a human touch isn’t absolutely vital for your business – quite the opposite, in fact. Humans are essential for business communication, empathy, building bridges and spending time on high-value, creative or complex tasks. Robots can’t replace these processes.

Some processes within a business, however, should be automated. Automation frees up time to focus on the right objectives.

Let’s break this down into areas that are a part of any business, big or small.

Communications automation

02-chapter-Chapter 2- Communications automation-01

It's important you keep up-to-date with what your team is doing, know when a document has been updated, and manage your calendar carefully. The process of doing each of these things tends to take up more time than it’s worth, though.

Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks to automate some of the drudgery and get straight down to the communication.

The basics of automating communications

Repeat meeting reminders can be set up for team catch-ups or progress-update calls with clients. You send it out once, people accept it once and it pops up in their calendar regularly. No messy back and forth every time.

Shared calendars mean people know when their colleagues are free for a chat or working flat-out to prepare for a client presentation. Google Apps calendar or Office 365 calendars, since they’re hosted in the cloud, are shareable and kept constantly up-to-date as long as there is internet access. (Just, FYI, Turbine syncs with your calendar to update any time off, too.)

Progress reports

Knowing what your colleagues are working on and what progress is being made across the business is incredibly useful for increasing motivation and helping employees understand how their work fits in to the bigger picture. On the other hand, meetings suck the life out of people faster than you can say ‘calendar invite’.

iDoneThis is a simple little tool that sends you a daily email asking, ‘what have you done today?’ All you have to do is reply. You can keep track of your own progress or use the team setting so that it’s shared with your colleagues. A little automatic reminder can go a long way. 

Zapier can be put to all sorts of uses. One handy way we use it is to automatically post to Slack when one of our blog posts go live. We have a few writers from our sister company, Articulate, who write for the blog, but they don’t always know when their work will get posted. This lets them, and the rest of the team, see their work in action without any need for human intervention.

A few rules for good measure

We know that bureaucracy is bad. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have procedures, rules and processes in place so that people know how to do what they need to do. In other words, it’s worth making a few actions automatic for everyone.

‘At many companies, decision rights and processes are so ill defined that the organisation devotes more time to managing the matrix than to decision making and execution.’

       Mankins, Brahm and Caimi.

Their solution? Standardise the decision process.

Similarly, with project management, creating templates and rules for work allocation can ensure nothing is left out in the briefing process; everyone knows what they’re doing, and deadlines don’t get missed.

Automating communications doesn't suck the life out of interactions. It eliminates the barriers between people to make work more human focused.

Marketing automation

03-chapter-Chapter 3-Marketing automation

You might not think of marketing as a hub of bureaucracy, but you’d be amazed at the ad-hoc processes that persist, making for an inefficient sales funnel and risking lost leads.

Marketing automation is a must.

Switching from analogue to digital

Old-school marketing meant pushing out messages and hoping someone listened. Email blasts, advertising campaigns and one-sided conversations told customers what companies wanted them to hear.

Things are different now.

Buying decisions begin online, usually via search engines. The average buyer is a long way through the buying process before they are willing to engage with a salesperson.

Reviews, websites, social media and the pervasive ‘Google it’ mentality mean that businesses can no longer control the messages that customers receive. But you can still be part of the learning process. 

Following customer footsteps

Because so many buying decisions now take place online, there is an opportunity to see where customers go for their information and what problems they’re trying to solve.

You can build marketing campaigns that are tailored to a typical buyer journey, delivering useful content and gradually nurturing them towards a conversion into a customer.

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Even after a sale is made, it’s worth watching where they go so you can continue delighting them. You’ll then have opportunities to cross sell, upsell and create brand advocates.

This concept is known as inbound content marketing, which isn’t automated in itself, but the tools you can use to deploy it are.

Marketing automation tools

There are quite a few tools out there now, such as HubSpot and Marketo, which not only track the digital footprints of potential customers, but also link them together and store their data. This allows you to categorise leads by behaviour and put them into automated workflows.

HubSpot image

Say, for example, someone visits your website and downloads an eBook designed to speak to CEOs of tech start-ups, one of your ideal buyer personas. Here’s how the process might go:

  1. They’ve filled in a lead-capture form, so you’ve got a name and an email address at the very least.
  2. They then enter the workflow for that particular type of buyer and tailored emails are automatically sent.
  3. Their details can then be sent to sales for a follow up call.

‘The process is fine-tuned continuously in response to which leads convert into what kind of deals, to changes in the competitive marketplace and changes in the company's product and service offerings.’ 

       David Tebbutt, Writer.

Doing better business

Marketing automation means that you can focus your marketing efforts on the most promising and appropriate leads. Time is spent following up with leads rather than trying to remember who they are or when you last spoke to them.

In slightly larger businesses, the introduction of software into the marketing process is an opportunity for marketing, IT and sales to work closely together, increasing the efficiency and growth of the business.

‘If the CMO and CIO get their heads together and agree on what's important from both points of view, and harmonious with the company's goals and priorities, then they can go into an MA [marketing automation] purchase, confident that both short-term and long-term objectives can be achieved.’ 

        David Tebbutt, Writer.

HR and Administration automation

04-chapter-Chapter 4- HR and administration automation

And so, we reach those truly demotivating tasks that seem to fill more and more of our working lives: administrivia. All those little ‘I’ll just’ and ‘before I do…’ that add up to a major productivity drain for you and your business. 

Is it worth automating such little tasks?

Consider this: eliminating a 30-second task that you perform ten times a day will save you six days over five years. Take a look at this graph from xkcd:

XKCD

Every second counts

Here are a few admin automation time savers for earning those extra hours, days and weeks back:

  • Set up some inbox rules. If the sender is x, move to file one. If the email contains keyword y, move to project file two. And so on. It might take an hour of your life to set it up, but you get a lifetime of automatic filing.
  • Backup. Look into cloud storage likeDropbox or OneDrive so that when you save a file, it’s automatically backed-up to the cloud. 
  • Cloud apps. A lot of apps now work so that they sync across different devices. Take Evernote, for example: add a note or save a web page and it will be there whether you’re on your laptop, your PC or even your phone.
  • Single sign-on.Who wishes they’d spent more time remembering usernames and passwords? When you’re shopping about for new apps to use, check whether they offer single sign-on. You can log into Turbine, for example, using a Google account.

The cherry on top of admin automation

Of course, if you employ admin automation through shared files and cloud syncing then you’re enabling mobile working in the process. This allows people to work in the way that’s best suited to the task at hand, increasing the value of your time and theirs.

Nicholas Bloom, cofounder of the Chinese travel website, Ctrip, ran an experiment where he allowed half of his call centre staff to work remotely. ‘It is estimated that it saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months,’ says Bloom.

Of course, mobile working is another kettle of fish entirely, involving a change in how you manage employees, keep track of a distributed workforce and ensure that you keep everyone in touch. Automation is, however, a helpful step towards an agile and ever-more productive company.

‘Even companies that create innovative products rarely innovate when it comes to process,’ says Leslie Perlow.

Bureaucracy or your business: only one will survive

05-chapter-5- Bureaucracy or your business- Only one will survive

With knowledge workers spending an average of 41 percent of their time on ‘discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction,’ bureaucratic processes are stealing time, money and motivation from your business.

Bureaucracy masquerades as a painful but essential part of business. Until now, it has been the only accepted way of handling processes like HR, purchases, communication. While the processes might be necessary, the bureaucracy isn’t. 

You can't make more time, but you can increase its value

Time is money. It’s an old saying, but it still rings true. Of course, the savvy business person will ask ‘how much money?’

Time spent filling in forms or answering pointless emails is worth a lot less than time spent closing a sale or working on a client project. Many businesses, however, fail to make the distinction and are throwing money away in the process.

A few organisations buck the trend and ‘bring as much discipline to their time budgets as to their capital budgets,’ say Michael Mankins, Chris Brahm and Gregory Caimi.

Such companies have identified low-value, high-time tasks and set a specific limit on them, putting approval procedures in place for any overspend as you would a normal budget. Doing so has not only improved the productivity of individuals but has also initiated an organisation-wide shift towards greater efficiency and value.

What about my job?

A lot of activities that individuals are paid to perform could be automated in many industries – a scary thought. Don’t let this stop you from automating where you can, though. It just means that job descriptions are likely to change, and that us humans will have more time to do the really valuable work.

Automation can work in concert with us, increasing employees’ work capacity by freeing them up to focus on things other than bureaucratic maintenance. We’ll all become better workers as a result.

Sales teams, for instance, might use automation to identify the best opportunities for cross-selling and upselling, increasing the time spent actively interacting with customers.

With an app like Turbine, HR staff can establish recurring purchase orders, automatic attendance monitoring and hands-free time-off requests, allowing them to focus on the creative, emotional side of their jobs that robots just can’t do.

You won’t lose your job, you’ll get better at it.

Make time for what matters

‘In today’s knowledge economy, competitive advantage is increasingly coming from the particular, hard-to-duplicate know-how of a company’s most skilled people. The goal is to redesign the role so that people are spending all their time at the high end of their skill set.’

This insight comes from a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on redesigning knowledge work, but the argument is applicable on a far broader scale. Virtually every position in a company should be earning its keep, adding to revenue or growth.

Take HR, for example – it’s a department that has no direct contact with clients, and no role in product development. It is, however, responsible for the growth of the company and managing its skill set. Company culture, training, development and talent retention are vital to the success of the company, and that’s how HR earns its keep. With that said, too much bureaucracy means that HR professionals rarely get to spend enough time on those tasks.

In light of the HBR quote, it can be argued that almost every person’s role should be redesigned so that they are ‘spending their time at the high end of their skill set.’

Important vs valuable

Identifying which tasks need to be automated, delegated or eliminated is relatively easy when you sit down, look at your to-dos and ask:

  • What brings me personal value?
  • What brings the company value?
  • Am I the only one that can perform this task?
  • Does this task even really need doing?

See a need, fill a need

If you want a little help, HBR even offers an assessment tool for figuring out what work matters. 

At Turbine, we do one better – try out our tools for purchase orders, expenses and time-off requests. Free up your HR team’s time for the things that make a real difference.

Automate, delegate, communicate. Try it for free.

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Admin automation , solving business problems , workplace automation