Making Automation Work for Small Business

Automation is the bane of our existence. We ask for help from any company out there and we have to ramble our way through phone menus that drive us nuts, or support menus on the internet that have everything but the option that we need.

Gotta love those menus that pre-determine your needs: Would you like to make a payment? Would you like to check your balance? Would you like to speak to a sales representative? No option for talking to a real person.

No, I want to speak to a human being because your system screwed up my account and I want it fixed.

But they didn’t give you that option, so you are effectively shut out.

Automation gone bad. Big companies can sometimes get away with it, because they are the 800 lb gorilla, which is gonna be there even if you don’t like the way they automate parts of their business.

For a small business, that would kill you! People expect a person to answer the phone – or at least an answering machine with a real person promising to call back. Small businesses are EXPECTED to be personal.

Making the leap from “I do it all myself” to intelligent automation as a business grows can be tough. There’s a single rule though, that can make it far more effective, and help you avoid the pitfalls before you even reach them.

I say it a lot – so you may have heard it before. But I’ll repeat it anyway for anyone who may have missed it:

Automate the NON-PERSONAL aspects of your business. Keep the PERSONAL stuff PERSONAL.

Smart automation is a win-win, because it automates repetitive tasks which SHOULD be automated, saving you time so that you now have the ability to DO the personal stuff yourself. Plus it makes the results MORE CONSISTENT, and your product or service becomes more predictable. Higher quality results, not lower quality.

If you get it backward though, and just try to automate the thing you feel is taking up the most time (which it actually may not be), and it happens to be a thing that requires personal attention, your whole business appeal gets messed up, and you degrade the quality of service to the point of disaster.

Another important point, one that I have not said much before, is that when you do automate, especially if that automation involves customer interaction with the automation, make sure there is a REAL PERSON who is still accessible.

I don’t mean a support que or online chat. I mean that if they want to pick up the phone and call, or email you, that someone on the other end answers who is familiar with your product or service, and who KNOWS THE CUSTOMER. When a small business tries to behave like a big business, customers leave. The one major selling point with small businesses is that people really LIKE it when they feel like the business owner knows them. So having access to a friendly and helpful person who has a vested interest in the business, available on the other end of the phone or email is essential.

The last point is one of economics. Weigh the cost-benefit of every investment in automation. There is no point in investing hundreds, or thousands of dollars to automate a task that is not a money maker. I don’t mean that every task needs to generate revenue directly, rather, that if you have TIME, and no SALES, then investing in something to speed up operations is dumb. Increasing the efficiency of production only helps if you are making sales.

When you get to the point where investing in automation IS smart, because you could EARN more if you had the time to do so, And then you want to look at your operations and see where a smart investment would increase revenue enough to pay for itself and then some. Some types of automation never will pay for themselves for small businesses, other types are a no-brainer when you reach a certain sales volume – and those are the ones you want to implement at the right time.

Don’t get caught up in hype, or think that just because everyone else has it you have to have it too. A local NRCS office with a staff of four people, charged with managment and disbursment of grants in the amount of $50,000 per year, with a fairly low volume of traffic in the office or on the phone, spent $164,000 to install an automated phone system. This, when they had a receptionist, and KEPT the receptionist on the payroll once the system was installed. Bad move. They feel they can do that because it isn’t their money, and they don’t have to show a profit, or even any kind of justification for the expense. You can’t afford such stupidity – you haven’t got other people to suck it off of to pay for it.

Automate smart, and it will pay you back, and your customers will continue to feel they are getting what they need. Do it wrong, and they’ll wander off to someone who understood better than you how to do it intelligently.

Our company is now offering Cottage Industry Consulting, and can assist you in making good automation choices for your small business.

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