Buzzwords. Automation. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Not many things upset me, but filling up my social media feed with more industry “news” about machine learning, artificial intelligence and the death of the bookkeeper just makes my blood boil. I want more people to write about the practical aspects of business. To share the how. Let’s all talk about what works. Not more abstract content about what could be! Automation is the topic we have decided to discuss this month, to bring it down to earth and tackle the practical how-to’s. In this article, I will share with you what automation is on a practical level, how to get started with automation in your business and the ways in which WhichAddOn clients around the world are already growing their business with automation.
What Is Automation?
Automation, to me, is the process of understanding what you do manually on a regular basis and programming software to do this for you, completely or much faster than you can do it manually. If you can replace a step in your workflow normally conducted by a person and have it completed by a software solution, you are going to save time and free up your staff, or yourself, to be able to work on tasks that make you more money. Over the years, automation has grown to sometimes leave a bad taste in people’s mouth. Automation, to some, feels too impersonal. So they think it’s better to just keep doing things the manual way, the long way – the harder way. With automation, once you have worked out what your manual process is, there are often many ways you can make the process faster and even more personal because your reaction times are faster. We all know that faster and proactive service trumps reactive and manual service processes any day.
The Fundamentals Of Automation
As you know by now, I love to make the complex simple. Automation doesn’t have to be complex. It doesn’t have to take days to brainstorm and setup, but it will take some initial thinking. Let’s take something simple everyone knows how to do, like making a cup of tea. If you were to automate the process of making a cup of tea, maybe building one of those tea making machines, you would first need to understand the process of making tea.
- You boil the water.
- Put the tea bag in the cup.
- Put a teaspoon of sugar in the teacup, if
you want it.
- Add the boiled water to the cup.
- Stir the tea bag in the water and then take
- Add some milk, if you want it.
- Enjoy the tea. Mmmm…. I love tea. Hahaha
It’s a process and the same thing happens every time. When you have processes like this in your business, where the same thing happens every time, you have the opportunity to automate. When you automate using the amazing software tools available to you every day, then you can save staff time, have streamlined service standards across the business and it also makes it easier for you if staff change. The process still stays the same. If you are completely new to the idea of automation in your business, let’s look at a basic process first. You send and receive emails, right? Let’s look at email templates.
Have you got emails that you send that are often the same? Let’s say a new client email. Here’s an example of the email template we have in our CRM and project management system, Accelo, that I sent to all new leads that are introduced to me.
Each time I add an opportunity into my pipeline in Accelo, which I can do very quickly from inside my Gmail account, Accelo will prefill this email for me as soon as I am ready to progress the opportunity from Lead to Arrange Initial Call.
Before we used Accelo in our business, we used Gmail Canned Responses. If you are a Google Apps or Gmail user and haven’t yet discovered the joy canned responses can bring to get you started on your automation journey, please check out our WhichAddOn article by Marlon Wambeek on How to Create Canned Responses in Gmail.
Other software systems that we use and setup every day for clients that use email templates are inventory management systems like DEAR Inventory and Cin7. In DEAR Inventory, for example, when you create a purchase order to send off to a supplier to request products that you want to purchase, you will often say the same thing over and over again.
Here’s PO-1234 for some products we need as soon as possible.
Please confirm you have received this Purchase Order and if you are able to supply these goods by the required date, 17/4/2018. Any questions at all, please contact our Purchasing Officer, Jane Doe, on 02 9000 0000.
My Example Business
In DEAR Inventory, you can set up email templates that pre-fill the email with the details of the purchase order you are sending. In the above example, the Supplier Contact First Name, Purchase Order number and Required By Date.
Other workflow scenarios that we set email templates for clients using DEAR Inventory and Cin7 include:
- Sending an order confirmation to a customer once their order has been confirmed
- Sending an email notification to the customer that their order has been shipped including the carrier, tracking code and link to the tracking website
- Sending an invoice to a customer for payment before the order can be shipped out
- Sending an invoice to the customer when the order is shipped instead of sending a paper copy with the order
- Sending an invite to a customer with their login to the business B2B portal so they can order online with the business anytime 24/7.
One more example for you of how you can utilise email templates in your business. Early 2017, we implemented Cin7, a powerful inventory management system into the Australian manufacturer, Pana Chocolate. Pana Chocolate makes handmade, raw, vegan chocolates that can’t be shipped out to customers on hot days because it melts.
We needed to assist them in creating an email that could be sent in bulk to all customers awaiting their orders to advise them that their order would be later than expected due to the hot weather conditions. In Cin7, this was easy to do. First, we asked for the email template and added that into Cin7. We then activated the bulk email feature. The process now, which used to take the Pana Chocolate team hours on a hot day, only takes seconds. They can go to their Open Sales Orders list and filter the sales by Estimated Time of Delivery (ETD), bulk update the ETD on all relevant open sales orders and then select Actions > Bulk Update Email to send out all emails at once to the customers awaiting their orders.
Such a simple process that can be solved with great software systems, like Accelo, DEAR Inventory and Cin7. If you aren’t using automation techniques with email templates in your business yet, today is the day to start.
Automatic Workflow Triggers & Alerts
OK, so now email templates are out of the way, let’s discuss automatic workflow triggers. The best system we have seen in action so far is Accelo. Another system we love alerts from is FUTRLI.
First, Accelo. As mentioned above, Accelo is our CRM and project management system of choice. Wouldn’t you love to know when a project or job that your team is doing has gone 30% over budget – without you running a report to work it out yourself.
What about knowing that your sales representatives haven’t contacted one of their key accounts in over 21 days when you said that had to happen? Oh, and what about knowing when an email from your client has been sent to one of your team members asking for help and it hasn’t been answered in 24 hours as you have promised your clients it would be!
You can use automatic triggers in Accelo to automatically notify you and members of your team on exact scenarios like this. I could write examples for pages here and maybe another day, we will arrange to have a series of blogs on our WhichAddOn site explaining how to set up each one. For now, the best place to get all the information you need on Triggers in Accelo is this Best Practices webinar recording from the Accelo team which you can watch by clicking on the video below.
Another system that has a form of automatic triggers, called alerts, is FUTRLI. FUTRLI, formerly Crunchboards, is our system of choice for client dashboards, budgeting, forecasting, cash flow analysis, consolidation and what-if scenarios.
If you set income targets for your business each month, wouldn’t you like to be advised when you have hit your target? Or the other way, if you have set a budget for an expense, wouldn’t you like to know when your team have gone over it. There are many more alert scenarios which you can create – almost anything you want really. FUTRLI pulls your real-time data from Xero or QuickBooks Online and then can email you alerts to review your accounts before you even open FUTRLI, Xero or QuickBooks Online.
I am currently setting up FUTRLI for a client that will have 12 QuickBooks Online entities being consolidated and individually reported on in FUTRLI. Shown in the image below is an example automatic alert that was triggered and sent to my email on sign up, alerting me to the fact that the expenses for the month were over the target value.
Sell Your Products and Services 24/7
Ever wanted to sell your products or services 24/7?
Sure you have!
Maybe you already have an online website where people can buy your products or contact you to book your services. If they are going to your website, can they book a time with you directly without emailing or calling you? If a wholesale customer who has special wholesale pricing with you wants to buy from you, do they have to email you or wait until morning to phone your sales team to place an order – and they enter it manually into your inventory system?
Oh, my friend. There is a better way! And what’s even more exciting is that what I am sharing with you today about automation, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many ways you can create a personalised, streamlined business that customers love.
So how do I get people booking in consulting calls with me at any time of the day or night, filling up my pipeline and calendar, without any effort from me? Firstly, I use Google Calendar to record all the appointments and commitments I have already. This includes travel time, preparing for demonstrations, my family commitments – everything!
Secondly, I use an online booking system called 10to8.com. I used to use YouCanBoookMe.com, however, I switched to 10to8.com earlier this year as it provides greater automation functionality. For example, when a customer books a scope call with me online at any time, it sends them an email and SMS confirming their booking. Then it sends me an email notifying me of the booking and adds it to my Google Calendar. The great thing is that no matter how busy my Google Calendar is or what time zone the customer is booking in, 10to8.com only shows my customer booking a time with me, the available spots left in my calendar to book.
This saves me a whole lot of time back and forth with the customer trying to organise the best time to catch up. There are many solutions out there. Calendly is a common one also, however, 10to8.com was my choice for a number of reasons. There is so much more I can do to automate with 10to8.com, Zapier and Accelo which I will do, but for now just the basic setup with 10to8.com is great for our team. Check out my online booking calendar here: jeri.10to8.com
So now we have discussed just one way you can start selling your services any time, day or night. For the businesses out there that aren’t selling your products online at all yet, there are so many ways you can reach more customers with your products. You can read more about e-commerce platforms like Shopify and Neto on our website, WhichAddOn. However, you are likely already aware of these platforms.
What I want to share with you is the power of B2B or Business to Business portals. The inventory systems that we use predominantly are, DEAR Inventory and Cin7. Both of these inventory management systems have a B2B module, which will enable you to sell to your customers 24/7 with their own individualised B2B portal login. It doesn’t matter if the customer has their own special pricing arrangement with you when they log in to their B2B portal with their login, they will see their prices.
Not only that, it’s easy to manage a B2B portal as the product data is pulled from the main database. When you update the product data, like images and descriptions in the main product database, this information flows into the B2B portal automatically.
More Automation Tips
There are so many different ways you can start automating your business!
If you would like more automation tips for your business, like the ones we have shared with you here today, please let us know! Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you want to know more about when it comes to growing your business with automation.
We also have more automation tips in our WhichAddon Magazine Issue 2: Automation in the cloud. Get your copy for free right now by filling the form below.