Businesses must approve all sorts of documents every day, from invoices to time off requests to purchase orders. Without a good approval workflow system in place, all the time (and money) spent on approvals can rapidly start to add up.
Some companies get by with manual approval processes, perhaps relying on the strength of a highly effective operations manager. They email Excel spreadsheets around for signatures, or worse, rely on physical paper forms. But the modest amount of money saved by forgoing a more sophisticated or automated approval system can quickly evaporate through missed documents, lost discounts, and other human errors common with manual systems.
Savvier businesses have an automated workflow approval process.
Join us as we explore the basics of workflow approval, what business processes to automate, how to streamline the process, and how to use one software to do it.
The Basics of Approval Processes
So what even is an approval process? Before we get into detail a little later on how to implement a system, let’s cover a few basics for workflow approval processes.
Approval Processes, Defined
Simply put, an approval process can be anything that an organization utilizes to approve documents for everyday business activities like travel requests and purchase orders. It can also apply to new processes or systems that a company might want to implement. The better the approval process, the greater the odds that operations keep running smoothly.
Workflow approval processes are also codified within business structures, even informally, to ensure that the documents receive proper vetting and that nothing slips through the cracks. It can keep payments and documents from going missing, helping companies stay in compliance with strict regulatory guidelines.
The Downsides of Manual Approvals
For companies that don’t automate their approval systems, it means that every purchase order, contract, employee timecard, or any number of other documents must be manually reviewed by an employee and forwarded on to everyone in the approval chain.
As can probably be imagined, a manual approval process can easily become an inefficient, time-consuming, and frustrating process. It can also quickly become costly, with the average paper invoice costing anywhere from $12 to $30 to process according to Sterling Commerce.
Other key challenges associated with manual approvals include a lack of centralized knowledge about where items, documents, and other things needing approval are in the process.
There can also be delayed deliveries, missing payments to clients and from vendors, and slipshod management of documents.
The biggest gap might relate to production. A study by iPayables found that employees could process 12 times as many invoices electronically as manually, or 479 to 42 in a day, respectively.
Using Software to Create Tailored, Uniform Approval
A better option than relying on an outdated, manual workflow approval process is turning to software for a tailored and uniform system.
The software can guide users through the approval process, helping ensure that work gets done the same way for businesses every time. Benefits include time saved, increased efficiency, and greater assurance that a company will remain in compliance with whatever it’s doing.
Basic Steps of an Approval Process
Companies will of course want to customize their approval processes depending on a variety of factors from compliance requirements within their specific industry to the particulars of their company culture. Where one company might insist that their chief financial officer approve every purchase order over $500, another might set the limit at $10,000. You never know.
That being said, there are some common basic steps for many approval processes. Companies will need a submission portal, as well as ways to set who receives the submissions. Due dates can also be set, with reviewers receiving automatic notifications and alerts for when approval must be completed. Finally, most systems have ways to automatically store anything that’s approved within them, ensuring that documents are safely, reliably, and centrally maintained.
Business Approvals: 6 Processes to Automate
Now that we’ve covered the basics of approval processes, here are six processes that businesses can automate today to start saving time and money.
1. New Hire Onboarding
Nothing can feel like a drag on company growth like hiring and onboarding.
Generally, when you need new employees, it means that you’re already overloaded with work and need new help to keep everything running smoothly. So, the tedious process of handling onboarding paperwork can seem like a mile-high hurdle for growing companies.
Automating the new hire onboarding process — tax documents, payroll processes, and legal paperwork — can help your business quickly staff-up when you need it the most, and make sure nothing gets missed in the process.
3. Sign-Offs on Creative Work
Many companies these days have freelancers or junior staffers creating fine work that, unfortunately, disappears into a void once it’s done. Perhaps the work is attached to an email and sent to a random manager. Maybe it gets uploaded to a general channel on Slack and people who need to see it miss the notification.
On the other hand, with a workflow approval system, creative department submissions can be automatically routed to managers, directors, and other team members who must review them. Nothing goes missing.
Creative workers get credit for their work and companies get what they paid for. Everyone’s happy.
3. Expense Reports
Why have employees waste time roughly 1/5th of the way into the 21st century on walking old handwritten expense reports over to the accounting or human resources department? Even forcing people to attach and send Microsoft Excel spreadsheets is arcane and can lead to wasted time and money.
Many workflow approval systems these days include expense report automation, which allows automatic submission of expense reports with receipt PDFs included. Aside from efficient design, it’s also far cheaper to process expense reports electronically, with Abacus calculating that it costs $20.65 to do it manually and $7.50 with software.
4. Vacation Requests
The same thing goes for vacation requests as with expense reports. Sure, companies can have employees email their managers or the HR department requesting time off on certain days. For smaller companies, this might work alright. Modest and larger-sized firms, though, can face a nightmare allowing for the manual submission of vacation requests.
Vacation requests that go through an automated time-off request approval system on the other hand, get to the right manager, are approved or denied within minutes, and store automatically for when the vacation comes.
An efficient request system might also benefit employees. The U.S. Travel Association found that employees forfeited 212 million vacation days in 2017, equal to $62.2 billion in lost benefits.
5. Invoice Approvals
When a company purchases goods or services, they often have the business or independent contractor that they’re buying from submit an invoice. But if a company merely waits for an accounts payable clerk to receive and pay that invoice, they’re setting themselves up for trouble.
Companies will want to have an approval system that automatically incorporates their standard payment window for invoices, be it 10 working days, two months, or whatever it is. The system can also ensure that invoice numbers and other pertinent information are included and reviewed.
An automated invoice approval system doesn’t just encourage uniformity, it saves money. A study by Concur found that automation led to a 29 percent reduction in invoice processing costs.
6. Sales Orders
Many businesses will need a predictable number of inventory in a given period. Supply Chain Management Review noted that manually processing such orders, “can lead to significant disruptions caused by order input errors, a lack of integration between the order database and other internal systems, and a lack of visibility into the end-to-end process of creating, filling and delivering orders.”
An automated sales order system fulfills orders quickly and accurately, allowing your sales team to focus on selling instead of chasing paperwork, approvals, and order fulfillment.
Six Steps to Automate Purchase Order Approval with frevvo
Not only are there many manual approval processes that can be automated to save time and money, but there’s a simple solution.
frevvo provides an all-in-one, no-code solution for automating most of your most critical business processes.
Here’s how it works.
Step 1: Start with a Pre-Built Workflow Template
Start by logging into frevvo, which is available for a free one-month trial for businesses. From there, frevvo offers more than 30 workflow templates. For our purposes, select the “Purchase Order Approval” template.
Step 2: Customize the Pre-Built Purchase Order Form
As noted earlier, no knowledge of coding is needed to take advantage of frevvo. Simply drag and drop to customize forms as needed.
Step 3: Use frevvo’s Visual Rule Builder to Set Business Rules
With frevvo’s Visual Rule Builder, conditional logic can be applied as needed for specific purchase orders and workflows, ensuring that they’re properly handled at each stage of the approval process. Visual business rules can auto-fill fields, perform calculations automatically, and show fields only when they’re relevant. That makes it easier for employees to complete the purchase order faster and with fewer errors.
Step 4: Configure Workflow Steps
It’s also easy with frevvo to configure each step in the workflow, to make sure that the process runs smoothly from one step to the next. Once again, simply drag-and-drop and use visual wizards to configure each step. It’s painless to visually add and remove steps, including business logic.
Step 5: Determine What Happens When the Workflow Finishes
It’s also possible to customize within frevvo where a workflow ends, be it when certain approval conditions are satisfied or a client signs off.
Check within “Flow Properties” for: “Flow Actions,” which sets the message a user will receive when they submit their form; “Document Actions” to determine where the document will automatically be stored: and “Settings” to enable time-saving tools such as “Fast Finish.”
Step 6: Add the Workflow to a Space
frevvo provides a built-in portal to deploy and use your automated workflow.. Look in the “Spaces” tab within your account. Spaces enforce authentication and authorization, work automatically on smartphones and tablets, and provide a single portal from which users can access all your workflows.
That’s it. In mere minutes, anyone can use frevvo to create an automated workflow approval process which works on any device, from smartphone to tablet to desktop computer. The software generates documents, supports digital signatures, is ADA compliant, and much more.
Try frevvo at no cost for your first month. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today.