Every minute counts. For small businesses vying for growth to stay alive and thrive, saving/losing time equates to profit/loss and the difference between success and failure.
As a small business owner or manager trying to balance resource efficiency with growth, you may have considered cutting employees to save money as you grow. The problem with this model is that fewer resources can also result in being understaffed and hinder your growth, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
If you need to cut costs and fuel growth, there is a plan C. Instead of hiring (or firing) more people, or figuring out where the money will come from, consider automating some of your tasks and processes. With even light automation, you can speed up operations, reduce labor costs and increase profits (in a matter of days).
Small business workflow automation not only reduces costs, but also facilitates working seamlessly with remote work and teams. Even if your employees currently work in-house, events beyond your control may necessitate employees working from home temporarily. Being prepared with automated processes will make this transition easy and prevent employee dissatisfaction and decreased productivity during these times.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of automation, what small business workflow tasks you can automate, and a step-by-step guide to automating a simple business workflow.
Business process management (BPM) refers to the practice of streamlining and optimizing the various strings of repeatable tasks that need to take place in order for a business to operate successfully. Business process management takes a process and breaks it up into the smallest parts or steps possible in order to answer the question “Is this the best (and fastest, most efficient) way to do this?”
Business process management often leverages automation to simplify and streamline the execution, monitoring and optimization of business workflows and typically focuses on repetitive manual processes. BPM is not to be confused with task management, which refers to the overseeing of individual tasks as opposed to workflows.
BPM software that enables process automation is like a navigation system for your business, digitally routing information to the people who need it, when they need it. Because the software does this automatically, you don’t need to worry about who is responsible for performing the routing or remember under which conditions the routing takes place. For instance, business protocols may dictate that an additional approval stage is required when sums higher than $10,000 are involved.
BPM allows you to increase efficiency, reduce errors, cut costs, and better serve your customers.
Careful planning lies at the heart of successful business process management. While individual departments in any organization can certainly benefit from managing their processes, you’ll see the best return on your investment if you conduct an audit of all the processes in your business to determine which ones are most suited to automation and implement solutions collaboratively.
On the surface, BPM may seem like the domain of large corporate enterprises. The truth is that organizations of all sizes such as mid-size businesses, K-12 schools and higher education institutions like universities and colleges can also benefit greatly from proper business process management, freeing staff from the burden of administrative tasks and allowing them to finally achieve a degree of work-life balance.
Are you still printing documents only to sign them and scan them again?
A growing number of businesses are moving away from paper-based forms and contracts and embracing electronic forms and digital signatures. These recent advances facilitate workflow automation, which increases efficiency, reduces errors, promotes transparency and slashes business costs.
In the past, forms that require multiple signatures either involved someone physically carrying or messengering or mailing the document to the next party to sign, or each person printing, signing, scanning and emailing the form to the next party. Getting a document that needed multiple signatures signed could take days or weeks, particularly if the signatories were in different locations.
Enter live forms with digital signatures and automated approval routing, and that painstaking process can be boiled down to mere minutes.
A decade ago, a Google search for the term “cloud” would return images of white billowy objects and weather-related terms. Today? The term “cloud” has taken on a new identity, becoming a vehicle for people and companies to store and manage data on the internet. This has fueled the growth and productivity of expanding organizations—sans a weather icon in sight.
In fact, cloud-based communication, sharing and organization is pretty standard among modern workplaces. As of April 2019, the cloud-based G Suite (Google Suite) serves five million paid business users and millions more that use it for free.
In our highly connected business environment, it’s increasingly vital for businesses to embrace digital transformation and increase their efficiency if they want to remain competitive.
This may seem like an insurmountable challenge for organizations that are still bogged down in legacy systems and paper-heavy processes. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is that digitizing and automating your business processes can save you a significant amount of time and money while freeing employees from repetitive, mindless administrative tasks, so they can focus on doing the work they were hired to do.
Everyday business processes are the lifeblood of all organizations. From approving purchase orders to authorizing travel to on-boarding new hires to processing student applications, these processes define what employees do every day. They might be three simple steps or may be a complicated 10-step workflow with conditional routing but the general principle is the same: deliver information from Point A to Point B with all the required signatures, approvals and authorizations in place.
According to Forrester, business process automation has the potential to reduce operating costs by up to 90 percent.
It’s 2 p.m. You’ve just had lunch and you need to get back to that report you were working on. But then you see it. The fresh pile of paperwork sitting on your desk waiting to be processed.
Before you know it, a couple of hours have gone by and you still haven’t gotten to that report you wanted to get to. As you head home at the end of the day, you have an unsettling feeling that your day wasn’t very productive, even though you were working the whole time.
Why is that?
Because you know your day would’ve been better spent on other tasks––like that report. Instead, you were stuck with a manual business process that could have been automated and taken off your plate. The truth is, a computer would’ve done it in half the amount of time you just spent.
In WorkMarket’s 2020 In(Sight) Report, 54% of employees surveyed said automation could save them up to two hours a day (or 240 hours annually). Seventy-eight percent of business leaders said it could save them even more, up to three hours.
In short, automating manual business processes can make your life easier. But it goes beyond that. Let’s look at the other benefits of workflow automation.
It’s the bane of our modern existence. From legal and finance to administration and HR, every aspect of our workplace involves some sort of form-filling, printing, copying, and scanning. We’ve even invented shredders purely to take care of these piles of paper.
And even as new digital solutions enter the market every day, paper usage in the U.S. is expected to increase through 2023.
The problem is that while companies can see the benefit of going digital, they’re often faced with the daunting task of making that transition.
So it’s easy to stick to what you know. Even if it can save millions of dollars for larger organizations.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Converting business processes to a digital workflow can be a simple step that produces incremental changes rather than an exhaustive effort requiring you to go through bureaucratic hoops and headaches.
Everyone wants a smooth workflow. The word itself says it all. You want the work to flow as you focus intensely and produce results with minimal time wasted. Yet we all know that’s not how our workdays turn out.
Thankfully, there are tools you can use to get rid of distractions and time-consuming processes. Think of them as shortcuts that enable you to focus on your work rather than all the superfluous details.
A McKinsey report on social technologies found that simply by tapping into powerful applications, we can improve global productivity by 20 to 25%. The apps include those that can improve communication and collaboration between teams, saving time and improving performance.
Companies everywhere are transforming their tedious, time-consuming, manual processes into streamlined, easy-to-use, automated processes. They’re doing it to reap the many benefits of automation technology. Updated technology improves consistency and companies have enjoyed increased productivity, availability, reliability, and performance, while drastically reducing costs.
However, each company has different automation needs and priorities. For example, a company that procures a large number of raw materials may benefit from invoice automation as opposed to a temp agency that may prefer to invest in automating new hire onboarding.
Here’s a list of workflow examples for common business processes. For each type, we’ll explain what your workflow should include to make them perform optimally. The right workflow automation software will help automate these processes, and so much more.
Are you ready to replace your expensive paper processes with automated, efficient, electronic forms/workflows? Looking for a low cost, low code workflow management system to quickly automate processes, enhance productivity and drive down costs? Not sure where to start?