5 steps to automate your business

by | Apr 16, 2023 | Business

Those who are self employed, or who run their own companies, to me, usually fall into one of two camps. Job Owners, and Business Owners.

A Job Owner, is someone who has built and created their own job. Rather than become employed, they have created a business that has given themselves a sustainable income. They are their own boss and they make their own decisions, but they are the business. If they stop working, they stop earning. If they stop marketing, they stop bringing in leads. Their business has no intrinsic value, because they are the value. They are usually limited by their own time, because if they don’t do something, it won’t get done.

Job Owners are admirable in my eyes. They’ve worked incredibly hard to create something that fits their terms, but the business survives or dies on solely their ability to drive it forward. For some, being a Job Owner is an ideal lifestyle, but for others looking to build something bigger, it becomes a sticky patch to navigate through before they progress to the next step, a Business Owner.

Business Owners have put in place the structures, processes and people to make their businesses run without their input. Quite simply, they’ve made themselves redundant. A Business Owner isn’t needed every working hour because they have a team, a supplier, a system or even a robot that can help keep things moving whilst they are gone.

Those who became what I deem to be true Business Owners usually benefitted from one of two things.

  1. Cash – and lots of it.
  2. Planning – and lots of it.

An injection of cash will of course boost your progress, but in most cases people start businesses with little or no funds. But plenty have made the journey without cash, purely by building and monitoring plans and having the right mindset in place. And once your plan starts to work, your cash reserves will grow, which in turn, can help you turbo-charge your plan. It can very much become a virtuous circle.

Below are five tips that can help you begin the process of making that leap from a Job Owner, to a true Business Owner.

1. Have an improvement mindset

I’ll start with a little story here. Sometimes, when people see me work on Microsoft Excel, they ask how I became so quick and know what I know. The answer is simple. I was sick of being slow with it.

Excel is a wonderful tool, but the raw functions, formulas and things you need to do with it can be slow and cumbersome to set up. I had a constant desire to improve and get quicker and faster, because the quicker I could deal with my problems on Excel, the quicker I could move onto other things. If I noticed something that felt repetitive or slow, I would take 5 minutes out of my day to work out a quicker way. And in doing so, I gained so much more time by being able to zip around spreadsheets with ease.

Back to business now, and this mindset is equally important here. You will encounter things which slow you down and which take up time. You should be always thinking:

  • “How can I do this quicker?”.
  • “Who can do this for me?”.
  • “Why do I need to do this particular step?”.

Keeping a simple list of things that you can work on is the first step. Every time you do something which is slow, or laborious, note it down. Take it a step further by using a task list tool and keeping a note of things you do which take up your time. Add comments and detail the pain or irritation it causes.

Ideas could include:

  • Automating and digitising contracts, signatures and proposals
  • Setting up software to allow you to quote in a streamlined fashion, take pictures or collate support
  • Having someone handle calls whilst you are absent

I’m not a huge fan of comparing yourself to others. I am a believer that you should compare yourself to you a week ago, a month ago or a year ago as a true sign of progress. However it would be foolish to ignore what others do and see examples of good practice you can adopt.

It might not just be your competitors; you should draw ideas from anyone you conduct business with. It might be that you are impressed with how easy it is to process your weekly shopping order, or how polished a feedback form you receive post-holiday looks. If it’s good and it could benefit you, write it down and implement it.

2. Build your plan

With the right mindset, you should begin to see now a list of good ideas, but then be faced with two sobering facts.

  1. You need money.
  2. You need time.

That’s normal, so now you simply need to plan ways to make both money and time.

If I could tell you how you can make guaranteed money, I would either be a fraud or a billionaire. But what I can tell you, is that there are ways you can certainly improve your chances of financial success.

I’ve written plenty of blogs on the benefits of building good financial plans and by establishing a good budget, you can begin to set targets on how to make your money. A truly helpful budget will do more than simply estimate your profit. It will tell you how many new customers you need a week in order to make those investments in software that will help you innovate. It will help you scrutinise your overheads to ensure you have value for money.

The equally (if not more) important step is making time. Everyone works differently, but some prefer an uninterrupted block in the morning. Others prefer to set aside days, evenings or weekends.

Google famously gave staff 20% of their time to innovate and it resulted in some lucrative developments. A more extreme version of this was when Bill Gates would take think weeks out of his diary to recover and remove his screen time and begin to think. Another approach, is to dedicate 90 minute slots each day, something Nigel Botterill talks about as part of the Entrepreneur’s Circle.

Whatever the way, you need to carve out time, and you need to begin to establish your financial goals.

3. Automation and innovation

With your creative cogs whirring, time set aside in the day and financial targets set, it’s time to automate and innovate.

There is no better feeling when you get an automation working and I am a huge fan of Zapier. Zapier is a tool which cleverly links apps from one to another. I use it to automate certain parts of my business and you can do too if you’re creative with it. Examples could be:

  • When a client signs a contract, send them a welcome email
  • Once you’ve recorded your timesheet for the day in your time tracking software, update a spreadsheet
  • Once a customer books a consultation session, prepare an invoice to them and send it

In some cases, software may link automatically, but if not, Zapier can plug gaps. Whilst you don’t need to be a programming expert to use it, the learning curve can be high. However, there are plenty of resources out there to help, from their own support lines and forums, to even paying for experts to help set up “Zaps” to automate things you never even thought could be automated. Having a “Zap” day to help link things up could be a very productive day.

Calendly is also great to allow people to book appointments with you. They can book an appointment and pre-populate key issues, such as the reason for their query, or what services they are interested in. It can even take payments from them for you on the spot.

Motion is a tool I’ve been using recently too. It’s essentially a time planner, but it automatically updates my diary when events are added or changed. It allows me to ‘time box’ and set aside time to deliver important work.

Finally, I couldn’t talk about automation without mentioning AI. You may have all heard of Chat GPT and whilst it’s not in my view a complete product (yet..), what it can do today is hugely impressive. There are equivalents which can generate other things such as images out there, too.

If you need blog ideas, content ideas, or even prompts, Chat GPT can really help. I’ve seen some rather ‘spurious’ suggestions from it, so I would never rely on it blindly.

4. Hire and train good people

Computers, as clever as they are these days, cannot entirely replace people.

Some industries are more at risk to automation than others, but Chat GPT or Zapier won’t replace a plumber at a job. It won’t make a cup of tea for your guest at your office and whilst it’s becoming scarily ‘human’, it isn’t human and no matter how good it is, I just don’t think it’ll garner the rapport that personal customer service can offer.

First, designing a good recruitment process is important. Advice which stuck with me is that you social media should not only appeal to future customers, but future employees.

Once you have your new staff, onboarding should be smooth and slick. Training manuals, uniforms on hand and equipment working from day one will get your new team up-and-running quickly.

Finally, good objective setting, regular training and encouraging benefits and pay structures will ensure they remain motivated.

5. Outsource the rest

You have your ideas, you have your plans, you have your systems and you have your people. What about the rest of the things you have to do? Things that are too complex to automate, or maybe too expensive to hire for outright? The bookkeeping, the legal stuff, the IT, the blogs?

For most businesses, there simply isn’t enough work to require a full-time bookkeeper, or a full-time HR professional to be on-board. This is where outsourcing can help.

My argument to everyone is that most people are excellent at a few things, but average at best at others. Expanding that further, they should be able to earn more money doing the thing they are expert at, than it would cost for someone else to do it for them.

In one of my first ever blogs, I talked about the joys of installing my own smart doorbell. It took me ages, I did a rubbish job and I got no revenue-earning work done. I probably saved a couple hundred pounds, but spent money on tools I haven’t since needed and lost hundreds more that I otherwise would have earned if I had that time back.

Time is worth more than money. If someone out there can do a better job at something than you, get them to do it. If you cannot use that time either to do something enjoyable, or earn more than you have spent, then there’s something wrong with your business.

Bonus tip 1 – some books to read

Who Not How was a great recommendation to me and it talks about thinking of ways to get the right people doing the right jobs. Having a Who Not How mindset is pivotal if you want to get a business that works for you. It talks about asking not how you can do something, but who can do it for you. In a world where time is finite, this is a game changer.

The E-Myth Revisited is a thought-provoking book that looks at why most small businesses fail, and why some succeed. It looks towards a franchise model, another favourite of mine, and how you can create something that could be ‘franchisable’. Love it or hate it, McDonalds impresses me with its consistency and pull and it’s the gold standard of the franchise model. Can you make your business franchisable?

Bonus tip 2 – the accounts inbox

Another little tip which has brought a lot of success is an “Accounts@” inbox.

A huge problem business owners have is disassociating all queries from their personal inbox, to that which can be looked after by a wider team.

An Accounts@ inbox is a simple, helpful first step that I don’t see many take which can help take finance tasks off of your plate and pass them onto your team, your bookkeeper or your accountant.

Supplier invoices, customer payment chasing and all things financial can run through this inbox. Immediately, if you give access to trusted individuals, you can get all those things off of your plate and into the hands of others. Using inboxes like these have facilitated huge efficiencies as part of managing outsourced finance functions for our clients. But even if you’re not yet ready to hand over the reins, you are setting up systems that means you can move things quickly and smoothly without fuss.

And of course, why stop with “Accounts@”….?

Ready to start the journey?

To get help with your accounts and start freeing up your time to focus on growth, talk to the Mayflower team today.

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