If there’s one thing business owners don’t have enough of, it’s time. Improving your business processes through automation, integration, or outsourcing are great ways to get time back. Here are four simple steps to help you streamline your systems.
What are business processes?
Business processes are the actions or tasks you or your team perform to achieve business goals. They can be everyday things like communication or more complex financial processes such as managing expenses and transactions.
If you still use a manual system like Excel for business process management (BPM), you’re not alone. But as soon as these tasks become bottlenecks, it’s time to consider implementing tools that free you up to focus on other things. Business process improvement (BPI) can sound like a heavy lift, but it doesn’t have to be.
4 simple steps to improve business processes
Step 1: Communicate
With a large or growing team, you need tools that work for everyone, everywhere. Apps like Slack or Google Chat aren’t just for tech companies. They can boost productivity in your business too. For video conferencing, Zoom, BlueJeans, and Microsoft Teams are all popular options. Especially now that more people are working remotely.
Before you decide which communication tool to invest in, make a list of all the stakeholders who will use it. Stakeholders might include contractors and clients. Prioritize teams that are likely to be the heaviest users, such as your sales team, customer experience team, or project management team. Next, make sure the app integrates with any existing email, project, or customer relationship management systems you use. Checking for integrations can help you choose the best setup for every scenario.
In a recent Ask the Expert session with Matthew Fulton and Lynda Artesani, Matthew said his favorite communication tool is Microsoft Teams.
“We have it set it up so we can have a private team or channel for internal communication but another for external clients to use,” he explained.
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Step 2: Automate
Automation saves time and money. It reduces human error. It can even make your team more productive by eliminating tedious tasks. To start, carry out a simple process analysis to find out where you have inefficient processes. Look at workflows across different teams, build a flowchart, and develop consistent metrics to base your decisions.
For example, are your current processes forcing people to enter the same data twice? Do you have multiple versions of the same spreadsheets? Are you starting to see more errors in your data? If so, an automated solution could do it better.
You shouldn’t have to redesign a process when implementing a new system to help you manage it. The software should be flexible enough to work with you. The benefits may go far beyond streamlining. Process automation can open the door to continuous improvements in your business. With your team less focused on the details, they can concentrate on bigger projects that directly benefit customer satisfaction or your bottom line.
How to automate invoicing
Late invoices, lost invoices, and invoices you meant to send but accidentally dropped in the shuffle can all impede healthy cash flow. The solution, then, is to improve the process.
For example, maybe someone on your team is still manually preparing and sending batches of invoices every week. You could save time and get paid faster by automating everything.
In the Ask the Expert session, Artesani described how to create customized, branded invoices that include a “pay now” option. She added that it’s possible to set up automated reminders to help clients stay on track and include fees that incentivize on-time payments. You can see if a client has viewed their invoice. If they haven’t, check in to make sure the email you have on file is correct.
Lynda said this type of invoicing system was particularly valuable for a large law firm she works with.
“They had 2,000 invoices a month, and one person’s only job was matching the deposits, receiving the payments, and entering them. She ended up saving four hours out of her day and was able to do a much better job afterward.”
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How to automate accounts payable
The other side of the cash flow story, of course, is accounts payable.
“It’s very easy to get behind on [invoice] collections until you realize you need to pay those bills,” Matthew said.
But managing utilities, rent, vendor bills, and more can get overwhelming if you’re trying to do it all by hand. Managing payments is another business process that’s easier to automate.
Step 3: Integrate
Integration is automation’s best friend. Life is much easier when you fully integrate your systems. Like many businesses, you probably use multiple apps or software to manage your operations. But how many of them work in sync? If they don’t, Matthew warns, “you’re going to be spending more time cleaning up the data.”
How to integrate payroll processes
Payroll is a great example of a process that can take more time and be less accurate when your systems don’t work together.
If you have hourly employees, you might already automate employee time tracking with an app that records employee hours. You might also have payroll software that takes care of things like taxes and direct deposits. Integrating the two processes means you won’t have to enter employee hours manually. The data moves over automatically. In some cases, it updates in real time.
Step 4: Outsource
Outsourcing means handing a business process over to someone else. For example, you might hire another company to manage bookkeeping, marketing, or human resources. But many business owners are reluctant to do so.
97% of business owners manage at least one area of operations, such as payroll or marketing, says a recent business growth survey from QuickBooks Live. They’re spending 31 hours a week on these tasks, on average. And almost two-thirds (65%) of them said their businesses would grow faster if they didn’t. So what’s holding them back?
If you’re stuck managing existing processes, consider outsourcing to an expert. It’s an investment that should pay for itself quickly because you’ll be making better use of your time.
Before you outsource, ensure you have the buy-in from your team. Focus on the benefits of your decision and what they can get out of it. And always conduct a thorough risk analysis to help protect your data, especially if you’ll be sharing any customer or personal information.
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