In case you haven’t noticed yet, it’s become easier to automate tasks that used to take up a ton of time. The result is that for all its pros and cons, there has never been a better time to run a home-based business than right now. Technology has made it possible to run various aspects of your business from the cloud, saving you both time and money, while improving your efficiency and fattening your bottom line. When you think about it that way, why would you want to go back to the old way of doing things?
Unfortunately, there are so many tools that it’s hard to know which ones would be a good fit for your business. The best way to look at it is to think about it in terms of which processes you specifically could use help with. There are tools for pretty much everything, and if there isn’t, someone will eventually come up with them. Here are 10 ways to automate your home-based business.
1. Automated Email Responses
Once you’ve provided a contact link in your website, you can expect your visitors to make use of it. Once they do, you may find that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by various tasks and find yourself struggling to keep up with customer emails. You can lose valuable leads this way, especially if it takes a couple days to respond to them. Each minute you take decreases the likelihood that you’ll make a sales, much less earn a long-term client.
Automated email response software allows you to respond immediately to every email with no effort on your part. All a prospective client has to do is fill out the contact form on your website and the system will immediately send back a reply, based on a pre-written template. All you have to do is personalize the template with your first name, let them know that their email was received, and assure them that someone will be in touch with them soon. This puts their mind at ease, knowing that their message didn’t simply disappear into cyberspace, but rather has been collected.
2. Staying in Touch With Clients
Just because you finally sold them a product doesn’t mean that’s all there is to it. You shouldn’t think of the sale as the end of that relationship, but rather the beginning! There can be many more sales and referrals by that client to others like them, if you maintain contact.
If you’ve already sent them “welcome” emails, set your software up to trigger additional emails to follow up their purchase with “thank you” notes and additional information about your company and what it can offer them in the future. There are lots of ways to do this, including sending them an overview of your services or a series of frequently asked questions with clear answers. Note that when you thank your customers, it might be a good idea to enclose some sort of gift, like a discount on another product or service they might be interested in.
3. Automatic Bill Pay
There’s a good chance you’re already paying many of your personal bills automatically. What you may not have realized is that you can do the same thing with your business bills.
Note that there’s a difference between paying your bills electronically and paying them automatically. Electronic bill pay is automated to an extent, but having the entire process taken care of automatically can save you lots of time and effort, allowing you to focus on the aspects of your business where you can have the greatest impact. Just make sure you have enough money in your accounts to cover those bills when they become due or there’s no sense in automating the process in the first place.
4. Expense Tracking
If you’re still fumbling with a stack of paper receipts, you might be wasting a ton of useful time. Don’t get me wrong, you need to save receipts to track all your business expenses, especially for tax purposes. However, neither you nor anyone working for you should be forced to struggle anymore than is necessary with something so basic. There is software for storing and sorting your receipts digitally, so you can find them easily later. This allows you to use your time more effectively, so you can focus on what you do best.
Another way to automate various aspects of your business is to simply outsource them. This is particularly useful for those who haven’t been in business very long or who, for whatever reason, have few employees to work with. It’s almost an absolute necessity if you’re the sole operator of your business, because there’s only so much you can do without compromising time needed for more important tasks.
For example, if you have a blog, you can outsource the content to a freelance writer, especially if you’re not a very good writer yourself. Your time would be best spent doing something just as impactful that you don’t have to struggle with as much. If you could use some help with advertising, there are companies who would be willing to hlep you with that. Outsourcing might not seem like automation in the same sense as using machines or computers, but it fills the same needs and is taken care of “automatically,” while you perform other tasks.
6. Automatic Lead Collection
There’s also software to help you collect and nurture various types of leads, whether they’re from your website or your social media pages. Lead collection is one of the most time-consuming tasks for small business owners and if you’re operating the entire venture yourself, you probably can’t afford to pay someone to chase these leads down. Lead collection software has become very popular in recent years, due to the growing number of people starting online businesses. Remember that once you’re on the Internet, leads won’t be limited to your local area and you can easily get overwhelmed.
7. Abandoned Shopping Cart Reminders
Another concern for businesses that operate online is all those abandoned shopping carts. Customers will sometimes visit your site and put products into their carts with every intention of buying it, yet sometimes it doesn’t happen. Then end up leaving it there, usually because they were either interrupted by something or because they were undecided and didn’t want to lose their chance to get it. This is especially true when you have limited quantities of physical products that can actually become depleted.
Statistically speaking, it’s believed that up to two-thirds of online shoppers begin placing orders for products they ultimately don’t buy. As the owner of the business, your concern is not losing a sale. As long as that product is sitting there in limbo, nobody else can buy it, either.
Fortunately, there’s software that can detect these abandoned purchases and remind customers to finish what they started. You can even schedule these reminders to occur at intervals, just like the big-box retailers typically do. The advantage to doing this is that research shows that over 60 percent of abandoned purchases can be recovered when customers are reminded to return to their carts.
8. Billing Charge Tracking
In order to run a business successfully, you also have to stay on top of failed billing charges. Customers frequently switch credit cards, or even lose them, then have them replaced. If they have a subscription to your products or services, this can become a problem. The more customers you have, the more detrimental this effect can be on your bottom line.
Fortunately, there’s also software to help you keep up with collection by setting up triggers to notify you when these charges fail. You’ll get notifications prompting you to contact the customer, so you can find out what’s going on and collect payment. It’s important not to assume that this was intentional on their part, since people lose and replace cards all the time. They may need a reminder or two themselves to help them get things back to the way they were before, with regard to recurring payments.
Note that you can set up your software to scan their credit card information to check for cards that will be expiring within the next 30 days. This can be used to trigger reminders to customers to update their cards and billing information.
9. Automated Customer Support
It’s not easy to keep up with customer support problems. Unfortunately, customers may need help at different times and you won’t always be available. After all, you’re only human and you can’t stay up all night answering everyone’s calls and emails.
However, the right type of software will allow you to continue operating during normal business hours, while still addressing customer concerns. Keep in mind that from a client’s point of view, it’s very frustrating for them to struggle to find a contact link, only to not receive a timely response. This can actually cause your customers to decide against purchasing your products, simply because you didn’t reach them before they walked away.
Don’t forget that your objective is not only to meet their needs, but actually to surpass their expectations in any way possible. An automated response gives them the peace of mind of knowing that the call or email they just sent out was collected and they will be hearing from someone soon. When the client clicks on the contact link, the software lets you or someone on your staff know that someone had a problem that requires a follow-up.
Within the software, you can add a list of names to a drop-down menu to ensure that they select the right person to address their issue. As long as you’ve assigned the right team members to the right tasks, such as technical support or sales, the software will take care of the rest. Your customers will be better served this way than if their calls or emails all went to the same place, requiring them to be sifted through and redirected manually.
10. Appointment Reminders
The busier you are, the easier it is to forget about your appointments. Regardless of whether you’re dealing with clients, leads, or even other business people, this can cost you a ton of time. It’s one thing to schedule an appointment, but remembering it is something else entirely.
Automated reminders an be used not only to remind you of upcoming appointments, but also to help you send them an email, once you have completed a form with their basic information. The form will set in motion a sequence of emails, including an appointment confirmation and various reminders that will be sent over the days and hours prior to the appointment. The software also allows the person at the other end to cancel with the push of a button, prompting it to let you know so you can get back to them about rescheduling.
Another thing to consider is that despite using software like this, you might still have to compare various calendars. If you’d like to improve on this, try using a scheduling tool that will sync with your Google calendar. Your Google calendar can be accessed on any device, whether it’s your laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet. This way, whichever one you happen to have with you, you will be looking at the same schedule with the same reminders.
These are only a few of the things you can do to help automate your business. Anything you can do to help save time will allow you to operate more efficiently. Fortunately, it’s much easier to do these things for yourself now than it ever was before, when you had to hire others to perform them for you. Instead of spending that money on more staff than you actually need, you can spend it once on software that costs less and invest the rest back into your business.