Plenty of situations and circumstances can strike fear in the hearts of small business owners. There’s the potential for sagging sales and the reality of having to handle multiple roles. Also, there are the complexities of managing a staff of employees. Regardless of industry, most small businesses actually reside in the people business. Which makes it even more ironic that one of the most significant sources of dread among small business owners doesn’t even involve people. It’s the fear of automation and a hesitance to trust “the cloud.”
As technology has evolved and cloud-based opportunities became increasingly available, the savviest of small business owners realized that the right move is to welcome automation, not fear it. If you’re someone who still isn’t sure if automation is for you, keep reading. We’ll explain automation and the cloud, why there’s nothing to be afraid of and how automation can improve your business.
What is automation and the cloud?
Whether you recognize it or not, automation is all around us. In short, it’s technology that streamlines or performs a task for us with little to no human intervention. For instance, when you call a business and a phone tree allows you to dial by extension or use voice commands—that’s automation. In the old days, a human operator would have had to answer the phone and patch the call through to the right extension, but no more with automation.
The cloud is a global network of servers that connect to each other for the purposes of storing data, running applications and delivering content. It’s a way to house information in a secure place that’s accessible from anywhere, unlike those local drives on your computer. You may have even used the cloud in your personal life by storing photos or documents there to free up space on your phone or tablet.
Why you shouldn’t fear automation and the cloud
The reality is that humans are far more likely to make a mistake than an automated platform.
When it comes to dealing with automation and the cloud, there are generally two common fears. The first is that a business owner can’t trust any process taken outside of a human’s hands. The second is that automation eliminates the needs for humans and thus eliminates jobs. The truth is that these points are both patently false and can be easily proven untrue.
Let’s start with the first. From a security standpoint, cloud-based applications generally employ measures more advanced than a small business would be able to afford on its own. This might include multi-factor authentication and other sophisticated methods outside the scope of most small businesses. Then there’s the stability of the data in the cloud, which typically lives in more than one place. That means if one server goes down, you haven’t lost that data—it’s just pulled from another server.
Some people also fear that automation, or having a machine act on your behalf, is a gateway to errors. The reality is that humans are far more likely to make a mistake than an automated platform. Why? Because they’re humans, of course. Making mistakes is what makes us human.
The second big fear—that automation eliminates jobs—is also easy to debunk. For context, just look at the automated teller machine (ATM). Debuting in 1969, the ATM was supposed to be great for bank customers, but bad for bank employees. Except instead of causing mass layoffs like predicted, it actually resulted in an increase in bank tellers from 1970 to 2010.
The pairing of humans and machines will always be more productive than either part of that equation on its own. Automation doesn’t work without human intervention, so to think it can replace the work that humans do is simply shortsighted. What automation can do is free up humans’ time from doing menial tasks so that those employees can devote time to more meaningful aspects of the business, like customer service.
Automation in your small business
Automation can free up humans’ time from doing menial tasks so that those employees can devote time to more meaningful aspects of the business, like customer service.
The number of ways you can use automation is seemingly endless, but we decided to include a quick snapshot of three of our favorites below.
1. Recurring invoices
Have a client with the same bill and charges each month? Stop spending time generating the same invoice each month. Many software solutions will allow you to automate recurring invoices. Just create it once and set the parameters for when you want it to send.
2. Responses to emails
Depending on your lead-generation system and email client, this automation tip can save you tons of time. If you’re constantly getting the same types of email, explore whether your email client has automatic responses. You may need to go in and select the response for the email, but it will still save you time over repeatedly typing out the same message.
3. Customer relationship management
Also known as a CRM, this is the database for how and where you keep records of your customers. Gone are the days of spreadsheets and slips of paper with phone numbers (or at least they should be). A robust cloud-based CRM system not only serves as a central hub for customer contact information, but it stores crucial details on preferences. Things like past purchases and marketing outreach efforts as well. For more information on how a CRM can improve your customers’ experience, check out WHERK’s CRM features.