Automation has the unfair stigma of being “expensive” or “meant for larger companies.” Some small business owners may even fear automation the same way they fear waist going deep into the ocean after watching JAWS. Automating some aspects of your business isn’t going to bring about the “rise of the machines” you’ve seen in a popular James Cameron film – but it can elevate your business to the next level. Here are three affordable ways to automate your business:
1. Use an Effective CRM System
Keeping tabs on sales prospects and clients with a notepad, or managing your orders on MS Excel is the business equivalent of using two pieces of flint to start a fire. It may work for some small business owners, but it’s certainly not as efficient as using technology. So drop the flint and pick up the butane lighter called the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
Price is the biggest obstacle to any small business, and some of these professional-grade CRM systems can easily cost thousands of dollars per year, per user. On the other hand, if you get an ultra-cheap CRM, you’ll end up with a system has more bugs than a 3-day old sandwich. But there are systems that balance value and functionality. Here are three affordable options that can boost the efficiency of your small business:
- Zoho CRM: An award-winning, pay-as-you-go CRM that automates your sales (pre- and post-sales, forecasting, etc.), enabling you to create eDM campaigns, manage your inventory, documents, and social media – even on the go with Zoho’s mobile apps. Zoho’s editions range from the free version for up to three users (with limited functions) to their “enterprise” edition with full functionality for about $30 a month, per user. To save money, you can use the “free” edition to get familiar with the system before upgrading to the good stuff. Of the options listed, this is the most cost effective.
- Salesforce: Ranked as the most innovative company by Forbes, Salesforce is a well-established CRM provider with 100,000 customers to date. It’s a cloud-based CRM that boasts an easy-to-use, software-free, and customisable platform for conducting eDM campaigns, tracking leads and products, and creating advanced sales reports. For SMEs, there are editions ranging from a simple “contact manager” at about $8 a month to the “professional” edition with full functionality for $80 a month per user. Salesforce requires a yearly contract, so if you have 3 users, expect to pay about $2,800 up front.
- SugarCRM: An open-source, highly customisable CRM platform that automates sales functions including contact management, lead and opportunity tracking, sales forecasting, etc. You can also run eDM campaigns (and track ROI), manage incoming customer requests, and do it all through mobile devices (Blackberry and Apple). You have the option to use SugarCRM on site or via Cloud. Several editions are available, but the “corporate” edition includes many features necessary for SMEs. Expect to pay about $3,400 up front for a yearly contract.
Keep in mind that it will take you and your staff some time to learn how to use a CRM system – but just like driving, once you get the hang of it, it makes life a whole lot easier.
2. Automate Your Content Marketing
Content marketing is one of the best “bootstrap” marketing tools available because you’re building a relationship with customers by giving them content that solves their problems. For example, if you’re in the fashion industry, offering fashion tips or insight on the latest styles will enhance your credibility in the eyes of your customers.
But if you’re giving customers content that isn’t entertaining and helpful, your efforts will backfire worse than a politician trying to explain his indiscretions without the help of a teleprompter (or a nationalised media). So show your customers that you’re a subject matter expert in your field/industry with quality content.
Hiring a good copywriting agency or content creation service is only the first step, and will cost you about $50 – $150 per article (500 words) – you still need to plan what you want written and when. That means planning the following:
- Content Creation Schedule: Content marketing means planning at least two or three articles/blog posts every week. Because the content needs to be written for you to post on your website/social media platforms, you must schedule ahead of your desired publish dates by at least a week.
- Give Detailed Instructions: If you want your writer to become a valuable extension of your business, you must provide him/her with your customer profile (ex. Is 30, works a professional job, has 1.2 kids, and listens to Dio), and provide examples from other websites or blogs that shows the writing style you want. A writing style guide is also something that will go a long way to maintain consistency in language and formatting, and there are many resources on the Internet to help with crafting that.
- Use The Same Writer: Consistency is important, and chances are that during your first few articles/blogs, the style may differ because multiple writers are creating content for you. So once you’ve found a writer who communicates your company’s message well, use the same writer for all of your content marketing.
If your company is heavily utilising social media, there are a bunch of content management tools like Hootsuite and SproutSocial that allow you to schedule and automate the posting of content so that you can plan in advance and not have to worry about posting content on time. Some of these tools cost as low as $50 per month per user and also have other content and community management features that allow you to focus on creating great content.
3. Automate Your Payroll
Many small business owners really hate payday. Though, it may not be for the reason you think (unless your boss is a miser who likes to pay employees on the 10th of every month). Payday means calculating payroll – and unless you’re a mathophile (What?? – Ed.), this means busting out the calculator to render unto Caesar (CPF) that which is his. And that’s not even factoring in employee claims, etc.
So instead of crunching numbers and worrying about nasty letters from CPF – save yourself the hassle and worry by plugging your information into a payroll software program that does the calculations and compliance for you. It will save you time and the expense of either hiring another staff member ($2,000+ per month!) or adding this unholy burden onto your admin. Here are some good payroll options for you to consider:
- eVantage HR: This e-Payroll solution not only calculates overtime, bonuses, CPF, and expenses, it can also create payroll reports and will let you upload payslips on an e-Portal. There are also additional modules (at extra charge) that can automate your leave and employee claims. Expect to pay a flat monthly fee of $30 per employee, per month (under 50 employees).
- SMEPAYROLL: Easy-to-use payroll software that includes a variety of modules covering payroll (overtime, payroll slips, etc.), leave and claims. SMEPAYROLL even generates reports on CPF contributions, GIRO transfers, with the option for report customisation. With the PIC scheme, you can get this software for as low as $300+ for 25 employees.
- INFO-PAY Payroll Software: This payroll software has modules covering payroll, leave, payroll reporting and even HR. In short, this program covers just about every payroll need that you have, right down to handling online bank GIRO payments and tracking the increment/promotion history of your staff. The fees involved tally to about $2,800 (software + training/installation), but with the PIC scheme, your fee will be around $1,150.
Any of the items mentioned in the article can help you boost the productivity of your SME without leaving you as broke as a retired NBA player paying child support for his 10 kids. If you’re short on funds and you’d really like to use any of the items listed, you can visit SmartLoans.sg for a personal loan or SmartCredit.sg to find a credit card for your business purchases.
Know of any other affordable automation options for SMEs? Let us know on Facebook!
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