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Business process automation: the complete guide

Business process automation is critical to business success. It helps companies of all sizes across industries achieve their goals faster and center their efforts and resources on what’s important. If you want to increase efficiency in your business, here’s all you need to know.

Human error, inefficiency, and natural delays that come with manual tasks can lead to less time and money in your business. Fortunately, independent businesses can use business process automation to help minimize losses while increasing organizational efficiency. 

Business process automation is an excellent way for companies to move forward in the digital era. It promotes quicker adjustment to change– the key to thriving in an increasingly competitive world–and systems that help your business grow and scale faster.

A recent report suggests that about a third of the duties in current jobs can be automated, and as technologies develop, these numbers will only grow. Read on to learn more about automation and how you can use it in your favor.

In this post:

What is business process automation?

A business process is a given set of activities that enables your company to achieve a particular goal or task, including:

Typically, these workflows involve a series of tasks or steps that, when handled manually, could cause bottlenecks, communication breakdowns, and human error, among other preventable issues. Simplifying through automation will empower your entire business to work more efficiently and allocate human and financial resources where they’re truly needed.

Business automation is any software designed to reduce manual, repeatable tasks. It enables you and your team members to establish set processes for all your business needs, which helps maximize your time and productivity.

You don’t need to run a big corporation with multiple teams to benefit from this approach. Business process automation is fully customizable to your company’s unique needs, regardless of size and scope.

The right automation software will also help you foster healthier client relationships. When you provide the same experience to everyone, you can create better inclusivity and less confusion. You can ensure you’re providing all the information you need to provide without anything slipping through the cracks. 

Team members discussing a workflow

What are the benefits of automating?

For independent businesses, the biggest benefit of learning how to automate your business is the time you’ll save. Without it, you and your team might spend hours each week on tasks like replying to emails, moving projects forward, and tracking tasks. Once you have more time on your hands, the benefits will also show in other places throughout your business.

  • Saving time: Automating your main business tasks saves your team significant time and empowers them to work smarter. This helps them focus on business duties requiring a more personal touch, critical thinking, or a more intricate creative process. 
  • Boosting revenue: Business process automation enables businesses like yours to increase their profits. That’s because it allows you to take on more clients and scale your business easily.
  • Increasing productivity: Getting tedious, repetitive tasks out of the way means getting more valuable work done. You and your team can focus on core project work and business strategy rather than spending hours on tasks like answering emails and sending documents. 
  • Accuracy: Human error is natural. However, you can prevent it with automation. By creating workflows that you can automate, they’ll always follow the same process. There’s no room for error or missed steps.
  • Growing your business: Business process automation will empower you to scale operations as your company grows. Once you have established workflows, it won’t take as much time to update them with more steps, or even duplicable existing workflows into new automations. As you take on more clients and projects, your automations can scale as needed. 
  • Standardizing common tasks: If you have multiple employees handling the same workflows, they may handle them in different ways. For your clients, the difference in experience can start to lead to a poor experience. Instead, automation lets you standardize your workflows and tasks, keeping everything consistent and organized. 
  • Providing added visibility and transparency: Business process automation software allows you and your team to view the next steps in your workflows, all in one place. This enables everyone involved in a project to track its progress at a glance.
  • Enhancing the customer experience: Automation provides your clients with added convenience and quicker access to the steps they need to take, like signing a contract and paying for services. It also enables faster response times so you can message your leads or current clients quickly.
  • Improving document management: Keeping track of documents manually can be an absolute nightmare. Additionally, it can cause you to lose valuable information and prevents all team members from conveniently accessing the data they need for a specific task. Business process automation allows you to keep all the files your team may require neatly stored in one place. 
Woman on her ipad with icons representing automated business processes

What are some examples of business process automation?

According to Gartner, the market for business automation solutions will grow by roughly 24% by the end of the year. That’s because most businesses are still accelerating their digital transformation plans in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

There are currently very few tasks that cannot benefit from automation in the workplace. Yet, the final choice on what needs automation in your business depends entirely on how automation fits in with digital transformation, your particular needs, and unique business goals, which can change as your company expands.

Some common workflow examples you can automate include:

1. Reporting: As an upgrade from manual tracking and spreadsheets, business process automation software will allow you to report various activities. For example, if you’re using an accounting automation tool, you’ll be able to generate financial reports more quickly than by looking through spreadsheets or other manual finance trackers.

2. Client management: Automation offers a seamless way to build and nurture individual relationships with each of your clients. Though you might think that automation removes the personalization behind 1:1 interactions, it actually gives you more time to make those touch points more robust. By using an automated client management workflow, you can ensure everyone is treated to the same, standardized process.

3. Project closure: Business process automation software also comes in handy when it’s time to tie up loose ends as you wrap up each project. It enables you to convey the appropriate information to your clients as you debrief, review final results, provide concrete next steps, and ask for feedback. Automation also allows you to build in steps that might usually miss, such as asking for a review or referral.  

4. Client evaluation: Automation is also beneficial in assessing if a client is the right fit for your business. It lets you gather the required information to determine if a given client aligns with your business goals. A business process automation solution promotes higher success as you navigate new projects and increases the chances of client retention. 

5. Email automation: Most independent businesses need email automation for two reasons: communicating with leads and communicating with clients. Instead of responding to every inquiry, automation will let you send pre-made responses to maintain professionalism and save time. Once leads become clients, you can automate standardized messages to send throughout projects and project milestones. 

6. Onboarding: Business process automation can expedite employee or client onboarding. It will help you provide them with all the information they need and, in turn, allow you to ask what you need from them in a simplified, user-friendly way. 

7. Finance processing: Automation tools will let you automatically track all your accounts payable and receivable. Additionally, it will allow your team to boost your business transformation by performing more analytical tasks that will help your business grow and find areas of improvement. 

8. Approvals:  Automation will help guarantee your employees don’t have to track you down to gain approvals. For many systems like HoneyBook, you can build internal task reminders into your automated workflows. At key milestones, you’ll know when it’s time to review project work. You can also automate the process of gaining client approval by scheduling the right emails to send at the same milestones. 

9. Booking: Automate your entire booking process by scheduling a booking template to send as a client selects services. This core workflow should only take minutes, and automation lets you avoid the back-and-forth that may come from sending your documents manually over email and waiting for a response. 

10. Scheduling: Avoid the back-and-forth with scheduling as well by using an automated scheduling system. You can add in your time blocks and send your calendar to your clients so they’ll automatically see an up-to-date version of your schedule. Instead of trying to find a time that works for both of you, your availability is updated in real-time. 

Two women writing business process automation examples on a white board

How to know which workflows and processes to automate

It might be tempting to try to automate every possible process in your business. However, that’s not always the best approach. Before considering automation solutions, you must determine where digitalization would be meaningful and impactful. 

Process mapping is essential when defining which workflows and procedures could benefit from an automation solution. It will help you better visualize your business operations and determine which tasks don’t necessarily require human attention. This way, your teams can leave repetitive tasks that hinder the workflow to your automation software. 

Mapping can be beneficial to:

  • Identify workflow requirements
  • Allocate resources more efficiently
  • Set realistic automation goals
  • Eliminate redundancies 

Workflow mapping allows you and your team to keep tabs on your current processes and identify areas of improvement. It will let you make the necessary adjustments to simplify those essential business processes that no longer work, save resources, and increase efficiency. 

Creating a process map is helpful in realizing how long your team members’ primary duties take. Additionally, it will help you decide which tasks you can eliminate or consolidate to make room for other more profitable activities. 

As you map out your workflows, consider your entire clientflow of selling your services. What steps need to be taken at each step? Who was involved with managing responsibilities? How much time does each step take? 

Don’t forget that your workflow automation system needs may change over time and that what makes perfect sense today may not make sense in a few months or within a few years. Your business will evolve as it grows, and so will the market, the industry, and your clients. Keep an eye out for necessary adjustments in your business process automation strategy. Keep an open mind to know when to let go of your old ways and adopt newer automation methods. 

Person using workflow mapping on a bulletin board

How to start automating your business

Automating the necessary tasks to boost your business operations is not as challenging as it may seem. All you need to do to achieve your business process automation goals is to follow these steps:

1. Develop goals for your optimized workflows: Before you start automating your business, you need to set realistic objectives. Determine what you want to achieve through automation and which of your business operations can benefit from it. There’s no point in implementing automation just for automation’s sake. You must always ask yourself if this approach will actually help streamline the workflow or if it will complicate things even further. 

2. Map your current processes: As stated earlier, workflow mapping is crucial in business process automation. This visualization technique allows you to understand which steps will benefit from automation, and which ones need to remain manual. Breaking everything down with a process map will also let you recognize different dependencies and requirements for moving projects forward.

3. Determine which workflows and steps are manual and repeatable: Once you have a clear idea of all the duties involved in your workflows, you can identify which tasks could benefit from automation. For example, manually answering every inquiry isn’t the best use of your time. Furthermore, if you know you put together a welcome packet for every client, why not automate that process?

4. Consider if steps can be combined and streamlined: Just because a workflow works as it is doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better. Sometimes, you must consolidate or simplify certain tasks to increase workflow efficiency. Process mapping will give you a better overview of your daily business operations so that you can decide if you can get the same results with fewer steps. Using a clientflow management platform like HoneyBook, you can then combine automation with more streamlined processes. 

5. Create new, automated workflows: Once you’ve assessed your current business processes and defined how to make them more effective, you can decide where automation makes sense. You don’t have to embrace digital transformation all at once, though. You can test automation little by little in different business processes until you find or create a workflow that works for you. The adjustment may seem daunting at first, and it may have a learning curve, but if you take the appropriate steps, it should start yielding the results you need in no time. 

a woman on a laptop learning how to automate her business

The main challenges of business process automation (and how to handle them)

You’re taking a step toward the future when you automate business operations and other essential organizational tasks. Data shows that over 80% of business leaders plan to speed up their business process automation efforts. However, implementing a robust automation strategy may come with numerous challenges, and you must be prepared to address them to succeed. Some of the most common issues you could face with business process automation include the following:

1. Fear of unemployment

Implementing business automation can reduce manual tasks and business operations in your company. That could lead to employees thinking that business process automation software may jeopardize their jobs. You can ease their minds by explaining that the best reason to use automation is to spare them the time and effort spent on these monotonous tasks. This way, they can focus on tasks that will help them grow and gain more skills.

2. Lack of integration

Chances are you’re already using some apps or software to help you with your diverse business tasks. Transitioning into automation means you’ll need to translate all your current processes into a new system. Find a tool that makes it easier to take your existing information and seamlessly connect it with your new platform. Though it might take a little up-front setup, it is possible to find the system that works best for your processes, making them easier to onboard to your new automation software.

3. Resistance to change

Some of your team members may find it easier to keep using traditional, manual methods. Your job is to show them how much more convenient it is to use automation to increase efficiency. Proper training could help dissipate their doubts and onboard them much faster.

Pro Tip: Business process automation implementation should not be a hassle when appropriately planned. Taking any potential obstacles into account and tackling them before they have the chance to happen will spare you many headaches down the line.

How automation fits in with digital transformation

Digital transformation is far from a one-size-fits-all concept. It varies depending on your type of business and your industry. It means transitioning manual processes into digital, streamlined ones for independent businesses.

Automation is a medium you use to reach an objective. Digital transformation, on the other hand, is THE objective. You can invest in as much automation as you want, but if you’re still taking paper checks, you’re not using automation to the fullest.

As you’re starting the process of automating your business, first consider which workflows you need to digitize. You may even be doing a lot of your work with pen and paper, which is a great opportunity to transition into a platform like HoneyBook. Though it might take time, transitioning to an all-in-one digital system will help you implement automation, stay organized, and position your business for long-term growth.

Person on laptop with gear illustration showing business process automation software

Moving forward with business process automation

Business process automation is the future of successful business operations. Using software to take care of specific operational tasks that could become repetitive and are prone to human error will save you tons of resources and time while helping you build a more solid foundation for your business to grow. Additionally, it will let you and your workers focus on what matters the most to gain a competitive edge that allows you to thrive in an ever-evolving market.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-use automation solution that will take your small business to the next level, try HoneyBook. Our all-in-one business platform will empower you and your team members to boost operational efficiency through internal project reminders, emails, file sharing capabilities, invoice sharing, client welcome packets, pricing guides, and more. 

HoneyBook, the only CRM for solopreneurs, offers a powerful, interactive clientflow management platform that lets our members customize files to their needs and include sales videos, photos, questionnaires, a customizable online invoice, contracts, and more, and allows you to get paid directly through our online payment software. Everything is fully branded to match your business, and each file can be dynamic and interactive, depending on your needs. Now peace of mind comes with just one login.

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