Automating your business so you can take a break

 Small business owners put in long hours, and finding time for a decent break can be difficult. In fact, half (49%) of small business owners plan to spend less than three days away from work during the end of year holiday season, research has found.

Even when business owners do finally take time away from their business, only 14 per cent completely unplug while they’re away.

Most small business owners feel as though they have a very valid reason for not taking a holiday. A survey by Xero revealed that many struggle to take time off because they need to be available at all times as the key decision maker, or they’re self-employed, or just too busy to relax.

With Christmas just around the corner, it may be time to see if automating some of your tasks could make it possible to step away from your business for a much-needed break this year.

The case for automation

The possibilities of automation can have on the Australian economy could be huge. According to a report commissioned by Google, automating elements of a business could result in the economy reaping up a $2.2 trillion o by 2030, by doubling our pace of artificial intelligence and robotics automation and freeing up tasks.

For small and medium-sized businesses, automation can play a role in minimising repetitive processes such as invoicing or email communications.

The key is to automate tasks where a human touch doesn’t add additional value, or where it’s essential to eliminate the possibility of human error. It’s a good idea to start small and think of repetitive functions that can free up time or allow aspects of the business to run in your absence.

There are countless apps and digital tools that will enable you to streamline processes that can increase customer service and reduce costs.

Some popular tools for Australian small businesses include cloud accounting tools like Xero, MYOB or for soloists, Rounded.

When it comes to  email marketing or social media tools such as MailChimp, Hootsuite or Bufferare useful, while Zapier can automate application workflows, and Slack can manage internal communication.

Article image 2

Automating from the outset

Kate Willbourn-Trevett introduced automated workflows to several parts of her small business from the outset and has incorporated new digital tools and apps along the way.

She left her corporate career to launch Foodies Collective two years ago, which sends boxes of artisan food products to customers all over Australia.

She says the business has automation tools in place to simplify processes across social media, email newsletters and accounting.

“Automation has allowed me to spend the limited time I have on other parts of the business, which is focused on growth versus the day-to-day running of the business.”

She says automating certain tasks also ensures the business can still run smoothly if she takes a short break over the holiday period, or a few days off here and there. The software and tools enable her to “check in on things” even if she is on a break, which also helps her manage school holiday periods with her young family.

Article image 3

Automating the finances

Automation has also freed up time for Rachel Power to focus on growing her business. The owner of Waterfalls Café & Gallery in Tasmania, Power started her journey to automation in the finance arena, implementing Xero, which she uses for payroll, invoicing, bookkeeping and accounting.

“Automating elements of the business and utilising apps has saved me so much time and sanity. It allows me to efficiently outsource areas I’m not strong in (like accounting), yet still be able to oversee them,” Power says.

The transparency that cloud automation tools have bought to her business means she can take a few days off and still know the businesses’ finances and payroll will still be taken care of.

“I’ve now introduced Kounta for my cash registers, which also integrates into Xero. This means I can see in real time [even when I’m away from the business] how busy my café is and what items are selling,” Power says.

Automating pricing updates

Rob Lambert is another small business owner to look for opportunities to introduce automation technologies. He’s particularly focused on automating small repetitive tasks within his businesses, Flowers Across Melbourne and Flowers Across Sydney.

“We’ve automated many different aspects of our business to help us keep consistency while allowing us to focus on the creative side of the business,” Lambert says.

A key issue for Lambert was constantly updating and managing fluctuating flower prices throughout the season, week by week, and by state. The mammoth task was time consuming and constant and was another barrier to taking any time away from the business. By implementing bespoke systems created in-house, he’s been able to better manage pricing updates so he can focus on other aspects of the business.

Lambert also uses Zapier for a number of repetitive tasks, which connects multiple apps such as Google Sheets, Slack and Trello. “We use Zapier to automatically filter emails and feed any customer complaints into a spreadsheet for review so that we can go over them together as a team and pick any recurring issues we need to get on top of quickly,” he says.

“With automation and cloud-based products, I’ve managed to get to the point where as long as I have a device with an internet connection, I can run my business from anywhere in the world.”

And, like so many other small business owners, he’s is looking forward to taking a break this Christmas.