Automation lets computers do what computers do best, while leaving creative, strategic work to the humans (who are still best equipped for that kind of work). But what kinds of things are easy to automate? And what kinds of things are other small business owners automating? We have a fairly comprehensive list.

But first, it’s worth knowing that there are three basic categories of automation.

3 Categories of Automation:

  • In-App Automation. Some automations are built right into applications that you already use. Or some applications ARE basic automations. In these instances, the app does the work, and you can implement automation yourself.
  • Business Process Automation. Basic process automation can sometimes be done with a tool like Zapier, but often needs intervention by a development team. Some process automations are simple, while others might include an completely custom piece of software. But almost all of them require some kind of programming know-how.
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This kind of automation is used to interact with software products that either don’t have an API (application programming interface) or don’t allow developers to access it. RPA software, like BluePrism or UIPath, use bots to act like a human would – clicking on things on actual websites or recording information manually. Most RPA software is intended for “Citizen Developers” or those that understand business process but don’t have formal programming training.

Okay, on to the things small businesses are automating. How many have you checked off the list?

20 Things All Small Businesses Should Automate

1. Payroll & On-Boarding.

There are several software products that will automate payroll and basic HR functions for you. At RoboSource, we use Gusto to do many basic HR tasks like payroll and some on-boarding. You pay a per-employee fee to use the software, but it takes care of things like address changes, PTO, taxes, and year-end paperwork. Nice and easy!

2. Sales Functions.

Again, there are various software options that will do this for you. Nutshell, Zoho, and Membrain are all customer relationship management (CRM) software, which provide sales tools that will let you customize internal sales processes that will remind you when it’s time to follow-up with a lead or will even send an automated email for you.

3. Email Marketing.

If you’re still sending group emails manually, you’re really missing the boat on this one. Platforms like MailChimp automate email campaigns and newsletters easily and keep track of unsubscribes and bounces for you. They also let you schedule emails to go out at a certain time. You can also usually do email marketing from a CRM. RoboSource uses Nutshell as a CRM, and it has a nice marketing component that allows you to send emails to various market segments and keeps track of data, clicks, and opens afterward. It also allows you to do simple in-app automations for drip campaigns. For example, when someone fills out a form on our website, it will add them to an “audience” and send them a welcome email. It then starts sending them the monthly newsletter.

4. Appointment Scheduling.

Don’t have (or really need) an assistant to schedule meetings for you? More and more business owners are for-going administrative assistants and using tools like Calendly or SimplyBook, which have low- or no-cost options. This can eliminate the back-and-forth that we all go through to schedule a time to meet. Plus, it puts the ball in the court of clients or potential vendors – if they are really interested, they’ll pick a time to meet.

5. Social Media Posting.

Tools like Hootsuite or Buffer can schedule and post social media updates across multiple platforms, saving you time and ensuring a consistent online presence.

6. Accounting and Bookkeeping.

Software like QuickBooks or Xero can automate invoicing, expense tracking, and financial reporting, which reduces manual data entry. These software options are often made to work hand-in-hand with your payroll software.

7. Website Analytics

Google Analytics takes some time to get set up, but once you do it, you can automatically track traffic to your website and even user behavior. This helps you make data-driven decisions and lets you experiment with things like A-B testing.

 8. Workflows & Processes.

Did you know that you can automate enforcement of your workflows through our Coach Bot software? Coach Bot lets you build out workflows, enforces them, lets you automate chunks of them, and then uses AI to improve efficiency.

9. Data Entry and Extraction.

If you are routinely entering the same data into two or more systems (or extracting the same data from multiple systems), you should look into business process automation or RPA, depending on your system.

10. Report Generation.

There are many software products that have a report-generation function built in. But if you can’t find one that works with what you’re doing, you may need someone to build you a custom automation. Either way, if you’re spending hours monthly or weekly creating the same reports, automation is definitely the way to go.

11. Customer On-Boarding

Again, this process usually isn’t as straight-forward as finding a software product, though there are some options available. But depending on your on-boarding process, you can likely streamline by automating the collection and validation of customer information, the creation of accounts, and the sending of welcome emails.

12. Stay Engaged with Hot Leads.

Some potential clients take longer to make a decision than others. Use your email marketing software to keep your company at the front of these potential-clients’ minds. Send an occasional email about a new and different benefit of your product or update them with new offerings. You can automate when the emails go out (2 weeks after the previous or 10 days later) or you can write a specific email and send it out to the group!

13. Recruitment.

Though some small businesses prefer to use a recruitment company, the cost can sometimes be prohibitive. Use an applicant tracking system like TrackStar Hire to track all of your talent acquisition details and automate communication with potential team members. A good system gives you access to a platform to collect and view applicants, track their progress, and filter them out based on qualifications.

14. Customer Service.

At RoboSource, we truly believe some things are best handled by people, so we are cautious in giving this advice. But speed is the deciding factor here. Automation can give immediate feedback to those seeking it – whether in the form of chatbots or automated emails. By being able to respond to queries immediately, you are more likely to retain customers. Follow-ups are sometimes best done by people though.

15. Supply Chain Management.

Having a real-time system like Shippabo automatically letting you know when to order, how much to order, and maintaining the right lead time is essential to smooth operations. Automated supply chain management ensures that you’re ready to meet the demand of your customers and lets you easily track shipments in real-time.

16. Order Processing.

While there are tools that do this, depending on your process, you might need something more custom. Automate the processing of customer orders by extracting order details from email or web forms and updating inventory or tracking systems.

17. Error-Prone Tasks.

Any time someone in your company is spending a lot of time doing something that is prone to human errors due to manual data entry or complex calculations, it’s something you should look into automating. Though computer bots occasionally run into something they don’t understand (and may need human help), they never get tired, need a break, or make a mistake. They just can’t do that.

18. Lead-Scoring System.

You may want to consider adding a system that automatically helps your sales team decide how viable a particular lead is. Lead scoring generates numerical values using key attributes of a potential sale. Most sales software will help you set up a lead-scoring system.

19. Drop-Shipping.

Have an e-commerce business and spend most of your time running packages to various shippers? Look into software like ShipJunction, which is a multi-carrier shipping system that automates the shipping process and produces all the documents required to ship an order.

20. Password Manager.

Use a password manager to share and secure login credentials for your team. RoboSource uses LastPass, which allows users to generate complex passwords and then stores them securely. You can share them with just one member of your team or the whole team.


Need help automating any of these processes? RoboSource is happy to help. Request a free consultation here!