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Small Business Management – 15 Tools for Automation

May 23, 2016

Small business owners need to do a lot of different things, so anything you can get done automatically is going to boost your productivity. Small business technology has come a long way, so here are five tasks you can automate to free up more of your time.

Presumably, you’ve already automated key recurring payments for your company, like your small business insurance. With that out of the way, check out these 15 resources that can help you work smarter, not harder. As a bonus, each of these products has a free trial version so you can make sure it’s right for you before you buy, and many work off the ‘freemium’ mode, which means there are free version you can use until you outgrow them.

Social media

Let’s face it – social media is fun to use. You get to say nice things about yourself and your business and people often say nice things about you. You could get lost for days in the spider web of likes, follows and favorites. But that’s just the problem – you could spend all your time posting and responding to posts and never get any work done.

In order to use social media effectively for your business, you need to schedule your posts, manage your accounts and track your performance. This could become a full time job if you let it, or you could use one of these social media apps to do the work for you.

  • Hootsuite is the market leader in social media apps. It will automatically schedule up to 350 messages at a time. Keyword search is built in and there’s a mobile app. There’s a free version, and a pro version that starts at $9.99 a month.
  • Buffer lets you create your own content schedule. The free version allows one user to post to one profile per platform, up to 10 posts per profile. Small business plans start at $99 per month for up to five team members, 25 profiles, and 100 posts per profile, and adds posts to Pintrest.
  • Onlywire lets you post content to 50 different social media networks at once. View and respond to comments with monitoring console, Pricing starts at $5 a month for up to 1000 submissions. Analytics lets you track performance.

When posting to social media, beware of what you say, especially when replying to comments. Posts can get misinterpreted and people can get angry and upset. Be sure your business liability insurance is comprehensive, so you have protection against any posts that might cause a lawsuit.

Email marketing

Email marketing is the heart and soul of many business, particularly those that sell to consumers. Automating your email marketing brings a host of advantages: professional-looking emails that strengthen your brand identity, the ability to test messages and offers, and analytics that show which campaigns work best.

  • MailChimp boasts customizable, easy to use templates that are mobile-friendly, as well as unlimited free storage, automatic A/B testing, a mobile app, mobile list signup and social analytics. The free version supports up to 2,000 email subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. The paid version starts at $10 per month for up to 500 subscribers.
  • Constant Contact offers lots of choices for templates, sorted by industry and function. There’s access to a library of free stock images to customize your messages. Pricing ranges from $20 per month for up to 500 contacts to $85 per month for up to 10,000 contacts.
  • iContact offers a basic Email Marketing package and an advanced Pro Automation package. Features that have an extra charge in the basic package but are included in the Pro version include A/B testing and Google analytics. The basic version ranges in price from $14 a month for 500 subscribers to $79 a month for 10,000 subscribers. The pro version ranges from $99 a month to $189 a month.

No matter which program you choose, make sure your emails are in compliance with anti-spam regulations. And make sure you have the right business liability insurance in place to protect your company from a claim or lawsuit related to your email marketing practices.

Customer Relationship Management

CRM helps you organize your prospects, clients, vendors and everyone else you come into contact with in your business. But a good CRM program will do much more. It will automate processes as your clients move through the sales funnel from target to prospect to customer.

  • Salesforce is the market leader in CRM, and is used in companies of every size. It features a customizable dashboard, so you can set it up to show just what you want to see. Each contact’s social media accounts automatically populate their record. Salesforce has three packages for small businesses, ranging in cost from $25 per month for up to five users, to $150 per month for unlimited users.
  • Insightly is designed specifically for small businesses, so it is very easy to use. It lets you manage projects, events and tasks. The contact manager lets you tag and group your contacts, and stores background data and the contact’s communication history. Insightly has a free version that allows for up to three users and 2500 records. The paid version starts at $12 per month per user, and allows 100,000 records.
  • Zoho CRM lets you see your contacts, pipelines and sales cycles, and automates workflows and repetitive tasks. The free version has just about everything a small business needs – contact management, workflow automation, lead generation, analytics, social collaboration and more, for up to 10 users. The paid version starts at $12 per user per month.

Storing all this data about your customers makes you liable for a data breach. Cyber insurance will protect your company if your customer data is hacked.

Ecommerce

  • Shopify lets you build your own online store using one of their themes, and customize it as much as you want. You can use Shopify for your website, including a blog and marketing support, and you shopping cart is optimized for mobile. Shopify’s basic plan starts at $29 a month.
  • Homestead is a great ‘my first website’ product to which you can add a shopping cart. If your needs become more complex, you can move to a more robust package and an advanced store. The introductory website package is $5.99 a month, and the basic shopping cart is an additional $14.99 a month.
  • Vendio makes use of the ecommerce capability of industry leaders like Amazon, eBay and OpenSky, letting you set up stores on these platforms. You can also set up your own store, optimized for mobile, and sell on Facebook. Plans start at $24.95 a month for up to 300 SKUs.

If you’re storing customer information and credit card numbers, you’re at risk of being hacked. Make sure your business liability insurance covers the costs associated with a breach, like notifying affected parties and providing credit monitoring.

Accounting

Hardly anyone goes into business for the joy of tracking their income and expenses. Accounting functions are perfect for automation, but it’s important to find the right software for your needs.

  • QuickBooks is the industry leader in accounting software for small business. They have specialized products for independent contractors, professional services, non-profits, retailers and more. These packages offer income and expense tracking, invoicing, payroll, tax management and more, and start at $10 per month
  • FreshBooks focuses on invoicing and billing and is best suited for small companies that provide a service to a relatively small number of clients. The basic package offers support for just five clients, but more advanced versions will let you bill an unlimited number of clients and also offers the ability to track employees’ time and sales. It offers limited inventory management, so it’s best suited to service providers. Prices range from $12.95 to $39.95 a month.
  • Wave is a free accounting package geared toward consultants, freelancers and entrepreneurs with nine employees or fewer. Wave offers accounting, invoicing, payroll and payments for free. You only pay if you want to add payroll, process credit cards or for premium support.

No one likes to think that their employees would take advantage of them, but employee theft in small companies is a big problem. Your business liability insurance can protect you against employee theft, including the costs to identify the fraud and recover the assets.

How do you automate tasks in your small business? Tell us in the comments below.