20 Feb How Automation Is Changing Small Business Operations
Small businesses tend to operate on tighter budgets than their larger competitors. Even so, being of a small size does have its perks. It is much easier for small businesses to adopt technology and innovate as they have fewer and smaller systems to upgrade. Because of this, small business automation helps many organizations boost agility. Small businesses can then serve customers that large corporations cannot in ways that these corporate giants might only dream of.
What Is Business Automation?
When the 2000s came around, the idea of robotics taking human jobs caused automation to take on a steely face. People in manufacturing, mining and agriculture were especially terrified of the effects it would have on the job market.
While science fiction movies have certainly exaggerated the current reality of robotic applications, they are not that far from the truth. Robots work on production lines and even help assemble some of our favorite cars and common appliances.
Over the past decade or so, automation has taken on yet another aspect. While robotics still play a role in commerce, it is software applications that now make small business automation possible. Artificial intelligence drives these innovations. Here are some of its components:
- Lifecycle management
- Machine learning
- Natural language processing
- Data prep and cleansing
- Consumer features
What Small Business Operations Changes Has Automation Led To?
It is not without some surprise that the world has watched small businesses innovate ahead of their competitors. Consider, for example, how Rocket Mortgage compelled banks to ditch their traditional mortgage applications and upgrade to online versions with faster approval times. This implies that small business automation affects not just the business but, in time, the industry it operates in.
- Growth: One of the problems large corporations face is that automation means big job cuts. In fact, Forbes estimates that automation cuts 10% of jobs but creates 3% in turn. This often puts the business in a difficult position when it comes to public opinion. Smaller businesses have the opportunity to go lean from the start. It limits wasted human resources and focus more on “repurposing” over position redundancies. This allows the business to focus on growing instead of cutting.
- Processes: Artificial intelligence facilitates leaner teams by transferring menial tasks to bots. Humans can then focus on tasks that require human intelligence, creativity and a better understanding of human emotions. Common examples of this are bots handling small queries from customers, especially after hours. In some instances, this helps human work processes become so technology-driven that employees can finally score the enviable perk of working 100% remotely.
- Costs: Sometimes the initial cost of small business automation is zero dollars. For instance, Google provides free applications. These help marketers to automate some of their marketing and SEO work. Google Drive and its host of Office applications also make cloud computing possible for everyone from college students to large corporations. Even when the initial cost of automation is high, it usually pays for itself in increased efficiency over time. This is how small businesses do more with less than their bigger competitors.
- Payments: Automating payments have made a big difference in business in two ways. Automating the payment delivery process helped businesses ensure subscriptions were almost always paid on time. Automating the process of receiving payments through online mediums then made it possible for businesses to make money even outside of their normal operating hours. It also birthed businesses that only operate online, including banks.
- Customer Experience: Automation does not always improve the customer experience. Some people hate talking to the bots and prefer being able to make a phone call. Older demographics are especially likely to feel this way. For the most part, however, automation helps improve the customer experience when it comes to speed and convenience. Bots are also much better at “remembering” millions of customer preferences compared to people. This “memory” leads to a better, targeted marketing experience for consumers.
How Can You Prepare for Small Business Automation?
Small businesses may dominate automation, but it doesn’t mean every small business has followed suit. The good news is that it’s not too late to start putting plans in place to catch up.
- Focus on the Customer Experience: Some businesses thrive on a traditional model. People enjoy coming into the building to do business and have zero interest in automation. Get a good feel for your customers’ future appreciation for these changes before making any. It’s also a good idea to use automation to add more features as opposed to replacing anything in the beginning. This gives people not just the time to adjust but also the option.
- Invest in Employees: Millennials and Gen Zs tend to walk through the office door with a comprehensive knowledge of basic technology and the ability to catch on quickly. Still, this is not true for all of them, and it might be especially untrue for older workers. Invest in training. Ensure that all your workers get prepared for working with technology before it becomes a part of the business. If you lack the funds for full-scale training, task the tech-savvy workers with the responsibility of crosstraining the others.
- Improve Data Security: Small businesses tend to have a false sense of security when it comes to data breaches. In the past year, more than half of small businesses suffered at least one data security breach. In spite of this, only 14% have a proper plan in place. Note that small business automation requires data. It’s important to make security a top priority when designing system upgrades. Failure to do so could lead to a breach of trust with your customers.
- Work With an IT Team: No system is perfect. They all go down at some point. When they do, you need a tech team at the ready to resolve the issue. Some companies employ a technician and programmer in house. Others outsource the work to an external company that specializes in this area. When it comes to automation, outsourcing the tech work to competent third-party companies tends to be the better option.
- Boost Your Marketing: One form of small business automation many business owners do not immediately think of is search engine optimization. When you maintain domain authority, SEO is the gift that keeps on giving with no additional intervention from you. It frees up some of the time you would otherwise spend on hands-on marketing. While these do play an important role in promoting your business, sometimes there are other more pressing matters to tend to.
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