Choosing the best automation tools for your small business

Choosing the best automation tools for your small business can be a complete (insert word) field. Whether you insert “mine” or “gold” into that blank all depends on three crucial factors.

There are thousands of free or low cost cloud-based solutions out there – referred to as SaaS (software as a service) products.

SaaS products range from email marketing, lead generation, sales conversion, accounting solutions, customer care and more. They promise less work for you, a more efficient business, the ability to grow, do more with less + money in your bank while you sleep. I love SaaS products and the opportunities they provide small business.

Their promises can, and do come true…but only if you pick the right ones for your business. When choosing automation software, the trick is to consider their impact on your business holistically and long-term.

Here are three of my tried and tested checks to help you find the automation goldfield and avoid the minefield.

Is the automation software easy to use?

This may seem like a pretty obvious one, but I personally think it is the most important. Having worked with many different systems across a range of different businesses, the one thing that causes more loss of productivity, time and ultimately money (directly and indirectly), are systems that are not user friendly.

Ease of use should be the number one thing on your list when considering a software solution. And think about the following perspectives.

  • Is it easy to install and configure?
  • Is it easy to use on a day to day basis?  That is: if it’s a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, will my sales team find it easy to create, update and close leads; if it’s a customer care solution, can you r support desk staff easily pick up where others have eft off; if it’s an email service provider (ESP), can my marketing team use it easily and effectively?
  • Is it easy to pull reports from and how customisable are these reports? This goes to the heart of most automation and business systems – the data you can retrieve from them is almost more valuable than the time they save you in your business. Finding out early what kind of reporting these systems can provide is so important. Also check whether the more advanced reporting and analytics can be done without needing to know special “languages” and “code”.
  • What support does the software provider give. Look for software that has an active community space and support desk. It’s often a great idea to test out their responsiveness by firing off a few questions during your trial period to see what they are like to work with.

A good litmus test is that if as the small business owner looking to outsource or employ staff, you find the software easy to use, your staff (current and future) should too.

Can the automation software scale with your business?

This is a little tricky and can be like a chicken and egg situation. One of the key reasons you would automate and systemise your business is so you can scale your business, or at least let the systems take over some of the heavy lifting of your day to day work.

With this in mind, it’s important to look for software and systems that will be able to support (and drive) your business growth.

Look for software and systems that support (and drive) your business growth

Striking that fine balance between a system that will grow with you, while not being too over the top and powerful for your immediate business needs is the ultimate goal here.

Picture moving from a foot-pedalled cart straight to a Forumula 1 race car without knowing how to drive first…you can see the accident waiting to happen right!?

Don’t over-engineer your business systems. This takes up time, money and effort that you don’t have to spend. Rather find something that provides a solution to your current needs, with the ability to scale up to the next level once you start to see the growth you are aiming for.

Don’t overengineer your biz systems. This takes time, $ + effort you don’t have!

Remember, you are also never stuck with a system and can always move up to a more sophisticated option. This does take some time and money to do, but by the time your business needs it, you’ll be in a position to cover that cost. Cover that cost then, not now!

Does the software integrate with other platforms in your business?

This point goes to the heart of looking at your business holistically. There are so many options for smart systems that help small businesses compete with big business on relatively small budgets by becoming more efficient, agile, responsive and scalable. But when it coms to systemising and streamlining a business, like a chain, your business is only as strong as its weakest link.

When looking at systems and software solutions for your business, you need to ask whether the particular system can EASILY integrate with the next software system along your chain.

Most SaaS providers specialise in providing a solution around one business process. This is great because it means they are focused on delivering the best service in their niche, as opposed to being average at many. But this means that as a business, you often have to use different solutions for different business processes.

As an example, your email marketing may be powered by one system, your lead capture and customer relationship another, your customer service another, your finances and billing another. You get the picture.

The key is to have a look at your systems and see what “eco-system” you can build with other providers around them.

Most of this can be easily found by doing a bit of research around “integration”. So you might search for a “x system” integration with “y system” in Google or on the SaaS providers’ pages themselves.

It’s also worth noting that there are many other SaaS providers that exist to support the integration market through custom built Apps or APIs. In essence, their companies are there to build integrations between particular SaaS products that may not provide their own integrations.

As with point one above around choosing a software that is easy to use, it’s as important to run the same check with these integration providers.

Go forth and systemise!

So here are my three tips for choosing the best automation tools for small business. I hope this has been helpful.

I’d also love to hear which ones you use in your business and what you like most about them – please leave a comment below.