When you research ways to scale your business you’ll discover that an automated online business system is pretty much the first step everyone talks about. And with good reason. When you nail your systems, scaling won’t break your business.
What is an automated online business system? It’s a set of tools and tech that automate day-to-day tasks, allowing you to become more strategic. It provides a consistent quality of service to clients, and ensures that there is a data trail to report on and provide insights.
On paper it seems like a brilliant introduction to your business, what’s not to love?! Except, when you’re a value led business, it can present challenges. People buy people, after all. And how can an automated email convey your values and give that all important personal touch?
To begin, let’s explore exactly what an automated online business system can do for our business. And then we’ll answer that question.
Automated online business systems are an absolute game change for a micro business. Whether you’re looking to scale or not, a more resource efficient business is a good thing. If you want to scale, it’s essential.
A core component of a business system is automation through tech. Automation is designed to connect people and processes. For example, when you place your order in a Starbucks drive through it is entered by an employee into a computer and payment is taken. The order details arrive at the Barista’s screen, and stock levels are adjusted. 3 core processes were delivered (payment processing, order processing, stock management) with the single action of 1 employee. And you still received a personalised service. Pre-tech, that would have looked very different.
So what’s the point of automated online business systems?
Automations done right can help you simplify your business. And the simpler your business, the easier it is to scale. Think of everything you and your team do. Marketing, PR, dealing with enquiries, onboarding clients, serving clients, offboarding clients, collaborations, updating your website, managing your finances, project management, hiring, performance management … the list goes on. If you do everything manually the risk of human error increases, you create single points of failure in your business model, and the time and people burden becomes huge.
If you create effective business systems and automate core activities, you’ll significantly reduce the resource burden, lower risk, and simplify your activities so that you can focus on really important stuff.
Let’s look at how it can work in practice with a process that’s common to all service providers; dealing with enquiries.
You’ve worked hard on your marketing and website, and the enquiries are streaming in.. You’ve got a button on your services page that, when clicked, generates an email for potential clients to send you an enquiry. These emails land in your inbox, and you break away from your current task to read the email. You decide they could be a good fit, and you want to invite them to an enquiry call. So you reply, and after 2 or 3 emails back and forth, you get a date in the diary and send an invitation.
Assuming about 30% of all initial enquiries never respond to your initial email, and each email takes about 3 minutes to send and you send at least 3 to each remaining potential client, in total you’ve spent about 12 hours on email for every 100 enquiries you get..
The average hourly rate for business owners is around £55, so that’s a cost of about 1.5 days’ work and £660 just to set up the enquiry calls. That doesn’t include the cost of any marketing, or the proposal and onboarding stages which are even more admin heavy and time consuming!
There are many ways to add automation into the enquiry management process. Let me share one idea;
You connect a Dubsado lead capture form to the enquiry button on your website. On the form you include a filtering question – you want to understand how much the potential client has to invest in your services. If they select an amount that is less than your lowest cost service, they automatically receive a ‘thanks but you’re not ready for us yet’ email when they submit the form. Otherwise, they receive a thank you email with a link to an enquiry call scheduler.
They book themselves into your diary and receive an automated email confirming the details of the call and a copy of your Services Guide which helps to channel their thoughts about how you’ll work together. 24 hours before the call they receive an automated email reminder, which offers a gentle nudge and an opportunity to reschedule if something’s come up. They turn up to the call prepared and ready to discuss working together.
You spend 0 hours on emails because your tool (Dubsado) handles it all for you through automations. Your client has no idea because you’re addressing them personally and you’ve written the email templates in your brand tone of voice, including phrases like ‘I’m really excited to hear more about your business’. The cost of the tool is $400 per year (and it handles way more than enquiry calls!). So that’s about 1.5 days freed up, and a saving of around £340 per 100 enquiries. And, of course, you’ve been left to concentrate on your current clients and business activities without distraction.
There’s one concern that I hear a lot, and it’s very valid: How can I deliver a personalised service if everything is automated?
A personalised service that is aligned with your business values and makes your clients feel special and delighted is critical to the success of your business. It builds your reputation, it creates loyal clients and drives repeat and referral business. It also helps you to sleep well at night!
So it would be a really bad idea to automate everything in your business. Remember the example of the Starbucks drive through … a human takes the order, a human makes and delivers the coffee, and a human says ‘thank you’. Spelling your name wrong on the coffee cup has become part of the charm and part of their marketing (how many times do you see it on the explore feed of Instagram?!). Those touch points are critical to the experience of treating yourself to a coffee.
But you can automate key activities in your process that are repetitive and don’t need to be done by you. For example, scheduling a meeting and sending reminders. Sending a contract, invoice or onboarding email. Creating a GoogleDrive folder. Transferring data from one tool to another. Sending questionnaires and feedback forms.
And part automations are valuable too; for example getting a reminder to send the proposal, which is a template waiting for you to edit based on your enquiry call. It’ll save you time and deliver a standard service, with the benefit of adding that personal touch.
Using automations strategically is the key!
There are a few steps you can take to make sure your values weave through every element of your business, including your processes and automations.
Often we’ll grab at words or phrases that we think describe us; trust, integrity, open communication, community etc. And that’s where it stops.
Go deeper. Explore what makes you different as a business. Look for the values that, if they didn’t exist in your business, would make it feel totally different. And please, please, don’t include things that should be a given. You operate with integrity? Good, that’s the least I’d expect of any business! I can trust you? Great, I’d sure hope so if I’m giving you my money!
Once you’ve identified 3-5 core values ask yourself two questions; how does this value manifest in my business (internal)? And, how does this value manifest for my clients (external)? Look for tangible ways that this value comes to life.
One client we worked with identified ‘Best in class’ as one of their values. On the surface, that might seem like quite a bold and vague statement. But they really let it drive their culture. For example, they understood that to ensure they were best in class, their knowledge had to be deep and current. So every Friday was set aside as personal development day for all staff. They were to read a relevant book, complete a course, read up on the latest tech and white papers. But it didn’t stop there. In the afternoon they came together to share their most valuable and relevant learnings so that the whole team benefited. Not only were they becoming more knowledgeable and capable, but their services improved for clients. They were able to share informed opinions, latest information and guide their clients to best practices and solutions.
That is how deep values should run in your business!
Before you even think about automations, map out your client experience in detail. Capture each action that you and your clients need to take in a process map.
Look for opportunities to make it more efficient; could you create templates for emails and documents? Could you condense 2 or more steps into 1? Does everything really need to happen the way you’ve been doing it? As you go, note technical requirements; schedulers, contracts, onboarding packs, invoicing etc.
Next, look at it through the lens of your values. How can you turn the process into an experience that enables your client to feel your values? For example, if you have a brand value around communication, do your emails, documents, turnaround times and channels reflect it?
Consider how to add some magic to your experience. Personlised touches that make your client feel valued and cared for. These are the things that, when coupled with a painless process, will build loyalty and get them talking to others about you and your brilliant service. The book Talk Triggers suggests that people are 85% more likely to buy off the back of a recommendation from friends or family, and 19% of all global sales are driven by word of mouth marketing. So it’s worth the effort!
Now you have a complete and detailed picture of your client experience; the process, your technical requirements, your values weaving all the way through and those all important magic touches, you can look at implementing appropriate automations.
And there’s something I want to clear up straight away; automation does not equal no personality. You absolutely do not have to lose your brand voice and personal touches just because you choose to automate a step in your process.
For example, creating template emails to save you rewriting the same information over and over again is a really sensible, time saving thing to do. You can use your brand voice as normal, and leave spaces for personalisation. If you add this email to an automated workflow, just set it up so that you can edit the email before it sends. Popping in a personalised paragraph will take a few minutes (versus an hour to write the whole thing) and make all the difference to your client experience.
Some things can be fully automated; for example meeting confirmations and reminders, the signing of contracts and sending invoices.
There are no hard and fast rules. As long as the automations you implement, whether full or partial, are making your business more efficient whilst delivering a value based client experience, then you’re on to a winner.
In this blog I walk you through the different tools you can use in your business to bring your client experience to life.
Automations can feel overwhelming. This blog is a great starting point to get you thinking about them the right way. Take a step by step approach and you’ll have value driven automations in no time.
If you’d rather do it with support we offer an Operations Design workshop through our OpsOffice where we can map out your business processes, identify your requirements and recommend tools that will work for your business. We can also implement any tools you select. If you’ve already decided on Dubsado, we can check to make sure it’s the right tool for you, and build your workflows and automations.