We live in uncertain times. This is even more true as entrepreneurs. Even when we have stability, we are reasonably worried it may be a fleeting moment, as so much of our professional lives are outside of our control. Hiring a new team member is a big gamble, not just for our end-of-the-month balance sheet, but because we may be attracting talent away from other roles, when we can’t guarantee them a paycheck.
This article is to teach you how to keep payroll down and revenue up by automating where you need to, as well as when automation will risk your bottom line.
Marketing automation for your startup
A lot of people look at marketing as an art, but really it’s more of a science, relying heavily on experimentation and analytics. For now, you still need one full-time employee, or maybe even part-time or freelancer, fulfilling this role, but, instead of them having to hire a whole team, your bootstrapping startup can get by with that one savvy marketeer and a whole lot of inexpensive marketing automation tools.
This is exactly what ecommerce retailer DollarHobbyz.com has done to scale their business rapidly but cautiously.
"We are in an age where there truly is an app for everything. The collection of great business apps for email, shipping, inventory, social media management, and more, has allowed us to increase our productivity and, ultimately, revenue,” cofounder Richard Arkell said. “We’ve invested many hours researching and implementing the most beneficial apps, SaaS and they have paid off a hundred-fold.”
Arkell said in particular that their two-man marketing team has jumped on apps as a way to multiple their effort, not their monthly budget. DollarHobbyz marketing team alone uses this array of tools:
- Moz SEO and website management tools
- Ahrefs for social media and search engine automation (SEO)
- dotmailer email marketing and automation
- Buzzsumo for content marketing and competitive analysis
- SEMrush for SEO and search engine marketing (SEM)
“We have exactly two people in marketing right now, and they are able to handle what many companies would need entire teams devoted to,” he said.
Sales automation for your startup
There is a plethora of sales tools, including, but not limited to customer relationship management software or CRM. You can always start out with a good old Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet but eventually, particularly if you have a distributed sales team focusing on sales that take more than one conversation, you’ll eventually have to upgrade to a CRM.
When your team is still small, particularly five or fewer focusing on sales, you can’t go wrong with small business-focused CRMs like ZOHO or Insightly, both which have decent freemium plans, usually free up to a certain number of contacts.
Go for a sales tool that helps you keep your prospects’ contact information in order and which works to prevent confusing account duplication, but that also has some customizability. Since open-ended questions and their open-ended answers are really important to build and maintain client relationships, it’s always nice to have a CRM with large text boxes where you can internally share details about the client and the sales process.
Customer support automation for your startup
Customer support software is a testy topic, as overdoing the automation here could not only lose future business, but risk your current customers.
Good support automation means giving clients multiple places where they can find answers themselves. Searchable knowledge-base tools automate the answering of common questions from pricing to payment to tech nitty-gritty.
Social media tools like Hootsuite and Buffer may fit into the marketing column, but are most important for customer support. When something goes wrong or a customer is frustrated or simply when they can’t find your contact info they resort to the very public arenas of Facebook and Twitter first. In order to seem responsible and in order to be responsive, you need to use a social media monitoring tool that you and your colleagues have connected to your mobile for fast response, any time, any place. Even if it’s to just to follow them back and ask them to direct message you their contact details so you can fix it first thing Monday morning, both your current customer and your prospects peeking in on your social media channels will expect response within the hour.
Above all else, once you’ve automated the basics, make sure it is very clear how and when they can get in touch with an actual human being. Your website footer and your social media must have a phone number or in-use Skype for customer service. You should be clear of times support is available, but then also offer a place with a simple form they can fill out with phone number and a few different times (with area code) to call them back.
When something does go awry or even when a customer is clearly satisfied, other team members need to know. Go for a customer support or tech support tool that integrates with your CRM or sales tools so that the sales rep can know if something went wrong on the support end and be prepared with how the call was handled.
Most importantly, remember, you can automate a lot but you can’t lose the human touch in your business, particularly with customer service.
Go with what works for you and your small business
As a CEO or manager, you need to examine each of your business processes and think about where automation will work for you and for your customers. Take advantage of almost every business software’s free trials to experiment, and focus on tools that work together to streamline your operations. While software expenses are tax write-offs for your business, adding too many tools will actually slow you down, so play around with the right level of automation for you and your small team.
And it’s not just automation that will grow your revenue rapidly.
“Another huge contributor to keeping costs down and revenues up is teaching efficiency practices in all areas of the business – whether it’s the exact process of sealing a package, or as simple as teaching keystroke shortcuts on a keyboard, every efficiency means higher productivity and lower payroll,” Arkell said.
Always look for the right combination of the human touch and tricks and tech to make your small business prosper, keeping revenue up and payroll down until the right moment arises to scale your business.