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Automation; the secret to scaling your online operations

Author: Harry Cobbold
WordPress website developer writing code on a laptop

Many businesses are yet to discover the transformative impact that technology holds for business operations. Automation can be a hugely powerful tool for reducing the amount of effort required to run your business at scale.

How can automation be disruptive? 

Automation allows you to turn tasks which were previously time consuming and expensive, into completely hands-off processes. Where these things might once have required dedicated members of staff and high amounts of administration, they can now be done in the click of a button, or simply triggered by an event on your website. 

Self-storage business, Storebox are a great example of the power of automation. Before they started utilising the disruptive power of technology, they were spending huge amounts of resources just operating their business – they had staff managing customer access to units and sales associates winning over customers on the phone. The workflow we put in place for Storebox completely transformed the way they did business. We made it possible for customers to calculate their storage price online, book into a unit, gain access straight away via text message and automatic key access – at any time of day or night. This new access automation meant there was no longer the need for lots of administration and the team’s time could be spent more on additional sales. This offered the business huge savings in overheads and time, boosted their conversion rates and excelled them as a disruptor in the industry.

In this way, automation can be transformative to businesses. The saved time and resources mean you have more to invest in growing the business rather than managing it.  It enables you to scale your business pretty much infinitely, without running costs rising alongside, increasing margins as you grow.

Automation allows you to turn tasks which were previously time consuming and expensive, into completely hands-off processes.

So how do you go about doing this?

With all that said, you shouldn’t worry about automation in the early days.

The reason is, when you’re just starting out things change quickly; your business is growing rapidly and you’re still learning lots about your customer. Your product is likely still evolving and you’ll still be finding your product/market fit. Automation often equals a lot of customisation, which means you’ll be creating a workflow which suits your exact requirements at that time, which might look very different to how you’ll operate in a month or a year. Re-hashing and re-building your automated workflow every few months or so, is likely to be costly and impractical. So for this reason, manual processes or other non-custom automations may be the best way to go in the earlier stages of your business. 

How do you know when you’re ready to automate? 

You’ll likely have a few years of solid operations under your belt (although some will be ready sooner than this). Up until that point you should remain as lean as you can and focus on whether you’re offering a really good customer experience. Your current process should be tried, tested and repetitive. You’ll also likely be working at near breaking point, with your current operations completely impractical for further scaling. Once you get to the stage where you know that your current operations won’t be able to support your next stage of scaling, then it’s time to automate. 

How to automate

Once you’ve got to the point where you’re ready to automate, there are a few clear milestones to pass. 

Process mapping and lean analysis

In order to start thinking about how you will automate, firstly map out the process, create a flow chart of all the relevant working pieces; your swim lanes, functions, people etc. Ask yourself; What does the process currently look like? What does it take to get from the start to the end of your process in steps? Once you’ve mapped this out, you need to verify your map with all the stakeholders involved to ensure you haven’t made any incorrect assumptions. 

Next, onto your lean analysis. Look at the whole process and discover whether you need to do all the steps involved, or if anything in there is “waste”. We define waste as any activity which does not directly add value to the end customer. If this step is the same every time, can we automate it? Work out where the most manual hours are being spent and start devising processes for automating these steps.

Non-custom tools to try

You don’t have to go custom right away, initially using tools such as Zapier and can help you automate workflows between different applications effectively without the need to code anything. It’s often possible to create an MVP style workflow to trial its effectiveness and impact before investing in something more robust.

Beyond this, custom technology should be the goal. It’s scalable and can make a huge long-term impact on revenue and overhead savings. 

Another great case study for the transformative power of tech is, Sherpr. Sherpr are a luggage shipping business, who prior to getting in touch with us were managing their business operations in a very manual way. Things like the customs forms, shipping labels and other admin activities had to be booked and managed manually by team members. The solution we provided them with allowed customers to complete all this information online and have it sent automatically to the relevant parties. Their previous operations simply weren’t scalable but within the first month of launch Sherpr had reached its first 6 figure month. This is another testament to the incredible impact tech automation can have on a business’ success. 

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