Advice from the Experts: Optimizing and Streamlining Your Business Operations

June 14, 2023  | 

This blog post contains the transcription of a free virtual Lunch & Learn we hosted in May 2023 titled, “Optimizing and Streamlining Your Business Operations.” You can view all of our upcoming webinars here.

How to Improve Your Business Operations

Who are the Top Experts to Know?

Liz August is located in Worcester, MA and is the founder of Simplify, Simplify, which she started in 2015. Over the course of time, she’s simplified both the businesses and the personal lives of more than 100 clients, strictly online service providers. She calls herself a business and tech strategist because while her company does offer virtual assistance such as admin tasks, as she has a lot of VAs on her team, they also do large builds like websites, email marketing funnels, and all of those good things. Overall, she helps her clients stay in their zone of genius so that they don’t chuck their computers out the window.

Kathleen Ribeiro is the founder of KMService, located on the South Shore. She’s been helping other female entrepreneurs with their business systems for about a year and a half now. Her main goal is to help them get back their freedom, whether it’s so they can spend time with their families, they can do what they’re passionate about, and they can travel. She makes sure that their business is on autopilot, so they’re actually excited to be in their business and get to do other things with the balance they have as a business owner.

What Is Automation in Business Operations, and Why Is It Important?

Automation is just using technology to streamline and optimize as many tasks and processes as possible. It’s meant to reduce human work and get those many different tiny tasks done so that you’re leaving your bandwidth available for the larger tasks that really need your own expertise.

You want to free up your time and make sure that you are delegating and getting rid of those repetitive tasks that you no longer have to do. And it’s so important because you, as a business owner, start doing things on autopilot yourself.

Why not have a tech do your autopiloting for you? And that’s giving you back your time to do other parts of your business that can’t be automated. A big theme here is time. Time is money, but some people just want extra time to do the things that make them happy, whether that’s a passion project or a hobby.

What Should Every Business Automate?

As soon as someone inquires about working with you, you want to make sure they receive that first thank you email. People want to know, now that we’re in such a technology online world, that you got their inquiry. Sending any sort of questionnaires or feedback that you need from people can be automated.

Doing the back and forth of “I work this day” or “this day doesn’t work for me” takes up so much time. Automating that, as well as those follow up emails, are important.

You also want to have a single call to action from your website, your social media, your email marketing when you’re networking, either in person or online. One call to action. If our websites have a million buttons to all of our little pages, we want to have the best website ever, but all roads should lead to that one single call to action. People can start working with you once they’ve filled out a form on your website to keep all communications streamlined and clear.

When you meet with a person on a connection call, follow up after the connection call because not doing so leaves money on the table. Be sure to have a followup email after that to remind people about moving forward.

Having that all mapped out, but triggered by that one single call to action, can truly move mountains. Having that one point for people to go to helps to remove that analysis paralysis when people have so many things that they’re presented with. It really overwhelms them, and it’s hard for a business owner to be responsible for remembering to check their Facebook messages and their voicemail on their business phone and their inbox and all of these different avenues. Streamlining it into one place to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks is crucial.

When you are using systems and you’re using operations, you’re creating boundaries for yourself and for your business. If you’re using one call to action, that is your boundary that you’re setting, so that’s another perk of having those systems in place.

What Are the Best Tools to Use for Automation?

17Hats is a great tool. Some may consider it to be a CRM, but it’s actually a full business management tool. Through that tool, when a prospective lead fills out a form on your website, it can trigger a whole bunch of steps in your workflow. When you log onto your computer each day, your 17Hats dashboard will tell you what you need to do, step-by-step. 17Hats also does invoicing, scheduling, questionnaires, and more.

If you’re working with a team, ClickUp can really change your business. Especially if you have team members from all over, it helps with time zones and not having to send several emails. One great thing about ClickUp is that when you are working with a team, you can set triggers within it so that if a status changes to “in progress,” it automatically changes the assignee. You can add triggers in those automations and it works so smoothly versus you having to go in there and manually change things.

It’s highly recommended you start these systems as a solopreneur so that everything’s already organized. When you do add team members, all you have to do is maybe tweak some automations or tweak some workflows, but you’re not scrambling trying to figure out what to do.

Email marketing is another automation opportunity, especially through Mailchimp with its customer journeys. When someone joins your email list, it triggers a series of emails afterwards, helping you to stay in touch with them without you manually sending emails yourself.

How Do Business Owners Know Which Tools Are Right for Them?

Many people hire automations experts because they’ve tried so many different things and it just does not seem to be clicking for them. What a lot of people end up not kind of doing in the beginning is having the strategy and having everything built out kind of conceptually before they end up trying to plug it into something.

Although technology is supposed to be the solution for everything, you’re still going to need to have the strategy behind it. Because there are so many tools out there, there’s something for absolutely everyone. Take into account what features you really need, as well as what your needs and wants are when it comes to features.

If you plan on growing within a year, take a look at something that will grow with you within a year versus within a year. This will prevent you from having to move to a different platform. Take advantage of the free trials to see if it clicks with you. If it doesn’t, move onto the next one. As you grow, you may have to pay for it, so think about what price points make sense for you.

However, remember that you don’t need to be married to whatever you start using. As your needs change and your team grows and things evolve within your business or within your career, it’s totally okay to jump ship and move to another platform that can better suit what you’re looking for. Even though it might be something that might be a little bit overwhelming, being able to identify that you might need to end up changing is huge because ultimately this is a platform that’s supporting your growth. If you stay with a system that’s no longer working for you, are you hindering that growth?

What Is Your Advice for Businesses Who Need to Change Tools?

If you tried the free trial and you’re still having difficulty, hire an expert or watch tutorials on YouTube. When you hire someone, they can also show you how to work the tool and feel more confident in its use. It’s so important to know how to be able to adapt and be able to use that system on your own without necessarily relying on someone to do it for you.

Why Should Businesses Hire Experts Instead of Going the DIY Route?

You could go to your primary care doctor and tell them your knee hurts. They would likely help you in all of the ways that they could help you, but at the end of the day, if they’re not a specialist in knees or physical therapy, they’re going to refer you out to a specialist. At some point in your business, you have to realize that your business is not going to grow unless you actually take the time and figure out what are the tools that are going to help you scale.

A lot of that has to do with finding that specialized knowledge and experience that can make sure that you have efficient and effective implementation of all of the ideas that you have for the business. Having everything written down in a standard operating procedure and then being able to hand them over to a professional who can get them set up quicker, more efficiently, and more streamlined is just priceless because then you have a well-oiled machine and it makes you look even more professional.

As mentioned earlier, time is money. If it’s going to take you three weeks to try to get your systems working, that could happen much more quickly with an expert. It will make you look polished and professional to potential clients.

It’s the whole idea of just because you can teach yourself and can do it on your own, should you? It’s an investment that will set you up for the future, and that investment could end up helping you make more money than if you were to do it on your own. It’s really important to have that mindset and be able to not shy away from waving the white flag and saying you need help.

What Are the Things That Business Owners Should Look for When Hiring an Operations Expert?

Take a look at what type of businesses they’ve helped in the past, whether it’s a business that’s similar to yours or just like yours. Also figure out what their packages include and ensure that it aligns with you.

Someone might not be a good fit and that’s okay. There are other people out there that are going to be a good fit. Even though it’s a client relationship, you’re paying for it, and you still need a relationship where you feel really excited about working with that person.

You also want someone who takes a strategic holistic outlook on a business. Finding a person that can do that and can kind of look at your business as a whole and say, “I could go build that for you in this platform, but I actually think that it would be better if you did it here and you would be saving so much time every month,” is amazing.

In the long run, that’s going to show that they’re more invested in your business.

What’s the Importance of Testing with Automation?

The golden rule is just test, then test again, and then test another time. An awesome Gmail trick is if you write out your email address and right after the username portion of it, so that’s everything that comes right before the “@” symbol, do a plus and then a number. It actually makes your email address look like a completely different email address, but it still goes to your inbox. That way you don’t have to go and have five different email addresses to test one system and then remember which inbox to check. It’s all coming to your one inbox, but it looks different to the platform.

Make it part of your quarterly or biannual strategy to go back into whatever automation or workflow you have and retest it. Maybe something has changed, maybe you have tweaked something, or maybe you just want to freshen up what people are getting based on the emails.

You may realize you’re missing a part, and think about what you want to change and what you want to keep the same.

You don’t want too many chefs in the kitchen, but just having a fresh set of eyes can be so helpful, especially because you’re so close and so tied to whatever it is that you’re working on. Something obvious might completely slip by you, meanwhile, someone else who’s looking at it might point it out immediately. It’s great to have one to two other people who can be testing these things with you so that you really get a full perspective and see what might need to be tweaked or what might need to be improved moving forward.

What Should Not be Automated?

When you’re working with people, you want to have personalized and specific customer interactions. While it’s tough sometimes to make room in your schedule to get on those calls, it’s important to do so because that’s what sells.

Additionally, if you create tutorials and send thank you gifts to clients, you’ll want to keep doing that yourself to keep that personal touch.

In the business world, it’s so important to remember that there are ultimately things that can’t be replicated by a non-human.

What Are Some Tips Business Owners Can Follow When Revamping Their Operations?

Plan the strategy first. If you don’t have the ultimate vision for what you’re hoping to achieve, it really makes it difficult to just focus on one piece.

Also, take a step back from your business and take a look at your SOPs or even create them if you don’t have them. If one task takes you ten steps, you may realize that automating part of it can cut it down to five steps.

Know your goals as well. So where do you see yourself in the next six months, in the next year, in the next five years? And then ask yourself, “What can I automate or what can I implement in my business that will help me to reach those goals with whatever timeline it might be?”

Starting is the first step, and from there, everything else comes easily.

Resources for Massachusetts Businesses

Amplifying Your Presence with Massachusetts Business Network

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