So you’d like to make more money and save time by streamlining your small business tech. But how do you actually do that when you’re pushed for time and overwhelmed by the tools out there?
What works in a larger business probably won’t work with a micro business, partly because you have less time and a smaller budget, but also because you got into business because you love what you do, not because you get a kick out of flow diagrams and setting up automations!
For this reason, I’ve started with the tasks that give most micro businesses the best bang for their buck. Because once you start to see some benefits, you’ll have the momentum to keep going.
That said, if one of the steps below doesn’t apply to your business, feel free to skip it and move on to the next.
Step one: Capture email addresses so you can stay in touch with prospects
Do you make contact with many people both online and off, such as visitors to your website, people who read your social media posts and potential clients you meet face-to-face? It pays to capture their email addresses (in a friendly, ethical way of course) so you can stay in touch. Otherwise your paths may cross just once and then you never see each other again. This takes a little setting up, because you’ll need a way of capturing the email addresses, such as a landing page, and an email marketing platform to handle things and send emails. But done right you can get a very good return the time and money you invest in this.
A platform that works for most micro businesses is MailerLite and if you’d like to learn how to set up your own email marketing system, take a look at my free resources on email marketing in my Free Business Toolkit. If you’d like me to do it for you, you can find out more on my Services page.
Already have a mailing list? Make sure you have a plan to grow it and that you email your subscribers regularly.
Step two: Take control of your customer data
How do you keep track of customer info such as names, addresses, the last contact you had with them, any ongoing issues you need to remember and when they are due a follow-up call/email? If it’s using your email inbox, your memory or scribbled notes, then you need a CRM (customer relationship management tool). Otherwise you will be losing sales, because you’ll forget to follow up on time, you’ll misplace contact details and you may even forget names. The good news is that CRMs are inexpensive (some are even free) and save bandwidth in your brain because you don’t have to remember all this yourself.
For examples of how a CRM can be used in a micro business, please see this post.
Step three: Get what you know out of your head
Micro business owners tend to file a huge amount of information inside their own heads. After all, if you are doing most of the jobs inside your business, there’s no pressing need to share what you know with anyone else, so this task goes onto the backburner.
But this is only a short-term solution. If you’re ill or can’t run your business for a while, it’s very hard to hand over the reins if how to do everything is in your own memory. If you’re the only person who knows how things work at your place, you’re distracted by clients and freelancers/staff asking questions. You can’t work 24/7 so if a potential client has a question when you’re off duty they may go elsewhere. Also, it’s hard to see where your processes are inefficient or could be outsourced or automated if they are in your head.
So let’s get all this valuable information out of your brain.
– Write a list of all the most common questions you’re asked. If they are from clients or prospects, put them in a FAQ on your website. If you want them to be available just to clients, consider password protecting them or putting them in a membership area. You can also write case studies or record short demo videos using Loom.com. If freelancers or staff need to pick your brains regularly, Loom videos and checklists can also save you a lot of interruptions.
– Write out your processes. These don’t have to be as formal as standard operating procedures (SOPs), and could just be a series of steps or a checklist. Examples of processes could include your sales and marketing process(es), client onboarding process, customer service process, invoicing process. If you feel you don’t have a process, look a little closer. I have spoken to micro business owners thinking of getting a CRM about their sales process who said they didn’t have one. Actually they did, it was just informal, not written down anywhere and had evolved over time. And that’s OK because you know it works, but now lets see if we can make it even better.
If writing out your processes in one go seems too much, just pick one and start with that. Pick the most important one, the one that takes up most of your time or the one that causes you the most stress.
Step 4: Take a closer look at your processes
Now lets take a close look at one of your processes.
Is there any part of it that could be done faster and cheaper by someone else? If so it’s time to outsource it.
Is there any part that’s repetitive, such as copying and pasting data from one spreadsheet to another or boring data entry tasks? There’s a good chance you can automate this – why do the job when a computer could do it for you? There is a range of tools that could help here from scheduling tools such as Calendly or Microsoft Booking, web forms which can do anything from add people to your mailing list (e.g. MailerLite) to fill in a questionnaire and add the answers to a spreadsheet (Microsoft Forms, Typeform). And tools such as Zapier can automatically update one tool when you add the data to another, so no more copy and paste errors. For example you can automatically turn emails into tasks in your project management software (e.g. Asana or Trello) – no more using your bloated email inbox as a task list!
Is there any part of the process where people, sales or data are getting lost through error or you forgetting to do things at the right time? These types of task can sometimes be automated (Zapier again) but where they can’t, they can be managed better using project management tools such as Trello or Asana.
Streamlining with tech is going to look different for each micro business, but I hope I’ve shared a way to get started that is practical for most. And that can be implemented gradually over time on a modest budget. Micro businesses have a huge advantage over corporate business because we can offer a more personal service, delivered by a human being that really does care about what they do. But sometimes we need a little help in using the tech and tools that the corporates have taken for granted for years. Which is where I hope I can help!
For more help with getting started or doing more with email marketing, take a look at my Speedy Email Marketing Club.