Think about all the successful freelancers or solopreneurs you know.
Do you, like me, ever wonder: how they do it all?
From creating & distributing content, and building their personal brand to managing their email lists, they accomplish a lot for one person.
Fortunately for people who are dedicated to their craft, there are multiple tools and tricks that can help. All one needs to do is explore.
On that note, you’ve come to the right place. It all starts with automation. Not the kind that wants to strike off Sarah Connor, but the kind that can help you save time, money, and a whole lot of effort.
What is task automation?
Task automation is the use of modern technology to accomplish a task for you. It helps eliminate any manual interference from your end in the day-to-day activities. Why should you care? It frees up human time and leaves more hours for you to allocate to better work, not repetitive tasks that can easily be left to machines or a few lines of code.
Think about an ATM machine or a self-service kiosk. This automation has eliminated the human element from at least one step in the process. It has led to less human intervention, greater precision, and saved countless hours.
Why are companies investing in task automation?
31% of businesses polled in a 2020 McKinsey survey had fully automated at least one function while 15% had begun scaling automation technologies to multiple parts of the business.
Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and SnapLogic, reveals interesting trends.
- Within 3 months of investment in task automation technologies, revenues earned by US companies increased by 7% year on year
- The increase in revenue was matched by a 7% increase in annual employment or the creation of ~7.2 million jobs
- Businesses that invested more heavily in automation displayed more resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic
Automation, at its heart, boosts productivity and saves millions of dollars worth of time and effort.
It reduces the scope for human error in boring yet arduous tasks, such as data entry. As a result, lower resources are wasted on fixing these errors. This explains why organizations already implementing or scaling automation reported an overall cost reduction of 24% in 2020.
Such companies also indicated a 12% workforce capacity increase due to their automation efforts. By freeing up human resources for higher-order, strategic tasks, automation can propel a business to grow faster.
Does that mean you should automate everything?
The short answer is yes. And no.
Not everything NEEDS to be automated. Sometimes, figuring out the right automation script takes more time and energy than simply getting a task done.
Plus, not everything CAN be automated.
Most businesses involve three kinds of tasks: tech-touch, low-touch, and high-touch. And they all differ in the extent to which they can be automated.
- Tech-touch tasks need little human intervention to go on smoothly. Example: Letting prospects book a demo using automated forms and calendar scheduling tools.
- Low-touch tasks require some human intervention but can be automated to a large extent with tools. Example: Common customer support issues with largely standardized responses.
- High-touch tasks cannot be performed without human judgment and interaction since they rely on personal intelligence and expertise. Example: Closing a deal on a sales call.
As you might have guessed, it makes sense to fully automate all of your tech-touch tasks that tend to have a set process and need no customization.
The low and high-touch tasks can be broken down into their components and automated as far as possible. (For example, you can create templates & canned responses for common support issues).
Here’s a handy checklist to guide you:
Now that we know what to automate, let’s find out how to go about doing it.
What are the different types of task automation tools?
Here are the two broad categories of task automation tools you can integrate into your workplace.
- Robotic process automation (RPA)
RPA contains robots (or bots) that mimic the actions human beings perform while executing a task. They can be used to automate rule-based, repetitive, frequent, and tedious tasks with predictable outcomes.
Example: Data entry in a spreadsheet
- Business process automation (BPA)
BPA automates entire workflows (rather than individual tasks) to improve an organization's overall efficiency. BPA involves implementing software systems that integrate applications across departments.
Example: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
Note: RPA can be integrated within existing BPA software like ERP and CRM systems to automate individual tasks within these systems, without disrupting them.
You can use RPA and BPA to automate organizational, collaborative, data management, and document management tasks, among others.
Exploring the different kinds of automation tools
With the right automation tools, it is possible to cut the time spent on a task by more than 45%.
The process of tool selection will vary based on the type of your business and the requirements. But a few general guidelines enlisted below can make the selection process easier to navigate. The task automation tool that you select must come with:
- Low or no-code interface that comes with an easy-to-use drag-and-drop UI
- Integrations with other tools
- Access and support across multiple devices
- Search and report functions
- Customizable access controls for teams
- Automated notifications
- Recurring task schedules
- Real-time scheduling
The easiest tasks to automate
Businesses can choose from a wide array of task automation solutions and applications. Some focus on streamlining workflows across organizations while others are designed for certain industries or departments. The real trick is determining what tasks can be automated.
So far, we’ve covered what task automation is and how it can benefit your organization. In this section, we’ll break down the roles that automation can play in every functional area.
Sales: As a sales professional, you are always grappling with a multitude of tasks. From writing outreach emails, tracking every lead, following up constantly to onboarding and asking the right after-sales questions, there’s only so much a person can do without help.
Luckily there are multiple tools that automate the entire process. Some familiar and common ones are:
- For autotyping content for outreach emails: OSlash
- Managing sales pipeline: Advanced CRMs such as Salesforce or Hubspot
- Taking meeting notes: Fellow app
- Scheduling meetings: Savvycal
Marketing: Effective marketing strategies take more than creativity — they require diligent execution and follow-through to maximize impact and reach. These strategies require a combination of strategists who do creative thinking and automation tools that can handle the mundane part of the execution.
- Social media scheduling: Hootsuite
- Web traffic reports: Web Analytics
- Blog post scheduling: Wordpress
- Forms & data collection: Typeform
- Language translation: Lokalise
- Email marketing: Mailchimp
Finance & accounting: Out of all the departments that benefit from automation, finance probably comes out on top. A study by EY found that more than 80 percent of accounting tasks can be partially or fully automated. Considering that human intervention in numbers presents the greatest opportunities for human error, automating finance processes is bound to have a staggering impact on productivity.
Here are some of the most common applications for finance task automation.
Employee recruitment: It is getting harder to find the right candidates, screen them, convince them to apply, set up a series of interviews, and roll out the end offer. However, recruitment seldom ends before onboarding & training take place. To speed up the process, automating as much as possible is a necessity.
How to set up automation software?
With a better understanding of what you should automate, you can set up automation in any area you want to streamline — a specific project, a department, a business unit, or your entire organization.
1. Write a detailed outline of the process
Given the process you wish to streamline, make a list of every task your team needs to complete on a regular basis. Also account for how frequently these tasks need to be done (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.), what tools your team needs to complete these tasks, and how long it currently takes to finish each one.
If the task does not require human intervention in some places, note down which steps would those be. To help you stay organized, also consider categorizing each task.
2. Enlist the tasks you can automate
As you take account of all the tasks on your list, determine which ones to automate. Perhaps your goal is to automate the most crucial tasks within a process. Or maybe you’d like to start with automating the easiest tasks and slowly expand in complexity over time.
Once the tasks are accounted for, do a deep dive into the research to select the best automation software to achieve your objectives.
3. Write out the new workflow
Once you’ve determined which tasks to automate, rework the new workflow with your new software.
In most cases, the workflow will become shorter and more streamlined than when it was manual, but it may be necessary to add steps to make sure you’ve covered all your bases — or to account for extraordinary circumstances. Keep your team in sync and make sure that human intervention is provided wherever it is crucial.
4. Build the workflow
Use the selected automation software to build the new workflow. The way you do this will depend largely on the solution you’ve chosen.
To know how the software works, requesting an in-person demo or onboarding session is the best option. You can also use their existing tutorials and customer support available to ensure you’re taking maximum advantage of your platform’s capabilities and creating the best workflows.
5. Test the new workflow
Never deploy automation unless it’s been tested numerous times — especially if it’s for a critical function like accounting. After you’ve built the new workflow, try it out a few times with different variables to make sure there are no errors or to see if you can streamline it further.
Once the testing phase is over, you can get your team up to speed with how to use the software most efficiently. If everyone feels it’s user-friendly enough, you would have made the team’s life a lot simpler.
The future of task automation
Technology continues to progress at a rapid speed, and today, tens of thousands of tools are available to automate various business processes.
According to research conducted by the McKinsey Institute, “60% of occupations could have 30% or more of their constituent activities automated.” This does not mean that robots will consume most jobs, but that technology will find a way to easily automate mundane and complex tasks, allowing us to redefine roles that provide more business value.
With the growing advancements in artificial intelligence, more tasks and processes are bound to get automated. The fields to watch out for are: machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, SaaS, development of low-code applications, and emergence of Web3.