Automate. AUTOmate. AUTOMATE. There are SO many tools out there to help you automate many of the tedious tasks vital to your business.
When we start working with a new client, we conduct an overall technology audit and one of the first things we take a look at are the tools they are using. Often, they aren’t using any. Reasons for this vary from an unease around technology to simply being set in their ways. If you have an inventory system you’ve been using for 20 years, it can take a lot of convincing to change it! But change is good and without an open mind towards learning new technologies, you’re business will suffer.
So, if you aren’t using any automation tools, it’s time to start. If you’re overwhelmed at the prospect of finding the right applications, I completely understand – there are a LOT to choose from. That’s why I’ve put together this list of my top 5 small business automation tools.
What do I mean by ‘automation’?
It’s not as intimidating as it might sound. Simply put, automation tools save you time by doing certain tedious tasks for you. Need to follow up with a new lead? Automate it. Need to activate an email campaign? Automate it. Need to publish social media posts three times a week? Automate it.
Business automation software uses technology to complete complex (and simple but time-consuming) repeating tasks.
Your goals as a marketer haven’t changed, but how you reach them has. As a marketer, you want to:
- Nurture leads
- Acquire new customers
- Build lasting customer relationships
- Increase conversions
- Expand social reach and brand visibility
and thanks to technology, each of these processes has become easier. But, also thanks to technology, competition is increasing. So, forget what your parents and teachers told you growing up. In this case, if everyone else is doing it, you should be, too.
Our favorite automation tools
Ahhhh, forms. The one filling them out hates them. The one getting the information loves them. With Typeform, there’s no love/hate, just love/love. How? Typeform helps people collect data more conversationally. You can inject a little personality into your form, letting the user know a little more about you while asking them for their information.
As you’re growing your business, leads are gold… but some may be fools gold. Using Typeform is a great way to gather some basic information like a potential client’s budget, which of your services they are interested in, and what they hope to gain from working with you. Depending on the information you gather, you can gain a quick understanding of how valuable a lead is. Check out Typeform here.
I have big feelings about this one. I used to be 100% on Team Mailchimp…. until I signed up for ConvertKit’s free trial.
I had two reasons for signing up for the trial:
1. I was sick of Mailchimp’s drag and drop look
2. I KNEW the automation process could be easier than it is on Mailchimp.
That said, the reason it took me so long to try ConvertKit is that… well, Mailchimp is free (up until 2,000 list subscribers). Free is nice but we manage a lot of email accounts for clients and I knew the whole automation and audience segmentation process could be better (for me, the client, and the subscriber).
Two days into the free trial and I was sold. I could talk about ConvertKit all day but my two biggest takeaways from my free trial were:
1. You get what you pay for. If I really wanted to create value for my clients, it was time to invest in an email platform that allowed me to easily segment the audience by interest and create targeted, automated campaigns for each of those segments. (Because we all know the best way to make your open rate plummet and get your emails sent straight to a subscriber’s spam folder is to repeatedly send them emails they aren’t interested in.)
2. Emails that look like they were written by a human have a much higher open rate. Yes, that means that while Mailchimp’s drag and drop templates may look good to you, your subscribers see ‘ad’ and hit ‘delete’. Honestly, I thought I was the only one that preferred emails without pictures and a ton of links but apparently, I’m not! Our emails from ConvertKit consistently had a higher open rate than those from Mailchimp.
Click here to check out ConvertKit. I suggest trying their free trial!
How many times have you chosen a service provider simply because they were easy to schedule an appointment with? Scheduling an appointment, consultation, call, etc. with a potential client is one of your first interactions with them – be sure you’re doing everything you can to make the right first impression.
Acuity is an awesome automated scheduling tool that will save you and your clients the email back and forth as you try to schedule a meeting. You can use Acuity to fill classes, sell class packs, subscriptions, set up private meetings, and so much more. It’s incredibly versatile and integrates easily with a wide range of other apps, including Instagram. If it doesn’t integrate with an app you’re using, it offers more triggers in Zapier than Calendly.
Oh, Zapier. How many times you have saved my sanity! Simply put, Zapier ‘zaps’ information from one app to another for you, saving you time and frustration.
Using Typeform on your website? Set up a ‘zap’ to move the information a client submits through your form to a specific segment in ConvertKit and BOOM, your lead nurture campaign is sent to this potential client.
Using Acuity to schedule appointments and payments? Set up a ‘zap’ to move the information a client submits through Acuity to your payment processor and BOOM, an invoice is sent to your client.
These examples are the tippy top of Zapier. It can also be used to power custom-built business software to seamlessly integrate every part of your business. Check it out!
Hate endless email threads where conversations end up down rabbit holes and questions get lost? Join the club.
Slack is where we have ALL of our work conversations. Working on 3 different projects with different team members on each? Create a channel for each, invite each team member to the appropriate channel, and commence with productive and SEARCHABLE project-specific conversations!
We use Slack to stay in touch with all of our remote employees and a few remote clients. If you’ve ever heard someone say ‘Slack it’ or ‘Slack me’, now you know why. It’s an incredibly useful alternative to email – see for yourself.
There are quite a few Trello alternatives out there but I love it and this is why – it saves our marriage. Kidding (kind of). But seriously, not only do my husband and I (obviously) live together and raise children together, we ALSO work together. When it comes to organizing our to-do lists, we are both set in our very different ways.
I’m a diehard pen and paper list maker. I usually have two or three lists going at a time and I will be the first to admit that I even write down things I’ve already accomplished just to cross them off (#crazy). Matt is a diehard scheduler/puts everything on Google calendars and thinks I’m a complete Luddite for writing down my lists. Enter Trello. It’s the perfect mix of the two and it’s a lifesaver for me because, most of the time, other people need to see/add/cross off items on my lists.
A word about social media automation tools…
I didn’t include any social media scheduling tools because there are just SO MANY to choose from. My biggest tip while looking for one is this: REMEMBER WHAT YOU NEED.
Think about things like your main social platform. Do you stick mainly to Instagram? Use Later. Do you stick to Facebook? Use their built-in scheduling too – it’s FREE.
Think about how much you will use analytic tools. Do you manage multiple accounts and want super in-depth information about social trends, your followers, and your potential followers? Look towards Agorapulse or SproutSocial.
Pricing for social automation tools ranges widely and you’ll be shocked at how much some charge. And because there are so many tools out there, they’ve all become quite good at convincing you that you won’t be able to live without the information their tool provides. Most of the time… you will definitely live. If you’re a small business owner, your time is incredibly valuable so DO schedule your social media posts. Just remember, unless you’re a social media agency, many of these tools will give you more information that you will know what to do with.
So, now what? You can take this list of tools and see how they work for your business. Each will take some time to get used to and there may be a bit of a learning curve for some (mainly Zapier and ConvertKit).
If you find yourself stuck and spending too much of your valuable time trying to learn these new applications, let’s talk. We can go over whether or not these tools are something you need or if you should look for something else. If your business has uniquely specific technological needs, we can start a conversation about custom built applications.
Whatever your needs, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Learning new technologies can be intimidating but don’t let that stop you from trying. Your business will thank you.