When you find workflows that make your workday easier, or that make running your small business smoother and more efficient, you open up a magical space-time continuum. No, we’re not talking about conjuring some fairytale startup existence where everything is done for you and you spend your time fanning yourself poolside with the latest copy of your favorite magazine.

We are, however, talking about freeing up a heck of a lot of time in order to allow you to do what you do best – you know, connect with customers, develop new products and services, and actually run your business (instead of letting it run you).

So if you want to find workflows that work, where do you begin?

First of us, let’s get crystal clear on what the term workflow actually means, since it’s a term that can be used in a variety of situations and for a variety of different, specific purposes. In general, when you find workflows that work for you, you’re looking for a set of procedures that comprise an overall process.

What sort of procedures, you ask? Well, they could include anything from tasks and tools to the companies and individuals involved in completing those tasks.

Sort of ambiguous, right? Let’s get more specific.

If your end goal is the what, your workflow is the how. It’s what needs to happen in order to achieve a specific goal, and it includes all of the elements that help make that goal come to fruition. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how creating efficient workflows can maximize productivity and save you time and money.

Back in the pre-digital days, small business owners created workflows that helped them organize paper processes like mailing invoices to clients, filling out forms and sending out marketing materials. Like everything else, today you can find the most effective workflows online.

What’s more, workflows have become utterly automated.

Using Workflows to Automate Your Online Marketing

While workflows can be used to automate all sorts of administrative processes, we wanted to focus on using them to streamline your marketing practices.

Marketing – especially online marketing – is a major pain point for small business owners everywhere.

stickiesWhen you’re first starting out as a small business owner, it’s common to find yourself wearing many hats. (Okay, maybe every hat.) In addition to doing what you actually do (baking the pies, grooming the dogs, coaching new moms), you’re also acting as your own accountant, personal assistant, secretary, copywriter, and yes, online marketing maven.

Marketing is such a pain because it takes the most time, it can be really expensive to outsource, and it’s really important. While you may be able to get away with doing your own books in the beginning, slacking off on your marketing efforts could see your small biz tanking faster than the Titanic.

If you want to find workflows that truly make a difference in the way you do business every day, focus on automating your marketing workflows.

While an insurance company might use workflows to automate administrative tasks like completing and submitting claim forms, you can find workflows that automatically nurture and qualify leads, keep contact records updated, and trigger email sequences based on specific actions.

Where does the workflow begin?

Good question. You tell us – where and when does your initial contact with your customers or clients usually take place?

You could initiate a new workflow at any number of starting points. For example, you might start an automated sequence when a new customer fills out a webform on a landing page, downloads your eBook, or responds to a survey.

The sequence that follows is a series of actions that puts the customer into an automated marketing process. This process will guide them along your sales funnel, priming them for direct contact with your sales team (which, let’s face it, is probably you) once they’ve reached a certain point in the workflow.

What happens next?

When you find workflows that work for you, you’re really just finding the steps you’d normally take to close a sale and automating as many of those steps as is effective.

Once a potential customer has filled out a web form, you can create a series of triggered actions in order to follow up with them.

For example, your web form may include a few get-to-know-you questions to help you better qualify your leads. When a new customer answers those questions, their answers will set off a series of specific automated emails that are directly related to those answers.

Let’s say you’re a photographer, and your web form allows people to indicate what type of photography services they are most interested in. You might include choices like wedding photography, fine art photography or family photography.

Those customers that checked wedding photography would get a follow up email directing them to your blog post, “Top 10 Tips for Great Photos on your Wedding Day.” Those customers that checked the family photography box would receive a 10% coupon delivered to their inbox, as well as a schedule of your studio hours for families with kids under age 5. And it should go without saying that the wedding people don’t receive the family stuff, and the family people don’t receive the wedding stuff.

Tailoring workflows to the specific actions of customers allows you to connect with them on their level. Instead of receiving a generalized piece of marketing that’s meant for anyone and everyone, your customers will feel like you’re really listening to their needs and wants. This specificity breeds trust and leads to more conversions.