A Beginner’s Guide to Business Automation: Definition, Benefits, and Examples

Over the past decades, automation has significantly impacted almost every industry — from IT, engineering, and finance to customer services, sales, and marketing. Business automation tools free up employees to focus on more strategic projects, minimizing costs, increasing efficiency, streamlining processes, and so much more. 

This article will walk you through the term business automation, from its definition to its basic types, and why it matters to your business. 

What is business automation?

Business automation is a term for using technology applications to execute recurring tasks or processes, which frees up employees for higher-value work. Business automation usually includes business process automation, robotic process automation, and AI-powered automation.

Why is business automation important to your business?

Whether you’re a small business owner or running a large enterprise, automation is an excellent way to streamline operations and drive business growth. Business automation tools are designed to replace manual processes with machines so you can put human resources to work elsewhere in the business.

Additionally, business automation is critical for a rapidly changing world. For example, with the help of business automation tools, you can collect and analyze data to predict post-pandemic customer behaviors — from wildly fluctuating demand to heightened health and safety precautions. Automation, especially when combined with AI, can help you fix or refine these data analytics and reports, resulting in higher revenue, better use of resources, and greater customer satisfaction.

There are some other compelling reasons to automate your business processes, which are the following: 

  • Improve efficiency: Business automation tools pinpoint inefficiencies or hotspots in your operations to help determine where automated processes can provide the greatest impact. This involves process mining and modeling.
  • Apply intelligence: The data from automating your operations, together with machine learning and AI, can recommend actions and allow people to focus more on strategic tasks.
  • Automate core operations: Apply core automation capabilities — document processing, workflow orchestration, decision management, and content services — to key operational areas to meet business needs.
  • Smarter management: An automation tool makes process management much easier. You can make changes and improvements without introducing all the changes to your team. The information under a system is saved somewhere in a database, so you won’t need to repeat to team members how things should be done on specific processes.
  • Streamlined processes: Streamlined processes are one of the great outcomes of a process automation system. Clear accountability, customizable notifications, valuable insights, and faster turnaround times make eliminating wasteful activities easier and focusing on enhancing core-valued tasks.
  • Increased customer satisfaction: Customer satisfaction is a key differentiator in any industry. Focusing on process and operational excellence helps you exceed customer expectations with ease. When you consistently meet promised standards, customers are more likely to develop a preference for your company.

Four common uses of business automation

1. Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes. Through marketing automation tools (which are usually in the form of software), companies can generate higher qualified leads that are ready for sales engagement. Companies can also use these tools to track and measure a prospect’s activity, better identify target customers by automated messages via social media and deliver leads to sales as soon as they meet predefined criteria.

With email marketing automation tools, companies can send out emails to a client distribution list on a predefined schedule, which reduces the costs of running the campaigns manually. Some tools can provide a framework for teams to target, build, implement and measure the success of marketing campaigns, taking the complexity out of lead qualification and conversion. 

2. Financial and accounting automation

For businesses of all sizes, accounting is time-consuming and includes many manual steps. By automating their accounting and bookkeeping tasks, companies can save considerable time on accounts receivable, accounts payable, billing, collections, credit card applications, data backup, and other financial processes that are managed regularly. 

Companies can also apply automation to core processes like closing their books, general ledger management, and bank account management. Automation makes a complex process more manageable by removing manual elements from the accounting team’s work and handling the number-crunching and transactional work. Businesses can focus on important tasks like analysis, strategy and improve their core values. 

For example, an automated system for accounts payable management saves businesses money and time as data entry is automated, invoices are automatically matched to documents, and approvals are electronically routed. It reduces data errors and helps prevent fraud through a system of “touchless” controls that happen behind the scenes. Accounts payable automation software also frees up cash flow. Any team member can submit invoices, manage approvals, and process payments through a single platform with swift approvals, better visibility, and greater control over important financial processes and data.

The Shoeboxed app this a typical example of an accounting automation tool. Shoeboxed helps freelancers, accountants, and small business owners scan their receipts, track and manage their expenses, and easily generate expense reports. 

What’s more, Shoeboxed offers OCR (Optical Character Recognition) function, and a human-verified data feature to ensure that your receipts are legibly scanned, clearly organized, and accepted by both the Internal Revenue Service and the Canada Revenue Service. Trusted and recommended by thousands of users worldwide, Shoeboxed is your go-to option when it comes to automating your business’s financial and accounting processes. 

3. Sales automation

Sales automation tools enable sales teams to spend less time logging their deal-related activity and more time meeting clients, making phone calls, and closing deals. The tools can automate repetitive tasks throughout the sales process, whether qualifying leads based on their buyer journey, assigning prospects to the right rep, or creating data-backed sales forecasts. 

Companies that sell physical products can also benefit from these sales automation tools. Using these tools, sales reps can track stock from anywhere, at any time while consulting with their customers. They can also log order information to the system, making it easier to track every step. Should any problem arise, the sales team can find where it’s at and solve it quickly. 

Other sales tasks that software can perform are the following: 

  • Automated order entry
  • Automated batch processing
  • Automated report generation and distribution

4. Human resource management automation

Human resource management systems can handle various HR tasks, including processing job applications, scheduling interviews, sending offers, onboarding, managing payroll, and benefits administration. Since these systems automate all aspects of human resources management, it provides complete analytics across these processes, bringing accurate insights into the company’s workforce productivity and efficiency. For example, if a company is experiencing a high employee turnover rate, the business owners can use an HR management tool to pinpoint the specific problem and solve it.

There are other tasks that human resource management automation tools can handle, including: 

  • Recording employees’ retention and retrieval
  • Reviewing job applications submitted online
  • Generating work contracts, confidentiality agreements, waivers, and other new-employee documentation.
  • Calculating employee taxes
  • Providing training documents for new employees

The bottom line

Automation tools are transforming business operations and processes, making it possible to control and scale up your businesses with ease. No matter what kind of business you’re running, you can always find the perfect automating solution. If you’d like to take your business to the next level, start today with Shoeboxed
Don’t forget to sign up for the Shoeboxed blog if you’d like more information on how Shoeboxed has helped our clients automate their business processes and other engaging success stories, DIY accounting, together with the latest Shoeboxed‘s product updates.

5 Things You Can Do Now to Prepare for April 15th

Make tax season less stressful by using our top 5 ways to quickly and easily prepare your small business for April 15th – tax day! – this year.

As a small business owner, chances are you’re not only juggling multiple projects at any given moment, you’re probably wearing multiple hats as well. Be honest, haven’t there been days where you’ve served as your company’s marketing director, customer service rep, accountant and PR department, all within a few hours?

Automation is the key to getting your taxes done faster and with less of a headache. Here are our top 5 ways to quickly and easily prepare your small business for tax day this year.

1. Scan your receipts

First thing’s first – you need to ditch that mound of paper clutter that’s been taking up space on your desk. If you’re already a Shoeboxed user, you’re one step ahead! If not, consider signing up for a 30-day free trial and let us take care of all those receipts for you.

Shoeboxed lets you toss all of your receipts, bank statements, and any other paperwork that needs to be scanned into one of our famous Magic Envelopes for processing. Just throw everything in the envelope, toss the envelope in the mail, and then watch as your account is magically populated with digital data– and images of your scanned receipts!

Not only are all of your receipts scanned and digitized, they’re also searchable, editable and exportable, meaning you can create one-click expense reports based on receipts in certain tax categories.

2. Revisit your write-offs

You may think you know what you can and can’t deduct, but tax laws change every year. Be sure you’re up to date by checking out the IRS website, and think outside the box.

Did you remember to include any business-related apps you purchased for your smartphone or tablet? What about health insurances premiums paid out for employees, or yourself?

By spending a few minutes brushing up on this year’s deductions, you’ll be able to reduce the amount owed to the IRS, and even end up with a refund.

3. Use accounting automation software

Even if you have an accountant or tax professional, you still need accounting software. We like GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping (formerly Outright) and QuickBooks Online because they’re super easy to use and save you tons of time doing mind-numbing calculations. Accounting software will also save you money because your accountant won’t have to spend hours calculating receipt totals.

4. Link your accounts

Once you have automation software in place, it’s a good idea to link all of your business financial accounts within the application. Accounting software technology is so advanced, it can tell which of your purchases are deductible expenses! When you purchase office supplies, for instance, the software will automatically categorize that expense in the appropriate tax category.

But it only works if you link all of your accounts, so take a few minutes to link everything from your business checking account to PayPal. This way, you’ll get a comprehensive overview of the financial health of your small business, and it’ll be much easier to generate reports come tax time.

5. Categorize your receipts

Just as accounting software categorizes each transaction, Shoeboxed categorizes your receipts. This is done automatically, but when you have a receipt that’s illegible, it’s important to log into your account and manually categorize it.

Take a few minutes per day during the months of February and March to categorize your receipts, and you’ll be good to go long before April 15 rolls around.

What are you doing to prepare for tax day?