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Can automation help your small business compete with larger rivals?

Published on 6th December 2018

Competition is fierce for a small or medium-sized business but it may not be a level playing field. Larger companies have the scale and resources to corner the market and hire the best people, and to use the benefits of scale to reduce their costs.

It can seem as if you are forever playing David to big company Goliaths – but remember how that battle turned out. If you run a smaller firm, automation may be changing the rules in your favour.

What is automation?

Automation first caused a business revolution 50 years ago, when manufacturing lines started to be based on machinery, rather than the human eye and muscle. It has continued to transform the manufacturing industry and now most large-scale manufacturers, from electronics to cars and trucks, use robots.

A large multi-axis manufacturing robot will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. But automation has now become affordable – and essential - for smaller businesses too.

You may not need to invest in a row of robots to automate the key activities in your small business. The digital revolution has affected all sectors and industries and it’s likely that you currently work with a computer and the internet. That means that you already have the key tools you need to automate many of the labourious and time-consuming administration activities that eat into your time and distract you from your core focus.

Time is money

In any small business, time is the most valuable resource you have. There are only 24 hours a day, and even if you were to work them all, you could never get everything done. Automation can change that. Instead of wasting time on admin, it gives you back the time you need for profitable work.

So, even if you are not ready to bring in robots to work alongside you, you can gain the benefits of automation by using software to automate tasks of all kinds, from billing and payroll to marketing. Automating administration is already transforming the way companies operate, boosting productivity and innovation in all those areas that have for so long relied on old-fashioned and often inefficient processes and systems.

At Rangewell, we have been helping our clients find ways to afford the software automation tools they need to free up the extra time they want.

We recently helped a small furniture manufacturer automate the administration of their business.

“We are a craft business, and if someone suggested automation I would have laughed. There is no room for a robot in our factory area. But in the office, we saw it was another matter. We were spending too much time on paperwork. You have to do it - but it doesn’t make you money.”

It’s surprising what you can automate

It's not just the obvious things like automatically generating payroll from staff time records, or even creating invoicing. These days you can even automate functions like marketing.

With the right software, you can prepare a series of emails, or printed letters for sending out to clients automatically. Forget about spending hours on address records. You can send a sales message to your entire customer base with a single command – and the potential exists to make each customer communication individual, with the customer addressed by name, and even an individual offer based on their previous purchase history.

“To start with, I was looking at automating accounts. Obviously, we have payroll software, and that saves us days of work each month. I wanted to see if we could get the same benefits elsewhere. Marketing was becoming a big time user. We found there was software that could take care of the tasks our sales team hated.”

Are you looking to scale your business with the help of automation? Is the cost currently too great for you to implement and save time on repetitive processes? Apply for Finance for "Soft" Assets today or find out more.

This type of customer relationship marketing - or loyalty marketing - used to be the preserve of the big players. The latest software solutions make these highly profitable techniques worth putting to work in your business, even if you have a customer list of a few hundred, rather than hundreds of thousands.

Even social media, widely seen as one of the most exciting new areas in marketing, can be automated - a single item circulated to dozens of sites and services, and hundreds, or even thousands of followers with a single automated keystroke.

You can automate every step for sales too, with automated follow-ups to enquiries, order taking and even despatch. Solutions exist for every step in the sales process. Rather than wasting time duplicating actions such as creating a sales record, despatch note, billing and follow-up, you can integrate every step of the procedure, letting the software – your virtual robots – take care of the drudgery.

What’s more, unlike all-too-fallible humans, automated software should never lose a record or forget to send that invoice.

You can easily automate project management as well. Working with the right software tool, rather than scraps of paper, can make you much more efficient whatever the size of your project. From coordinating staff for shifts to bringing every component together for a production run, you’ll find that there are software tools available - and that these days many are very easy to use.

“We talked to a software expert, and saw what the possibilities were. It could mean becoming much more efficient - and just as important, spending more time on the things we actually like to do, whether it's on the tools or with customers. But it would mean investing in a lot of new hardware, and some costly software tailored to our needs.”

Why you need to automate now

As a small business, you actually have an advantage over larger competitors, in that you can provide a personal service and a unique customer experience that larger competitors can’t. However, your time is finite and, with many administrative and repetitive tasks to perform, you have limited time to deliver on that potential. Software automation can give you the time you need for the human aspects of running your businesses.

No robot can talk to a customer like you can, or understand the problems they face which your products or services can answer. No software can deliver the extra care which helps you guarantee customer satisfaction.

What it can do is give you more time to deliver all the positive and human factors that the success of your business actually depends on.

People will always go to big companies when they want standard products and services at the lowest possible price. When they want or need something special, they must come to a small business which can deliver it. There’s no substitute for a human touch in human interactions, and bigger businesses may simply not be able to deliver it.

This means that, as a small business, automating does not just mean cutting operating expenditure, it means more time to do what you are best at – dealing with people.

Big businesses might use automation to cut down costs. Your small business can also drive down the cost – but you can use the extra time it allows, and the support it brings, to drive up customer service and satisfaction.

Small businesses can’t compete with larger ones on scale, efficiency or sophistication, but they can provide a personalised service. But can you afford the cost of business administration automation?

“We knew Rangewell. They helped us find the funding for some key production tools in the past. They had solutions for IT as well.”

The answer might be that you can’t afford not to. Just as manufacturing businesses that insisted on manpower became unprofitable back in the 20th century, your small business needs to automate in the 21st. Of course, there will be costs involved. You will need IT throughout your business, with a central network, and possibly handheld devices for your staff. You will need a range of software that will work together to integrate your data, and to provide the outputs that will support your objectives.

The size of your investment will depend on the scale of your business and your ambitions, but it could be considerable. Fortunately, at Rangewell, we can help you find the answers you need with funding scaled for your business now, and to help it grow. We can provide answers not just for computer hardware - but for the for the software you want to run on it.

If you run a small business, automation could help you take on Goliath. Call us to see how we can help you even up the odds.

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Richard Mitchell

Richard Mitchell

Content writer
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