If time is money, then automation is a high-yield investment account. Businesses that automate even just a few tasks that otherwise require manual processes can save hours of work, making them more efficient and productive while also reducing costs and minimizing errors.

Time is an especially precious commodity for small businesses operating with limited resources and few employees. According to a Gallup poll, most small-business owners work more than 50 hours a week and nearly half work more than 60 hours a week. In many cases, a good chunk of that time is spent on routine and repetitive duties that don’t make optimal use of talent and resources.

According to WorkMarket’s 2020 In(Sight) Report, automation can save the typical business leader a full nine weeks every year — time that could be better used to create growth opportunities.

There’s a tendency to think that automation is a complex and difficult undertaking requiring considerable technology resources that that only large, enterprise organizations can afford. That’s not necessarily the case. Small businesses can automate many common tasks with very little expense or expertise.

There are dozens of online automation platforms that provide easy access to tools for automating tasks such as email marketing, invoice processing and recruiting. Some are available for free or minimal monthly subscription fees. Additionally, a qualified managed services provider (MSP) can help you evaluate more advanced solutions for automating many back-office and administrative functions.

When first implementing automation, it’s probably a good idea to start with small, manageable projects that deliver measurable results. Here are five things most small businesses should consider automating:

Email responses. Have you ever lost a sales lead in your email inbox? It is relatively simple to implement a script that automatically sends follow-up notes to potential customers on quotes that have not been addressed. You can usually create rules customizing the timing of responses.

Email marketing. Automation platforms allow you to send marketing emails, create social media ad campaigns, build landing pages, send postcards and get analytical insights about a campaign’s effectiveness. This feature is particularly useful when integrated with a CRM system.

Finances. It is estimated that 90 percent of U.S. small businesses still rely on paper checks and other manual processes. Automated financial platforms synced with your accounting system can streamline financial workflows, generate and process invoices, speed approvals, send payments and manage available cash.

Project management. Automated tools can streamline project management by assigning job tickets, sending status updates, and generating timesheets and expense reports. This eliminates a great deal of day-to-day busy work and allows managers to focus more on outcomes than on administrative tasks.

Inventory management. Manual inventory processes are notoriously error-prone and time-consuming. Inventory management software can automatically track and adjust inventory to ensure accurate, real-time information. This not only saves time and effort but can minimize delays and back orders, which improves the customer experience.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other ways automation can improve small business operations. It’s why automation was voted the most impactful technology in Spiceworks’ 2019 State of IT survey, with respondents ranking it well ahead of other trending technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and edge computing. Give us a call to discuss how we can help you automate routine tasks and gain more time for strategic initiatives.