Should I Automate Processes in My Small Business? What You Need to Know

November 10, 2023

As a small business owner, every second (and every dollar) counts. You need to get the most out of your resources to battle effectively with larger competition. As a result, automation can become a crucial tool for accelerating growth at your startup.

However, there are factors to consider. Some automation is more effective than others. Meanwhile, you have to manage the costs and the consequences involved with an aggressive automation drive.

Getting the right information is crucial for maximizing your return. Learn how you can save time, reduce errors, and improve your processes with automation. At the same time, understand the costs involved, so that you can roll out any new program in the most efficient way possible.

What is automation?

You might think of automation as a massive project. The word might conjure visions of giant robots operating on assembly lines or science-fiction scenarios involving sentient machines.

Thinking of automation in these terms might make it seem out of reach — something only available for large companies with billions of dollars available for investment. However, that's not the case. Small businesses can take advantage of automation to optimize many parts of their operations.

Consider a broad definition of automation. In its most basic form, it involves using AI technology to take over a task that you previously accomplished with an employee. These investments can make your business more efficient and more reliable.

What are the benefits of automation?

Before you make a judgment about automation, you need to understand the potential benefits. This will let you weigh whether you should invest your limited resources in these projects. With that in mind, here are some of the key advantages you can gain by taking some tasks out of day-to-day manual control:

Lower costs

Automation saves money. By handing a task over to a computer, you lower the labor cost associated with that part of your operation. The specific amount will depend on the particular process involved and the circumstances surrounding it. But data suggests you can reduce costs for certain tasks by somewhere between 40% and 75%.

Data suggests [automation] can reduce costs for certain tasks by somewhere between 40% and 75%.

Save time

You don't just save money with an automation program. You save time as well. One study suggested that about 60% of workers believe they could save at least six hours a week if automation took over their more repetitive tasks. For 10 employees, then, you could save about 36 hours in labor costs per week — basically the equivalent of hiring a new full-time employee.

This saved time doesn't just impact your bottom line. Your customers feel it as well. You are able to shorten the wait for various tasks to be completed, giving you a better customer-service profile.

Cut down on errors

People make mistakes. That concept is axiomatic. We accept it generally — but become much less forgiving when we become consumers. When we are buying something, people suddenly become less tolerant of mistakes.

For your business, automation lets you cut down on those human errors. Computers will run a process the same way every time. Once you've perfected an automated process, you can be confident that it will deliver an error-free result each time.

What processes can I automate?

Looking at your startup, it might not be obvious where automation can generate value. But most firms have back-office functions or repetitive tasks that can be handed over to machines. Here are a few examples of the type of processes any small business should consider automating:


Almost any small business relies on some form of accounting software. Products like Quickbooks simplify cash flow management and lower the stress at tax time. But are you getting full value from these powerful tools?

Look into some of the deeper functions of your accounting software to see if there are other tasks related to expense management and invoicing that you can automate. You should also shop around to select the ideal software for your business.

HR Processes

As your small business grows, you'll need to add staff. Sometimes, this involves a large-scale hiring binge — a process that can be hampered by the amount of time necessary to fill an open position. Meanwhile, once you have staff in place, many of the routine tasks related to human resources can bog down your organization.

Automation can help on a number of fronts at the same time. Here are a few HR functions that you can hand over to machines:

  • Candidate Applications: AI can help you scan resumes, run candidate testing, schedule interviews, and maintain communication with applicants.

  • Onboarding: Let computers take over simple paperwork and scheduling. At the same time, parts of training can be operated through videos and other automated means.

  • Payroll: As with the accounting software, there are plenty of options for automating large parts of your regular payroll.

  • Vacations: Scheduling vacations and keeping track of PTO can be handed over to a computer.

Customer Support

At some point, your customers will want a human connection. Not every problem can be handled by AI. As such, you won't be able to hand over every service task to a computer.

However, many basic communication tasks can be streamlined using a bot. Adding these to your website can solve many common issues and free up your staff for more complicated interactions.

How can I automate these processes?

Once you identify potential automation opportunities, you need to develop a plan to get those processes in place. The precise details of a project will depend on the specific circumstances. However, there are some core themes you should keep in mind:

Research Your Options

Learn everything you can about automation tools before committing to any particular product. The more you understand about the benefits and costs, the better decision you'll be able to make.

Set Aside Cash for Investment

Make investing in automation part of your regular budget. Set aside money for new initiatives — even before you determine the specific program you want to pursue. This way, when you find a process worth automating, you'll have the resources you need to implement it.

Involve Your Employees

Tension can exist between employees and automation. Assure your team that the new tools are meant to make their work lives better, not to replace them. Also, involve them in the process of choosing automation products. This will ensure a seamless connection between your staff and the automation initiative.

Tension can exist between employees and automation. Assure your team that the new tools are meant to make their work lives better, not to replace them.

Automate in Stages

Don't try to do too much at once. Any automation initiative will take time to implement. There will also be a transition phase to deal with. Complete one automation project at a time, so you can maintain consistent operations during the process.

Getting the most out of automation for your small business

Automation can provide the jet fuel of growth for a small business. You can accelerate many parts of your operation, spending less time and money on routine tasks and on back-office functions. These initiatives can also cut costs, save time, and lead to more accurate results.

However, any automation strategy has to acknowledge the risks involved. As such, you need to proceed with a plan. The wrong approach can lead to wasted efforts and cause disruptions for your business.

If you're considering whether you should automate one or more of your business processes, use this information to help guide your decision. You'll be able to identify operations that can benefit from this strategy and learn the right procedures to target your resources.