What Does Automation Look Like for a Small Business?

Dec 14, 2017 | Stephen Jackson

We’ve all heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder.” But if you really want to succeed today, it should probably be changed to “work smarter and harder.” The truth is, very few people getting a business off the ground figure out some timesaving hack and then turn around and use that time for leisure. Timesaving is a matter of doing even more than you could beforehand, and a great way to build efficiency in your small business is to automate what you can early on.

Wonderment Apps co-founder Ryan Williams did just that as he built his Los Angeles-based end-to-end technology design and development firm, and he’s benefitted a great deal from automation, specifically in the areas of basic business processes and the collection and reporting of data.

Let’s take a look at what Williams had to say about this ever-evolving topic. Also, if you haven’t yet done so, take a look at my earlier post about simple automation tools for freelancers. It’s a robot party, and everyone’s invited.

Ryan Williams
Wonderment Apps co-founder Ryan Williams

Start with Business Processes

Williams says that in order for his business to run as smoothly as it does, he uses a few key pieces of software. Wonderment Apps relies heavily on collaboration between many different people to create the products they do, and automating some basic business processes has been crucial to its success.

For project management, Wonderment uses two pieces of software from a company called Atlassian: Jira and Confluence. Jira is a collaborative software-development tool and Confluence is content-collaboration software, and the two are meant to work hand in hand.

“Basically, they allow our teams to collaborate together and break the project down into tasks, and then stories, and then lay out all the details of the project, and then track the execution of the creation of the project,” Williams says.

With so many different people collaboratively building these apps, he says it’s also important to carefully track everyone’s time, and for that Wonderment uses a piece of business-tracking software called Harvest, which actually plugs into Jira.

“As people are working on different projects, it tracks the amount of billable time that they are working on those projects,” Williams says. “If the people building the project are actually tracking the amount of time it takes to build a piece of it — which is usually estimated prior to the actual delivery of the project — we’re able to track how close we are to the estimate. We’re also able to track how much money it costs to build an individual piece of the software.”

The third piece of the company’s business process automation system is Xero, online accounting and bookkeeping software. This plugs into Harvest and can connect into Jira, too. Notably, Xero can take all the labor recorded by Harvest and create invoices, send them, and track receivables.

“These three systems all talk to each other in order to pull all the data together on a project-oriented level and quickly determine — at any point — where a project is at, how much the project is costing, whether or not the project is on time, if an invoice has gone out, and whether or not we’ve received payment,” Williams says.

Automate Gathering and Reporting Data Metrics

One great thing about automating your business processes is the treasure trove of data it presents to you. Since everything that happens at Williams’ business is done through pieces of integrated software, it’s easy for him to get a clear picture of how his operations are running.

“We’re tracking our employees’ performance as it relates to their work on different projects,” Williams says. “We can then use that for performance reviews, understanding whether we’re behind or ahead of projects, giving us perspective on what we’re doing.”

Wonderment also gathers much data in its sales processes, for which it uses a CRM called Insightly.

“We’re creating really advanced conversion funnels throughout the sales process to understand everything — on a pipeline-level — what’s coming in in terms of new leads down to what we can actually convert into an opportunity and then what we convert into a contract,” Williams says. He says that the collection of lead data is automated from a variety of different channels, and that this is then reported in order to determine how effective a particular marketing campaign is in its ability to drive sales.

By using automated data-gathering tools in this way, Wonderment Apps is able to track its ability to drum up new business and, in turn, figure out how efficiently teams are working in the execution of those projects.

So, is the world of automation for you and your business? It’s a good time to start thinking about it.