Process Organization + Documentation

When you go to buy a car, you know you need to consider how you’ll be using it to make the best decision. Commuting, family vacations, or off-roading all require very different purchasing decisions. But when it comes to automation software, many business owners aren’t intentional, buying flashy software that promises a lot but isn’t actually suited to their needs. It’s like walking onto a car lot and saying to the salesperson, “I’d like to buy some transportation. Whatever you think is good!”

Done correctly, automation can be a lifesaver. If you feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you need to do, or there’s not enough revenue coming in, software that automates tedious or repetitive work can give you more time to serve clients and build your business.

It’s important to pick the right robot. Let’s take a look at how we pick our software and make recommendations to our clients. 

You Don’t Just Need Software, You Need the Right Software

We’ve had clients come to us after spending thousands of dollars on software that never worked for them. Imagine being sold on a software system by a persuasive pitch, spending six months learning it and trying to make it do what you needed, then finally giving up. You’ve not only lost the time, energy, and money involved but also six months of extra productivity the right software would have given you!

When clients ask us about automation, we don’t just hand them a list of software we like and wish them luck. What works for our business might not be the right solution for yours.

So how do you find the right software? Here are our three steps:

Step One: Document Your Process

When clients ask us about automation, the first thing we ask is if they have an SOP, a written description of their standard operating procedure for the tasks they want to automate. When automation software doesn’t do what you hope, it’s often because you bought it without a clear, detailed picture of what needs to be automated. It’s impossible to know if an automation software is going to be able to do the job if you’re not clear on what the job entails!

Defining your process is a crucial component of automation. Here are some considerations:

  • What data are you using?
  • Where does it need to go?
  • Who needs to access, approve, or adjust that data?
  • What kind of reporting is needed?

When we work with clients on documenting their process, we have them describe their workflow, asking questions to drill down to the fine details. If necessary, we meet with them for a couple of hours while they carry out the process in question, writing down what they do as they work. Then we guide them through diagramming the process flow, order of operations, and important contingencies. That gives them everything they need to write their SOP.

But an SOP isn’t just for automation; onboarding contractors or training employees will also be more efficient and require less personal attention. With a solid SOP, your team will have a clear, consistent way to handle business.

Step Two: Decide Which Parts of the Process Should Be Automated

Not everything can or should be automated; sometimes a human touch is required. Developing a system to robocall your clients and say, “We value your business!” won’t necessarily make them feel valued. However, automation is ideal for bookkeeping and repeatable back-end or non-direct client communication tasks.

You should also consider whether anything in your process can be improved before trying to automate it. After working with a client who struggled to keep up with the complexities of their business, we realized that they could improve efficiency by simply assigning tracking numbers to all their contracts, making it easier for their staff to reference. No pricey automation software required! It’s not always that simple, but it’s a good illustration of the power of documenting your process.

Step Three: Choose the Right Software

Once you’ve documented your SOPs and considered which processes should be automated, it’s finally time to look at software options. It’s important to make sure that you are working with consultants and advisors who fully understand both your challenges and your goals. The wrong software choice can be costly in time, money, frustration, and missed opportunities.

There are countless software options out there and they make big promises. Sometimes you can find a product that does exactly what you want. Other times, it’s better to chain together several bits of software, each devoted to a single task.

And honestly, sometimes there is no software to handle a specific task. That doesn’t mean all is lost! You might be able to refine your process and create frameworks or templates that make the process more consistent and manageable without software. Or you can try modifying steps so they work with an existing software solution.

Good Things Take Time

In our work, we’ve found that many people are resistant to taking the time to thoroughly document their processes, but we truly believe it’s crucial to your success. If you find yourself balking at the idea of taking hours out of your day to define your SOPs—after all, your goal is to automate things so you have more time—let us share something we’ve learned: the moments when you feel like rushing ahead or skipping steps are the moments when you most need to slow down and take care. Doing things right may feel like it’s taking forever, but we promise the result will be well worth it.

If it sounds like a lot to take on, you don’t have to go it alone! The Advisor Roots Community gives independent professionals and business owners a place to connect and get advice, and our team is available to help when you start a conversation or during Coworking Office Hours! If you’re looking for more hands-on help, you can engage with The Advisor Roots Agency to see your automation project to completion.

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