Automation and highly skilled manual jobs like plumbing and landscaping don’t seem like a natural fit at first blush.
But we’re not talking about laying people off or replacing someone’s job with a machine. In every trade business, there are repetitive administrative tasks that can be handed off to software. This helps those business owners cut costs, get their teams in alignment and get more work done.
For anyone who runs a trade business, here’s what you need to know about automating your crew’s work.
Automation Saves Time and Saves Money
Time is money for trade companies. It’s essential to maximize billable hours and minimize administrative work. So, when your employees spend hours each week on tasks like data entry, scheduling and reporting, they aren’t making the most of their time.
Automating parts of that work alleviates them of this burden and frees them up to focus on more important things. “Streamlined processes and automated routine tasks make it possible to complete in minutes activities that previously took days,” write McKinsey’s Mathis Friesdorf, Greg Gilbert, Yuri Goryunov, Florian Niedermann and Ralf Plattfaut. Those researchers are specifically referring to work in a healthcare context, but the point applies here, too.
The time employees save as a result of automation can be spent on activities that directly generate income. With one tap, an on-site plumber can automatically notify head office that they’ve fixed a customer’s leak and assign an administrator to issue an invoice. What once took 10 minutes now takes 2 seconds. Over the course of a day’s work, this new efficiency might free the plumber up to complete one more job.
Automating your work can also save you from having to hire additional employees. That’s because you can get more out of the staff that you already have, notes digital marketing consultant Shane Barker. When you automate mundane and repetitive tasks, you give your current team more time to spend on the complex and skilled work that can’t be easily automated.
That means you may not need to hire another back-office administrator to handle paperwork and coordinate the efforts of your contractors. The key to this, however, is investing in software that makes automation easy. If your contractors or administrators have to spend a week learning how to use a new system, time is going to be wasted rather than saved.
Automation Removes Human Error and Improves Workflows
The way you and your team work evolves naturally over time, especially as the company grows. That’s normal. Unfortunately, this evolution can create messy, complex and inefficient workflows. Client folders get stacked high in boxes, and company computers get filled with out-of-date spreadsheets.
Worse still, this disorganization can lead to the kind of mistakes that cost your business money and lose you clients.
If you’re looking to modernize the way your business operates, automation-powered digital tools are a great solution. For one, moving from an analog or spreadsheet-based workflow to a digital one can significantly reduce the risk of human error.
With spreadsheets, there’s always the chance someone will work from an out-of-date file, explains Rhett Power, CEO of Power Coaching and Consulting. This doesn’t happen when everything is kept in a central repository in the cloud. “By keeping workflows and feedback loops where everyone can see them, project management software increases transparency and reduces the risk of error.”
Automating tasks also reduces the risk of human error. You won’t ever see an out-of-date version when files get automatically updated. You also can’t forget to send an invoice or forget a client meeting when reminders are sent automatically. The more admin work you can automate, the smoother your business will start to run. When human error is reduced or removed, processes are improved, writes CIO’s Sarah K. White.
At the same time, creating automatic processes will help you identify parts of your business that need streamlining. Having the perspective of “What are we doing that can be simplified and automated?” will help you see what habits you and your team have long since settled into — and possibly since outgrown.
Eventually, you’ll be able to automate old workflows away altogether, writes Inc.’s Jeff Haden. What started as an onerous manual task quickly becomes a small, automated part of a much larger process, which you can also begin to automate. It’s all about taking a step-by-step approach.
Automation Empowers Employees and Improves Morale
In trade businesses, your employees are very often your most valuable assets. Not only does your revenue depend on the work they do, but great employees can be hard to find. As a result, you know the importance of keeping them happy and motivated.
You’d be forgiven, then, for being concerned about the impact automation could have on your team. But you don’t need to be.
Research by PwC’s Dan Priest, Kumar Krishnamurthy and Alex Blanter has found that, far from replacing human workers, automation actually makes their work lives easier and more enjoyable. A lot of automated tasks are things that people don’t want to do in the first place or tasks that, when automated, improve employee performance.
Think about rote administrative work like scheduling shifts, managing payroll or confirming appointments. This is work few people like to do, and it’s where automation shines. In fact, mundane and repetitive tasks are common causes of drops in motivation, writes Michael Georgiou, a co-founder and CMO at Imaginovation. Eliminate these tasks from your employees’ workdays, and you may find yourself with a more motivated team.
A good automation platform will actually empower employees to get creative and streamline their own workflows. A cloud-based tool can integrate with the other cloud-based apps you use to get work done, writes Chris J. Snook, a managing partner at growth accelerator Launch Haus. “As a result, your managers and employees become citizen automators who can quickly and easily design processes that streamline their workflows for maximum effectiveness. Rather than replacing people, automation empowers them.”
How to Choose the Right Digital Automation Tool
Your unique business needs will define what software is best for your team, but keep three things in mind:
- You’ll want a tool with a clean, intuitive user experience.
- You’ll want something with a short learning curve so people can learn the software and start using it quickly.
- You’ll want a tool that works in the cloud.
Cloud-based collaboration is one of the big benefits of most digital workflow tools, writes technology journalist Madeline Bennett. Cloud tools can be used on the go by staff wherever they are. Automated notifications can be picked up just as easily by contractors working on the road as they can by staff in your office.
The tool needs to be mobile-accessible and have offline-capability, too, because most contractors aren’t visiting clients with a laptop under their arm. And, it needs to have multiple levels of access so supervisors can assign tasks to employees without having to worry about other users accidentally accessing or changing the content.
Above all, look for simplicity. As a business owner, you don’t need a tool that can do a million things when you just need to automate a couple of tasks. And you should know better than most that you don’t need a hammer to swat a fly.
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