But Not For the Reasons You Think!

In the wake of the recent minimum wage hike, many businesses are looking for ways to navigate the changes without cutting jobs, increasing prices, or closing down.  There is a simple, elegant solution for many businesses that is often overlooked: automation.

Automation is not necessarily large-scale corporate robotics, like self-checkout machines or ATMs, or small-scale gimmicks like chat-bots and social media tag generators. Process automation is about automating the repetitive tasks in your business to allow employees to focus on skills-based, income-generating tasks.

Automation is not about replacing employees, it is about amplifying them.

If a process has a set of consistently repeatable steps, it can – and should – be automated. The possibilities are endless, with a little imagination. In fact, you are likely already experiencing the effects of small-scale process automation without realizing it: when your minimum payment is due and your bank sends you an email, or when you are close to your data limit on your wireless plan and your provider sends you a text, for example.

What Can Automation Look Like?

– A customer accepts an online estimate and they are sent the invoice and contract;

– Someone books a consult appointment online and their information is added to your customer relationship software;

– A client pays their invoice in full and a thank you email is sent automatically;

– You are automatically notified via email when someone posts in a Facebook group looking for the service your business provides.

At vcc, our entire onboarding process is now automated.

A contract that would have taken twenty minutes to produce now takes two: a contract is automatically generated from an accepted estimate, pulling information that was previously copied over by hand. The contract is pushed to DropBox, and we receive a notification on our project management software that the contract can be reviewed and sent. The project manager can now use that mental space, and extra time, to begin crafting conversion copy for the client.

A website set-up that would have taken forty minutes now takes less than a minute: when a down payment is made, it triggers an instant cascade of tasks previously completed by hand – a hosting account is generated, a custom development domain is produced, WordPress (along with all the appropriate plugins) is installed, and the child theme is created. The talents of the web developer can now be used to begin actually designing the website, not setting it up.

Both of these processes are absolutely necessary to the functioning of our business, and they are typically completed exactly the same way every time. By automating these processes, we save an average of 3.4 hours per client. Our project manager can focus on real client problems, brainstorming, copywriting, and acquisition. Our web developer can focus on drafting beautiful designs.  None of those things can be automated, and all of them provide a much higher ROI.

As a result, our average project value is steadily increasing, and we have increased our own profits 61-63% year over year.

With that kind of profit increase – would your business have to let employees go? Wouldyour business have to immediately raise prices and risk alienating current customers (and cause a PR nightmare on the scale of Tim Hortons)? Automating processes allows businesses to continue on a positive growth trajectory, despite rapidly rising labour costs, without firing good employees or substantially increasing prices.

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Here’s how it worked out for us:

Booking new client consults through online booking application:

2015: average of 3.1 back and forth emails to determine best time for the call

 2016: average of 1.2 emails

 2017: average of .97 emails (less than 1 email on average because of the sharp increase in bookings made by people who never spoke to us before booking their first consult)

Onboarding process: 

2015: average of 27.4 minutes per new client for the onboarding process

 2016: average of 11.6 minutes

 2017: average of 8.9 minutes

Email templates: 

2015: no email templates or autoresponders in place – average of 31% of our project management hours per week devoted to email communication

 2016: autoresponders and canned (general) responses in use: an increased client load of 17% over 2015, with an average PM email communication spend of 26% of the working hours per week

 2017: autoresponders and automated canned responses (including pre-filled data for the specific client) – increased client load of 44% over 2015, with an average PM email communication spend of only 19% of total PM time dedicated to email communication per week on average.

 Data collection through automation: 

2015: average of 6 back and forth emails to gather all data for client profiles and questionnaires, plus 1.1 phone calls.

 2016: partial implementation of automation for questionnaires and data collection – average of 4 back and forth emails, plus 0.8 phone calls.

 2017: fully automated – average of 1.2 emails, and 0.22 phone calls

 Income related stats: 

44% increase in client load over 3 years

61-63% increase in overall profits every year

The substantial increase in productivity of our current employees as a direct result of automation processes meant that these figures were achieved without additional hiring. As profits steadily increase, we can now focus on hiring high-level employees, whose skills and expertise go far beyond what can be automated and who will bring us even more value.

Time is money – and saving it can make you more.

Allowing software to complete highly repetitive tasks reduces the risk of human error (which typically increases as monotony does), and allows more time to be dedicated to higher value tasks. Automation is an elegant way for businesses to navigate the changes in labour cost brought about by minimum wage hikes – automation is about thriving, not surviving.

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