6 min read

Maximizing efficiency: best workflow automation for small businesses

June 21, 2024


What is workflow automation for small businesses? 


Workflow automation for small businesses describes how the flow of tasks, information, and documents can be automated to improve efficiency and reduce the burden of tedious manual work. It requires specific triggers to set off programmed, automated actions. For example, if you receive an email with a meeting invite and that meeting is automatically added to your digital calendar, you would be using workflow automation.

Workflow automation tools are built and used for a wide range of functions in small business environments. Some of the most commonly used tools streamline processes for project management, sales, marketing, customer services, finance, and human resources.     


Importance of workflow automation for small businesses

Automated workflows can improve processes for small businesses by making them more efficient and less error prone. This ultimately leads to improved customer satisfaction and increased revenue. 

Even implementing light automation with a few simplified workflows can lead to significant operational improvements in small business workflow management. When employees aren’t spending excessive time on manual processes, for example, they have more time to interact with customers, provide better service, and support business growth. Small businesses must compete against both small and enterprise-level organizations, so saving time and resources is especially important. 



What types of workflows can a small business automate? 

Small business employees across departments can save time with automated workflows because they take over multiple steps of day-to-day processes. Check out some examples of automated workflows your business could use:      



Automated customer-facing workflows

Onboarding new clients or customers can be a time-consuming process as it often involves a lot of manual busywork. Small business employees can save time by automating these workflows. 


For instance, you could use a form fill that automatically inputs new customer information into your customer relationship manager (CRM) system and simultaneously sends a thank you email to your customer. This prompt acknowledgement lets them know their information has been received, enhancing their experience with your company. Additionally, marketing automation can be an effective strategy to attract new customers, making your marketing efforts more efficient and personalized.



Automated vendor and partner-facing workflows

Workflows for regular dealings with partners and vendors can save your small business a lot of time and resources.

For example, if you regularly have your partners sign NDAs, workflow automation platforms can provide libraries of templatized non-disclosure agreement (NDA) documents that can be automatically adjusted for specific vendor needs. This saves your small business the hassle of drafting individual NDAs from scratch and enduring lengthy review processes before they’re ready for review and signature.



Automated employee workflows

Many departments within small businesses require internal approval processes, including sales, finance, and project development. An approval process can be time-consuming, especially when it involves a large volume of documents with multiple levels of approval. Workflow automation systems can speed up the process by automatically initiating, tracking, and sending approvals to the right people at the right times.



Automated HR workflows


Bringing new employees into a small business involves repeating certain tasks, such as sending out paperwork to sign and arranging onboarding meetings. By automating these steps, you can ease the workload on your human resources (HR) department and minimize the chance of mistakes due to manual human error. Automation ensures all new hires receive the necessary documents automatically and helps organize meetings more efficiently.


Related ReadSecure, yet simple, document workflows in healthcare law



Steps to create an effective small business workflow


The following steps outline how to create your own custom workflow with automation to save your small business time and resources:


1. Identify core processes

Every small business has tasks that need to be accomplished on a regular basis. These may follow a specific set of steps and require tedious administrative work. Identifying these tasks and associated processes is essential for running your business from day to day.    



2. Establish workflows 

Clearly outline the most effective and efficient ways of completing the essential processes you’ve identified, taking into account timing and people involved. Diagrams and flowcharts can help to build these workflows as you visualize each step. 



3. Test workflows 

It’s important to test your new workflow after you’ve defined it. Having employees try the workflow before it’s used in a business context will reveal any flaws you may have overlooked. Collect feedback and determine what steps of the process need to be adjusted.



4. Implement automation  

An established workflow helps ensure consistent, effective business practices. Once your teams have a process in place, introduce workflow automation to save more time and increase employee satisfaction. This will ultimately give your small business the competitive advantage needed to stay ahead.

Related ReadImproving Service Delivery by Streamlining Your Accounting Workflows 



Factors to consider when choosing workflow automation software


When selecting workflow automation software, assess various factors to find the best fit for your small business’ workflow management. Start with the following considerations:


  • Software features: Before making a decision, learn everything you can about a product’s capabilities. Think about where repetition and tedium can be taken out of your work processes. Make sure the software you’re considering has features that meet those needs.   
  • Customization: Once you’ve identified a software with features that meet your needs for automation, find out how and if its custom workflows can improve the way your business operates. The best platforms will be flexible enough to work with the nuances of your daily operations.   
  • Visibility: It’s important to have complete visibility into the status of every project. You’ll want to be able to check the progress of your workflows at any time. This lets you communicate the up-to-date status of your projects to stakeholders and quickly identify any bottlenecks.
  • User-friendliness: Beyond choosing a solution based on these first three points, it’s important to evaluate how user-friendly it is. When employees feel that new software is easy to learn and use, they are more likely to adopt it into their day-to-day workflow. At the end of the day, your small business will not benefit from a solution if no one on your team is comfortable using it. 
  • Security: For workflows that involve sensitive documents or information, data security is critical. Make sure to invest in software with strong security measures to protect all data at every step of the workflow automation process. 
  • Analytics and reporting: To optimize workflow automation, you need to assess how new tools are performing. A workflow automation software that can track time savings and other key performance indicators (KPI) is key to understanding the value of your solution. Small businesses can use those insights to identify and make any adjustments along the way, ensuring a streamlined and effective workflow.



Debunking common workflow automation myths 

Many small businesses may overlook the benefits of workflow automation due to some common myths around this technology. Here are a few of the most common:



Myth 1: Workflow automation will replace people

Workflow automation aims to cut down on the repetitive and mundane tasks employees face — not to replace them. By creating efficiencies that free up time for your team to focus on more meaningful work, workflow automation can significantly boost employee productivity.



Myth 2: Workflow automation is expensive 

For small businesses in particular, cost is almost always top of mind. But workflow automation doesn’t necessarily have to rely on the most expensive tools. Automating even a few basic tasks can go a long way in improving efficiency, productivity, and cost savings.



Myth 3: Workflow automation will fully and flawlessly automate tasks 

Just like it won’t replace people, workflow automation cannot replace all of your core business functions. Because it can sometimes make mistakes, it’s important for human workers to oversee automated workflows to check for errors. 



Myth 4: Workflow automation is vulnerable to security risks 

Not every workflow automation platform will ensure security at every stage of your workflow, but many of them do. That’s why it’s important to choose software that will protect sensitive data from start to finish.  

Related ReadBalancing Protection and Productivity for Modern Legal Workflows



Conclusion: Leveraging workflow automation for small business success


With so many potential ways for small businesses to implement workflow automation, automation software can be key to succeeding in a competitive environment. Make sure to research your options and understand what tools will be most beneficial for automating your workflows. 


By supporting consistent, error-free processes and saving valuable time for employees, the right workflow automation solution can help your business thrive and scale.