The small business automation problem

The small business automation problem

Automation, at it's core, is essentially front-loading your work. You spend a certain amount of time, energy, or money at time x so that you don't have to repeatedly spend those resources at time y. Sounds great, right?

But not all automations are made the same.

As the concept of automation is gaining popularity, an unfortunate problem I'm noticing more and more often is the propensity to jump the gun a little bit; to automate a process that you probably shouldn't be automating at this point in your business lifecycle.

For example, let's say you're a small business owner with a task that takes 5 minutes to do, like invoicing. You expect to do this task twenty four times over the next month. If you were to completely automate this process, you would save yourself 120 minutes—two hours—over the next thirty days. Awesome!

Áutomations, however, aren't gifts from above—they're processes that take time and energy to create. What if our forementioned automation takes ten hours to build? Is it still worth it?

In this case, it would take your business about half a year to 'break-even' on the initial time investment. Two hours per month for five months. Granted, after that half year, you'll start making time back; if you plan on running that automation for substantially longer than five months, then, this would probably make sense.

But consider the possibility that you may need to change your business process over the next year. Maybe it's something simple, like adding a form step that wasn't there previously. Or maybe it's more complicated and involves a complete rehaul of your sales process.

Additionally, you should take knowledge growth into account. Perhaps you decide to rebuild your automation from scratch in a few months after you learn a new way of invoicing.

Whatever the change, if you want to keep your automation up-to-date, you're looking at extra man hours for maintenance. And therein lies the crux of the point I'm making: automations save you a certain amount of time or money per action, which looks great on the surface, but they also cost considerable time or money in up-front costs and in ongoing maintenance.

If you're a small business owner operating under capacity, the highest ROI thing you can probably do is spend more time and efforts on sales—not on 'brushing up' your business automations for the umpteenth time. Increase your throughput ASAP and worry about perfecting your systems later.