Is Automation the Overlooked Secret to Small Business Growth?

All businesses start small, but only some end up growing into larger, enterprise-level companies. What’s the difference?

Amazon was started in a house in Seattle by Jeff Bezos. Apple famously began in Palo Alto in the garage of Steve Jobs’ parents. Microsoft was started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and even into year three only had a few employees.

Obviously, if you work in a small business, or own one, then this is true for you too. You started small.

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But that said, given they all start at about the same size, why do some companies grow and scale seemingly so much easier than others? Now of course, it is unlikely that you are trying to create the next Amazon; few small businesses have that sort of ambition, or, frankly, desire. But it is also likely true that almost all small businesses and their entrepreneurs have a desire to at the very least get bigger and make more money.

So, what’s the secret? Needless to say, it is not just one thing. Having a superior product or service is key, yes, as is having a great team, a secret sauce, and a whole lot more. But a key, often ignored, ingredient – especially in today’s increasingly digital world -- is process automation

Automation?

You bet.

Here’s why: When a small business starts, the entrepreneurs do everything. They wear multiple hats. But before long, the businesses that scale realize a few things:

  • Having the owners do tasks that others can do is a waste of time and talent. They hire smart. We all know that.
  • But similarly, and often missed, is that they also realize that the inefficient, early-day processes that were created before anyone knew better are an impediment to growth.

Consider, for one simple example, payroll. Early on, founders do payroll, right? Then a business grows and maybe a bookkeeper is hired, or maybe payroll is outsourced to a small firm. But eventually, if it is to really grow, the company automates payroll.

The same can be said for your vendor invoice and expense processes.

Automation frees up the company - and its resources and people - to concentrate on far more important things than the minutiae, the hum-drum, day-to-day operations; things that can be handled better, more efficiently, and far more economically, by the cloud, technology, and automation.

But don’t just take my word for it. A recent study of financial decision makers at SMBs by AMI-Partners found this to exactly be the case (check out the interactive infographic).

First the bad news: the study found that traditional invoice and expense processes and systems  negatively affected business performance:

  • 69% reported having cumbersome manual processes
  • 60% had trouble tracking spending, and
  • 56% struggle with missing paperwork

Manual processes that lead to lost paperwork and related long-delays? No wonder these small businesses have a tough time growing.

But the good news is really encouraging. It turns out that cloud-based, automated solutions like those offered by my friends here at SAP Concur can solve the problem, speed things up, save you money, and thereby foster growth.

It does so in four ways.

First, automation creates increased visibility into spending, cash flow, and other financial data. And despite an increase in volume for submitted invoices and expense reports as businesses grow, companies actually find more time to spend on strategic analysis and tasks. Why? Because the otherwise tedious processing tasks become automatic, saving accounting teams, for example, 16% of their time – or 40 hours per week processing invoices.

Next, automating processes like expense, travel, and invoice reporting creates greater employee satisfaction. Consider: Employees report expense reporting is up to 80% faster with a mobile, automated solution.

80%!

Third, cloud-based expense, travel, and invoice solutions allows SMBs to grow rapidly without growing their finance teams. As one survey respondent in the AMI-Partners report said, “As we continued to grow, the system just absorbed new employees. The accounting team has remained stable as the company has grown over the last three years.”

Finally, the Concur solution provided bottom-line savings. How much? How does an average of $34,000 annually sound?  What could your business do with an extra $34,000? It can help you grow, that’s for sure.

So yes, if you want to grow, be great, have a great idea, hire the best, and start automating your processes!

Check out the full AMI-Partners report, Elevate Business Performance and Better Manage Spend with Automation.

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