Welcome to another edition of Cancer-proof your business, where I help people set up their business and family financial affairs to survive the effects of life-altering events such as cancer and accidents. These events are stressful enough on their own without the added worry of the family’s business and finances.

The key to cancer-proofing your business is to make sure it can operate (or at least pay its bills) without you needing to be there. And one of the best ways of achieving that is to automate your business processes as much as possible.

Rise of the machines?

Whenever you mention ‘automation’ and ‘business’ in the same sentence, people often assume you mean ‘robots’ and start worrying about everyone losing their jobs.

Robots and other technology will undoubtedly have a major impact on how business is done in the future. But I’ve yet to see a computer that can create, develop and nurture relationships with customers the way business owners can. And with relationships and trust being such a vital part of any business, I doubt we’ll see robots taking over entire businesses any time soon.

Still, businesses usually have processes that are highly repetitive and don’t require “the human touch”—ideal candidates for automation. Having a computer deal with the repetitive processes gives owners more time to focus building relationships and trust in their business.

You can already buy off-the-shelf products that will:

  • create meeting appointments online
  • automatically upload bank data and generate invoices from cloud accounting solutions such as Xero
  • upload the relevant information from supplier invoices
  • automatically email debtors with outstanding balances
  • allow clients to buy goods online
  • accept secure credit card payments online, eliminating the need for manual payment processing.

You can then customise and integrate these programs (and dozens of others) to reduce the amount of human involvement even more while still satisfying your clients’ needs. For example, you could ask clients a series of scoping questions and use their answers to:

  1. define the services they want
  2. create a customised proposal
  3. send the proposal to the client
  4. accept their payment online.

Don’t just survive—thrive

While alarmists see automation as the beginning of the end for the human race, opportunists and entrepreneurs see it as an opportunity. The more they can automate their business processes, the more time they’ll have to grow their business. And the less reliant their business will be on them managing its day-to-day operations.

In our case, automating our partner portal means our accounting partners can log in and then prepare and accept their proposals online. It reduces the time and money spent acquiring clients, and we don’t waste time on scoping sessions or preparing proposals that are ultimately unsuccessful.

In the nine months I was away from my business undergoing cancer treatment, Zerobooks kept generating new business, and increased its level of new business each month (compared to the previous year’s monthly average).

Automation won’t completely cancer proof a business. But it’s a great way to eliminate unnecessary or unproductive tasks, and reduce your reliance on the people who do them. In fact, we think it’s so important that we have two developers helping both Zerobooks and our partners customise and automate their processes when:

  • there’s no off-the-shelf solution
  • an off-the-shelf solution meets only 80-90% of their needs, and we must wait for future updates (which may be a low priority for the software house).

What processes can you automate in your business?

Next time you’re doing work that’s important but unproductive, consider whether it could be automated. That way you know it will always be done—regardless of whether you’re there or not.