Few business owners would argue with the idea that process automation is a key factor in driving growth and sustainability in a business. Automation of repetitive tasks that require little or no human intervention can decrease ongoing business costs significantly. So realistically, a business owner should be striving to automate as much of their business as possible, while still ensuring that human intervention is present where absolutely necessary.
In this article we are going to discuss some examples of businesses that have set themselves up to operate partially or fully automated online. These businesses can be broken up into different categories, depending on their size and the product or services they're offering. Each business has managed to leverage online automation techniques that have kept their overheads low and has allowed them to thrive in their respective niche.
Basic automation – Wayfair
Wayfair is a company in the US that sells furniture, home décor and a lot more. Their journey has been a long but successful one. Their business model is one of Drop Shipping. This is the practice of setting up a store front to sell a particular set of products and then delivering the products directly from a supplier to the customer. This ultimately removes the need for the drop shipper to warehouse an inventory of products – which significantly reduces overheads.
Although Wayfair is now a large company with over one billion in revenue, they started off small. And in the early days it was the process of setting up some basic order fulfillment automation that freed up the founders' time to set up the over 200 online store fronts that were eventually rolled into one.
These days it's relatively easy to set up this type of basic automation in a sales process. Online platforms such as Shopify or WooCommerce typically offer the ability to extend your store front to send out purchase orders automatically to each supplier. Leveraging the plugins which facilitate this automation, although not free, will save you in the long run by freeing up your time to work out how to grow your business.
Bespoke automation – Swiftype
Our next example steps things up a notch by utilising online third-party services to establish a more complex automation pipeline. Our example company, Swiftype, is an online search service that provides businesses with a more effective way to search their online content and the content of their team members.
Swiftype already made use of two third party tools for managing their operations – Help Scout and Salesforce, but unfortunately these two tools were not able to communicate between each other. To solve this problem, Swiftype needed a bespoke automation system that could bridge the gap. They decided to use Zapier, an online service that facilitates "integrations", or connections, between disconnected online systems.
Tools such as Zapier allow business owners, with no coding skills, to hook up the APIs of various online platforms (don't know what an API is? Check out this article). Ultimately this means that one platform can, via Zapier, trigger an event in another system. In this case Help Scout and Salesforce.
Some other examples of online platforms that help to facilitate business automation include:
- Sendgrid – for sending transactional emails.
- Slack – a chat program with a rich selection of chatbots.
- Hootsuite – allows the automation of social media.
- Hubspot – a CRM to manage customer information.
There are many other tools out there, but the most flexible are those that provide an API that can be leveraged to allow integrations between third party services, just like in our Zapier example.
Software as a Service (SaaS) automation
The example SaaS product we're going to talk about is DocuSign. DocuSign provides its customers with the ability to digitally sign documents online. DocuSign no doubt has a large development team maintaining the product. But this dev team is maintaining one code-base only and ensuring that everything that it does is fully automated and hand-free for the DocuSign team.
What this means is that onboarding new clients does not add any overheads and this keeps costs low and makes the product scalable. If a new customer signs up, they are given their very own DocuSign instance, running on the same code-base as every other customer. This is one of the key characteristics of a SaaS product – one standard product, that can be rolled out automatically to any number of new customers.
DocuSign started off small like Swifttype, but as they grew they no longer needed to rely on third party services such as Help Scout and Salesforce. As they grew, they brought the functionality inhouse, in order to reduces costs. Building your own bespoke software is initially expensive, but in the long run it's more customisable, flexible and cost effective.
A good strategy is to leverage as many third-party services as possible when you're starting out, and as your business grows, start replacing those third-party integrations with your own. This means that over time you can stop paying the fees to the third-party platforms and instead keep the costs inhouse.
Next level automation
The likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure and Google Cloud Services have taken business automation to a whole new playing field. In our final example we will focus on the largest provider at the time of writing – AWS.
AWS provides the infrastructure and networking capabilities to businesses that exist either completely or partially online. They have automated the process end-to-end for any development team to quickly and easily spin up a new server to host a website or SaaS product.
A cloud hosting provider such as AWS is a great example of what can happen when you place process automation at the forefront of your business model. Having automated the entire customer experience from the beginning, AWS is able to scale rapidly.
And in a new and growing industry such as cloud hosting, a venture like this will make the owners a lot of money. Just take a look at Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is now over 150 billion! A lot of which has come from the AWS division.
For a business to grow efficiently, process automation should always be at the forefront of a business owners mind. With significantly more automation services available today than there were five years ago, it is easier than ever ensure that your online business is scalable.
Tools such as Zapier bring together disjointed online platforms relatively easily, saving you time and money in the reduced overheads incurred by maintaining multiple systems. So, keep these examples in mind and hopefully they will help you in your endeavours to automate, optimise, and stay ahead of the competition.
Looking for some tips into how you can automate processes in your business? Get in touch, we are always happy to help out!