As your startup begins to scale, tasks tend to increase. 8-hour workdays no longer seem enough to get everything done. At the same time, you need to be smart with resources; you can’t simply hire people every time responsibilities increase.
The simplest solution is to maximize your productivity. And the way to do it is by reviewing and optimizing your workflow.
Before we delve into our topic, note that our team consists of second and third-time founders with lots of startup experience. Through our efforts and challenges, we’ve managed to find ways to maximize productivity without hiring additional manpower.
In this article, we share this knowledge with you. Through 15+ workflow optimization tips you will learn:
- How to automate repetitive tasks (across all departments).
- How to optimize the time spend on non-creative activities.
- What tools to use to optimize your workflow for each department.
After implementing our tips you should be able to limit recurring costs, improve communication, and use your time in the most productive way possible.
Why every startup needs to optimize its workflow
What exactly does workflow optimization stand for? An easy way to understand this is by breaking it down: Work-flow optimization (optimizing your daily work to remain in the flow as long as possible).
This is quite a challenge nowadays; while most people are able to produce great work when they are focused, there are many small tasks and distractions that require your attention. Emails, phone calls, 2-minute interruptions, invoices... Together, these smaller tasks take up a significant amount of time and decrease your productivity.
The core team of a startup should ideally only focus on
- Managing people
- Managing processes
- Making important (top-level) decisions
Everything else should either be automated or optimized in a way that requires minimal attention. When you do this from an early point in your company’s growth trajectory, you effectively solve a problem before it arises.
The following workflow optimization tips help you achieve this with the help of software and by focusing only on the most important elements.
Workflow optimization tips
The following subchapters include tools and tips for each department. Some tools may not directly be necessary at the time of this writing, but it is always a good idea to keep them in mind. Therefore, it might be a good idea to bookmark this page for future reference.
1. Marketing - Startup marketing automation tips
Marketing is equal parts creative and mundane. When building a strategy you might need to use more of your time and creativity to set things up. However, once everything is set and ready, you can automate most of it.
1.1 Email marketing
The best way to optimize an email marketing strategy is by using software like Miro. The whiteboard platform will help you plan out the whole customer journey. Once that is done, you can use it as a reference to understand what type of emails need to be sent in each stage.
Note: Miro is also a great tool to use when trying to improve the effectiveness of distributed teams.
The thing we love most about email marketing is that it can be fully automated. Once you set up a template for each segment or stage of the customer journey, you can use an email marketing tool to execute the process - Essentially, you create a so-called email drip campaign that is triggered either by a predetermined time or a prospect’s action. Tools like Mailchimp do this free for email lists of up to 2000 people, so they should be a good place to start.
There is another reason for which you should invest in an email marketing tool; you can track the performance of your campaigns. By doing so you will better understand what works, and double down on it.
1.2 Social media
Social media is easy to automate, but we recommend spending at least a small amount of time each week to engage with other channels. This improves the authenticity of your channel and, in most cases, leads to an increase in engagement.
For example, if you are automating your Twitter channel, it might be a good idea to spend 20 minutes each day liking, commenting, and retweeting bigger pages in your industry. For all the rest you can use a Twitter automation tool.
Start by using Buffer, Hootsuite, or Sprout. A free social media planner can help you set up posts and redistribute older content without having to post manually. Simply schedule the posts and they will be published automatically.
1.3 Content strategy & Link Building
Your content will determine how you are found on the web. Therefore, doing research is important. Whether you plan on building a blog, making Youtube videos, or starting a podcast, the following tools will help you out:
- Google Alerts - Set email alerts for specific keyword mentions to do more targeted research. This method also helps you find pages where you could get backlinks from (SEO).
- Ahrefs (paid) - Find out which keywords are easiest to rank for and popular with your industry. This tool is mainly used for competitor analysis and content ideas across different platforms.
- AnswerThePublic - Once you discover interesting keywords you can input them in this tool and discover hundreds of variations that can be used within your content as well.
- NinjaOutreach (paid) - If you are manually reaching out to webmasters for link exchanges, you are probably spending many hours each day on the process. NinjaOutreach fully automates this process, as well as the preliminary research you need to do to find the right candidates.
- Linkody (paid) - To improve your reporting and better track the growth of your website, consider taking a free trial on software like Linkody. If your budget is tight you can always export the list and continue tracking it on an Excel sheet.
1.4 Traffic reports
Successful marketing starts and ends with proper tracking. While making reports used to be time-consuming, it is now easier than ever to automate it:
- Click here to learn how you can automate Google Analytics reports.
- Click here to find out how you can check reports on Google Search Console.
2. Customer Support - Optimizing support workflow
When starting out, your customer support will most likely consist of a “Contact us” button that enables customers to send you an email. While this may be sufficient during the early stages of your company, you will eventually need to find a way to optimize this process.
2.1 Ticketing system
Have you ever sent an inquiry or message only to receive a confirmation email that your “ticket has been received”? Companies with a large userbase will choose this option to segment tickets and answer them in a timely manner. If your emails are more than you can handle, consider investing in software like Zendesk.
Chatbots can be very helpful when trying to segment the issues that customers face and to solve smaller problems that occur more frequently. Drift offers a freemium model and is very lenient (price-wise) when it comes to startups. Automated chatbots can also integrate with your ticketing software or send users to automated business resources that you have previously placed on your website (e.g. knowledge base for problem resolution).
2.3 Templates / Canned responses
If automated responses are simply not an option (which is the case with many startups), you can also optimize the process by creating a list of template responses that require minimum editing. Gmail offers this feature, and the following video explains what you need to do to set it up:
3. Money & Payments - Automating financial tasks
Invoices, payments, salaries… It’s quite a headache to think about all these tasks every single month, especially when working with many freelancers. Thankfully, most of these tasks can be automated.
3.1 Invoicing reminders
If your client (or customer) has not paid their invoice, you can automatically send them reminders using software like FreshBooks. Alternatively, you can also use canned responses (as shown above).
3.2 Automated payroll processing
There are several tools that can help you automatically send out salaries on a monthly basis, as well as optimizing other HR tasks. Check out ADP and similar tools.
3.3 Set recurring invoices
No matter which software you use to create and send out your invoices, you can easily create an automation process. As soon as you book the customer, set a monthly recurring date to send out an invoice. If your budget is tight and you prefer not to use the software you can also do this by scheduling template emails through Gmail.
3.4 Automate payments to vendors or partners
For all your recurring expenses you can set up automated payments through your internet banking app. If this functionality is not supported you can simply visit your bank and have them set up the automated payment on a recurring date.
4. Administration - Optimizing smaller tasks
When it comes to workflow optimization tips, one of the first things you should do is use a cloud-based backup service to store your files. This also makes it much easier to share files with (distributed) co-workers.
4.1 File storage and backups
For this, we recommend using Google Drive. And to make things even easier, you can get Google Drive for your desktop, without having to log into your email account every time you want to access files.
4.2 Project management software
When your team grows, it becomes important to share your calendar and tasks with co-workers to streamline processes. It also becomes important o improve your task planning and make sure that the whole team is on track. We have previously written on the best project management tools for startups.
4.3 Optimize your inbox
From all the workflow optimization tips shared above, this one is most important for founders. Make sure you segment your emails by creating subfolders and delete what is not needed. If you haven’t yet, unsubscribe from all non-essential newsletters as well. Consider also creating a signature with all the important information that customers or partners might need. This includes your phone number, secondary email, or Skype ID.
The recruiting process is very time-consuming but risky to automate. Most companies are already using candidate filtering software to only read CVs that are relevant to the position they wish to hire for. However, this leaves many great candidates out of the talent pool. We have previously outlined how startups should structure their hiring strategy.
One of the most useful tools that we use at coara is Integromat. The tool is essentially built to automate all processes that go through different stages (if this - then that). It can be used for everything from email segmentation, social media sharing, and feedback sessions to highly complex tasks that usually require lots of attention from your team. Check out the introduction video and, if you believe it can help your business, start using the free version. Members of our coara incubator and our startup builder get some nice perks using this link
Software tools make it easy to optimize and automate most of the recurring processes you usually need to spend lots of time on. Through the workflow optimization tips shared above, you will now be able to maximize your productivity and only spend the minimum amount needed to update the systems you set in place.