How Hundreds of SMBs Have Improved Productivity Overnight

At 25 years old, I was an early member of, a company that would go on to be valued at $400M, only to go bust shortly after. I know a thing or two about how NOT to run a business. But since then, I’ve also learned what it takes to do it right.

I founded Indiez, a global company with employees in several countries and community members in even more. I like to think I’ve learned from my mistakes. And in building Indiez, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of entrepreneurs and small businesses of all sizes and stages. When you speak to that many businesses, you start to see patterns. Some patterns are good -- passion, for example, is present in every successful startup.

Some patterns, however, are bad. And those are the patterns I want to talk about. More specifically, I want to talk about the patterns of inefficiency I’ve seen that ultimately lead to a business’ demise -- and how millennials seem to be avoiding this catastrophe far better than their older counterparts. What can we learn from them?

1. They Know to Automate

Automation is typically seen as a double-edged sword. Some camps claim it’s poised to inevitably take our jobs completely (however, we debunk this theory in our post here), while others claim machines could never replicate the human mind.

I think it’s somewhere in the middle, in a land where automation frees up humans to take on the tasks computers can’t do. In the current workplace environment, it’s estimated that 90% of workers are burdened by boring, repetitive tasks, according to SnapLogic data. Another study from SmartSheet found 40% of workers surveyed said they spend at least a quarter of their workweek on repetitive tasks. Perhaps the most staggering statistic comes from the Harvard Business Review, which estimates that 25% of a CEO’s time is spent on activities that could be automated.

Stop wasting a quarter of your mental energy and instead put it toward creativity, strategy, your employees, and your customers. How? Here are a few ways.

Tool: Trello

Tasks it can eliminate: Meetings that only exist to assign tasks, track progress, clarify responsibilities, and follow up with task questions.

Time and energy saved: 15% of your organization’s collective productive time (according to a 2014 Bain & Company study).

If by chance you haven’t worked in an office in the last 10 years and haven't noticed it, meetings have almost become a farce. We have meetings to regroup about meetings we held to prepare for a meeting. If it wasn’t so detrimental to productivity, it’d be comical. Stop wasting your time with meetings and start automating.

Tool: Airtable

What it eliminates: Brainstorm follow ups, client meetings (for creative agencies)  

Time and energy saved: A part of the above 15%

Brainstorming and collaboration will always be a critical part of the creative process, but what you can eliminate is the administrative follow up, during which you regroup after everyone’s had time to digest and piggyback on the ideas generated in the initial meeting.

With Airtable, everyone can easily collaborate in a spreadsheet-style interface, or contribute in their own time. The end result is a concrete pipeline of ideas, whether it’s content, marketing campaigns, sales pushes, or anything else.

Tool: Quickbooks

What it eliminates: Individual Bookkeeping tasks

Time and energy saved: 5% (according to a 2017 report by cloud computing platform Sage).

SMBs can eliminate admin tasks related to accounting and bookkeeping by consolidating the many facets of this area into a single, user-friendly process with Quickbooks. It’s become the de facto way to streamline these processes, and I’d be shocked to learn about any SMB not using it already.

Tool: Zapier

What it Eliminates: Time spent configuring all your tools and web apps.

Time and energy saved: About 8% of every employee’s annual time. (This is derived from SnapLogic’s data that shows repeatable tasks like data search, entry, analysis, and consolidation costs businesses about 19 working days per year per employee, or 152 hours. This adds up to about 8% of a 2,000-hour work year.)

Once you’ve got all your time-saving apps in place, use Zapier to make them all speak to each other, and get back to giving your employees and customers the facetime they deserve.

Total time saved: Close to 30%.

We estimate that by using even just the tools outlined above, you could get 30% of your time back to tackle everything the machines can’t handle. There are even more ways to accomplish this, and Indiez has built hundreds of custom platforms based on these principles.

A few more notes on automation: It seems millennials have a strong understanding of how it plays into the user experience. They know the importance of immediacy. Use a chatbot to answer basic questions a user might have, and set up social media notifications and automation to reply instantly. I’ve noticed a huge gap in “immediate response” techniques like this in established SMBs, but the younger companies have implemented solutions to address the problem and seen great success.

2. They Know to Outsource

Once you’ve identified areas of your day that can be automated, the next step is to choose what functions are mission-critical for growth but would be better suited for an outsourced team than your own.

Often, these are areas of the business that you’re just plain bad at, and it’s okay to admit that. If you’re a creative type or people person, don’t try to learn to code. Outsource your IT. If you’re a whiz with numbers, maybe you can hang on to doing the books for now, but let an ad or marketing agency take over your branding.

Some of the most commonly outsourced business functions include:

  • IT
  • HR
  • Accounting
  • Design
  • Content

Millennials are more likely to turn to outsourcing partly because they understand firsthand how viable an option it really is. MetLife’s latest annual study on employee benefit trends showed an astounding 74% of millennials currently working in a traditional office were curious about freelancing instead -- the highest prevalence of any age group studied.

Moreover, four out of every 10 millennials surveyed said they planned to leave their full-time job for a freelance career in the next five years.

In short, millennials don’t see the stigma attached to outsourcing that many previous generations have propagated, and because of this, they’ll build more efficient businesses composed of experts who are the best of the best in their respective fields. They can reach across the entire planet to find a person or team that fits their industry, needs, and budget. It’s a model all SMBs should follow.

A note on the quality of outsourcing: It can vary. I’ll admit it’s one major downside of outsourcing, however you can mitigate your risk. Currently, browsing the freelance marketplace is a bit like being a health-conscious consumer shopping at a general grocery store -- the high-quality products are on the shelves somewhere, but you have to look hard to find them.

At Indiez, we created the equivalent of a Whole Foods or similar grocery store, in which you know every product on the shelf is the highest quality. In our case, it means every developer and designer has been thoroughly vetted by other field experts, so quality is guaranteed.

When outsourcing, be sure to choose a platform that offers such a guarantee.

3. They know what their target audience wants

There are more than 83 million millennials in the US alone, making up about 22 percent of the population and 35 percent of the workforce. Statistics for Generation Z, which generally includes anyone born after 1997, are even more staggering: They currently represent more than 26 percent of the population.

So, nearly half the country are either digital natives or close to it, and these consumers are tech-savvy to the max, craving smoothness and efficiency. Poor load times and clunky site designs are immediate turn-offs.

By addressing these issues, you can decrease the duration of your marketing and sales funnels, and pack more leads and conversions into a shorter period. Here are a few ways to do this:

- Use automated, sleek, and personalized chatbots that engage potential customers in specified ways depending on where they are in the funnel. This is also a great medium for offering lead-gen downloadable assets, like eBooks, podcasts, and webinars.

- Use modern development trends that don’t rely on WordPress or Magento. Think of it like this: Comparing a javascript-based site and a WordPress site is like comparing an abacus and a calculator. Which one offers the better functionality and experience?

- Invest in SEO. Whether you learn it yourself or outsource, you’ll need to make sure your site is structured in a way that search engines like to see. Google has an entire suite of tools that can help you diagnose and fix issues that could be limiting your search presence, including Google Analytics, Search Console, and its Structured Data Testing Tool.

Age is only a number

Let me be clear, while it’s easy to lump these trends in with millennials, age doesn’t matter when you’re starting or running a business. The only things that do matter are your grit, and your willingness to learn new things, stay on top of emerging trends, and make bold decisions.

I encourage you to learn as much as you can, and make decisions based on those crazy ideas. The most successful SMBs didn’t turn into enterprises by playing it safe, and with an entire generation well-prepared to automate and optimize the traditional workforce, it’s going to be more important than ever to find ways to boost productivity.

If you’ve got a crazy idea, we’d love to help. We’ve already helped hundreds of founders and SMBs take their business to the next level with the right technical solution. Get in touch below to learn how you can do it too.

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