By Corey Rudl, Entrepreneur.com
Have you ever switched off your computer at the end of the day but found that the “to do” list you started that morning was still as long as your arm? You answered tons of customer e-mails, fulfilled some orders, and updated your newsletter subscriber list.
But what did you really achieve during the day? Did you generate more sales? Did you develop improvements to your products or services? Did you come up with some ideas for your next really profitable campaign?
The fact is, many small-business owners get so caught up with running their businesses that they have no time to grow it. Answering e-mails, fulfilling orders, and updating your subscriber list are all essential tasks — but they will not increase your profits.
The only way to grow a business is to market it. And the secret to being able to grow your business and still run it at the same time is automation. Automating key tasks so they happen without you lifting a finger doesn’t just free you from doing some of the daily chores involved in running your business; it actually grows your business, too. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that automation is essential to your website’s growth.
Automation is the perfect solution to providing great customer service and freeing up your time to develop your business. And autoresponders, in particular, are amazing tools for handling all the mundane e-mail chores that can take up so much of your time. They allow you to:
- Sell your products or services day and night, meaning more sales and more profits.
- Build your credibility by impressing your customers with the speed of your response to their requests for information.
- Increase your chances of making more sales by answering customers’ questions immediately.
- Make sure more customers buy from you again by providing great customer service through the instant confirmation of orders.
- Instantly confirming orders or fulfilling orders for electronic products like software and e-books leads to happier customers who are more likely to buy from you again.
- Increase your sales by automatically upselling backend products to your customers.
And the faster you automate your business, the better–so you can concentrate on growing your company. Once you’re automated, you can handle thousands more customers without being bogged down by thousands more administrative tasks.
The best way to automate all your daily chores is to use “autoresponders.” Autoresponders are pre-written e-mails that are automatically sent on your behalf–for example, in response to a customer e-mail sent to a particular e-mail address you set up, or as confirmation when an order goes through.
Autoresponders take care of the tasks that would take you hours to do yourself and leave you free to concentrate on building your business. All you have to do is write the e-mail messages in advance and set them up to be sent out when you want.
Unfortunately, some autoresponder services charge for every message you send, which can get really expensive. The good news is that there’s a cheaper, more efficient alternative, which I’ll talk about in more detail later.
First, I’d like to run through the two areas of your business that are essential for you to automate and tell you how autoresponders can help you do it.
1. Automate your ordering and fulfillment process. Your sales and ordering process is crucial to the success of your business, and it’s critical that you automate it from the beginning.
It’s likely that when you start your business, you find that you want to handle the orders yourself. After all, it’s satisfying to see those first few sales come in and to deal with your first customers personally–it means all your hard work is paying off!
After that initial honeymoon period is over, however, and you’re handling hundreds and thousands of orders, you won’t find the hands-on approach so fun. Just think how long it takes you to handle one order manually, and multiply that by 100 or 1,000.
Put simply, your business won’t grow unless you automate your entire ordering process. And this is where autoresponders come in — they can manage all your most time-consuming tasks, including:
- Confirming orders. Many people are nervous about buying online, and they like to be reassured that their order has gone through without any problems. You can set up an autoresponder to send an e-mail that confirms you have their order and that reassures them everything is on track. Receiving an instant confirmation leaves your customers with the impression that you’re running a highly professional business, and it stops them from calling or e-mailing you to check up on their order.
- Notifying customers that their order has shipped. People also like to know their purchase is on its way. So you can set up an autoresponder to tell them, which saves you the trouble and prevents more phone calls and e-mails from customers asking if their item has been shipped.
- Fulfilling orders. If you sell downloadable software, access to a password-protected area of your site, or an information product like an e-book, you can also use autoresponders to fulfill your orders and automatically e-mail your customer a link to where they can download their purchase. Or if you sell subscriptions to exclusive content available on your site, you can e-mail your customers a password to let them into a members-only area where they can access the content. This “instant gratification” factor is a great incentive for all those impulse buyers and impatient online shoppers to purchase your product.
- Sending follow-up e-mails. One of the most effective after-sales techniques is a simple thank-you note. Of course, it would take you far too long to send an e-mail to every customer a few days after they placed an order, thanking them for buying from you and inviting them to come back again some time. So you can set up autoresponders to do this for you.
In the same autoresponder, you can tell your customers about other related products they might want. For example, if you sold a customer a camera, you might ask if they’d be interested in an extra lens. This type of product — sold on the back of a previous sale–is known as a “backend” product, and automating this process can potentially generate thousands of dollars in extra revenue for you, with no extra work on your part.
Now, you could do these things yourself. You could write order confirmations, send thank-you messages, fulfill orders and so on. But online customers are a very demanding bunch — they want to be able to browse for, order and receive the items they buy online as quickly and easily as possible. So it’s in your best interest to make it easy for your customers to order and receive your products, as well as to make the whole process hands-free so you can concentrate on growing your business.
2. Automate your customer service. As I’ve just mentioned, online customers expect quick service. The fact is, if you wait a day or two to respond to a question about your products or services, you could lose that customer to your competition. So good customer service is a vital component of a successful online business.
And once again, autoresponders are crucial to the process. They allow you to:
- Answer your customers’ questions automatically. You can set up an automated FAQ using autoresponders. Just create an e-mail address like faq@MyWebsite.com and invite visitors to e-mail you with any questions they have. They then receive an automatic response containing answers to all the most common questions you’re likely to receive from your visitors about your products or services, your ordering process and so on. This way, you save yourself the hours you’d spend answering the same questions again and again. And your visitors will be impressed by your instant response to them, increasing the chances of them buying from your site.
- Send more information on your products instantly. Another way to provide an extra service to your site visitors is to send them free information. You could write a useful article and promote it on your site. For example, 10 Hot Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday would be great for a site selling travel accessories.
Just invite customers to send an e-mail to freearticle@MyWebsite.com for their copy, and an autoresponder e-mail sends them the free information. The result is that you’ve established contact with a potential customer, sent them information about your product, and impressed them with your professionalism, all of which you’ve done instantly and automatically.
The secret to great online customer service lies in providing a stress-free buying experience and giving potential customers all the information they need to make a quick buying decision. So I have to emphasize again the importance of automation. If you can make your customers’ buying experience as quick and easy as possible, and make your fulfillment and follow-up efficient and instantaneous, you can significantly boost your sales.
But how do you go about automating your business without having a lot of downtime or spending a lot of your hard-earned profits?
3. Automate Your Business
There are a number of ways to approach setting up your own autoresponders, but you essentially have four choices:
- Your web host. Some Web hosts will offer a few autoresponders as part of your hosting package. This can be a good option if you require only one or two responders.
- Autoresponders with rotating ads. You can get free autoresponders if you’re willing to let other companies advertise in your message, so each of your responders includes third-party advertising.
- Paid autoresponder services. You could also use a paid autoresponder service. This can give you flexibility in deciding exactly what autoresponder plan is right for you without being forced to include advertisements in your message. You’ll also have greater flexibility to customize your autoresponders than if you were to use a free autoresponder service.
- E-mail management solutions. A good e-mail management solution will include sophisticated autoresponder technology. If you’re going to be doing any e-mail marketing, you can simply use the same tool to set up your responders.
Remember, the huge benefit of automation is that it allows you to spend more time coming up with new ways to grow your business and increase your profits. It’s not impossible to make money and grow your business without automation, but it’s very difficult if you spend hours every day answering e-mails, fulfilling orders and taking care of all the other daily chores yourself. You’ll become a secretary in your own business — which I’m guessing is not what you set out to do.
By automating your business from the beginning, you have the time you need to grow your business, test new strategies and techniques, and spend more time with your family, all while your business runs itself.
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