Over the past year and a half or so BizSugar.com, a sister site to Small Business Trends, has gone through a bit of a transformation. The site is dedicated helping small businesses understand how they can use integrated platforms and automated processes to grow and scale their businesses. Part of that effort was to create a mastermind community for sharing ideas, experiences and expertise. And in that relatively short amount of time, the BizSugar mastermind community has grown to more than 18,000 members. I\u2019m chair of the BizSugar advisory board. And one of the activities we did earlier this year was a survey to better understand the current challenges facing small businesses. This took place before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country. Earlier this week, a few members of the advisory board participated in a livestream conversation discussing some of the main takeaways from the survey of 585 small businesses folks. We also offer up a few solutions that may be able to help you address some of the major challenges small businesses are faced with. Below is an edited transcript of part of our conversation.\u00a0 To hear the full conversation click on the embedded SoundCloud player.\u00a0 BizSugar advisory board members participating in the livestream include: Anita Campbell, publisher of Small Business Trends Monique Johnson, founder of Live Video Lab Ivana Taylor, publisher of DIYMarketers Rhonda Wall, founder of VA Village Also joining us on the call was Taylor Backman, an evangelist for BizSugar\u2019s foundational partner Zoho. And we\u2019d love for you to join us and become a member of the BizSugar mastermind community. Small Business Trends:\u00a0Everybody said that they needed marketing help. So it doesn't matter if you are a one person shop or you are couple of hundred people. Marketing was one that everybody agreed on. But if you're under five employees, five employees or under, you were really 2.5 times more likely to say sales was where you needed the most attention, compared to customer service. That is totally opposite when you look at companies of over 100 people, it completely flips. That probably means bigger companies, they already have pre-established customer relationships. And what they need to focus on is how do we maintain those customer relationships? How do we extend the length of the relationship? How can we get more value? Get our customers to maybe spend a little bit more with us on more than one product or service? If you look at those under five employees, totally flipped. They maybe don't have as many customers as they'd like. They need to bring on more customers. Now, the next thing we looked at was, what happens when you have to do something new in your business? You have a new initiative, something that maybe you've never done before, but you know you have to do it in order for your business to move to the next level. Once again, the size of the company seems to make a pretty significant difference in how they tackle these things. Five employees and under are three times more likely to DIY (do it yourself), as opposed to try to figure out how to leverage automation to help them do it. That means you're probably spending more time doing things manually. You're spending more effort doing things that have to get done, but you're going to have to continually do it over and over, over yourself or with an employee, as opposed to leveraging some kind of automation to help you do it without having to spend that type of time. That's the five employees to lower. When you get to that over 100 employee mark, it completely flipped again. So the bigger the company, the more employees they have, they're leveraging more automation and not just trying to do it themselves. And when you think about bigger companies, more automation may be part of the reason that they are getting bigger; because they're leveraging automation and not necessarily doing everything manually. Rhonda, where do you think automation should fit when it comes to small business? Particularly, how can it help from a sales perspective? Rhonda Wall: One way to identify where you need automation, is identifying tasks and things that you're doing constantly over and over in your business, that are just time consuming. They might not be hard, they might seem easy, like sending off an email or touching base with the lead. It's not hard, but it's time consuming and it's something that you're constantly doing. What I suggest in the sales process, is even starting from the lead. So when you're bringing in leads from whatever sources it is your advertising or your social media, or wherever they're coming from, is to put them into an email automation. You can build that know, like, and trust in the email sequence. If you don't have anything, start with like three basic emails. The first one would be \u201cthe know\u201d. So the lead comes in and you have little more contact with them. Let them get to know you what you do, what services you offer, that kind of thing, in an email. And then your next email that will go out to them, would then be to build the like. So you want that know, like, and trust. The \u201clike\u201d could be that maybe you share your social media links, so they can come over and engage with you and get to know you. And to know you is the love you. So you want to build that like, and then you want to build the trust. So the \u201ctrust\u201d card could be an email that maybe it's testimonials, or success stories and things like that from other customers, so you're building that trust in there. And that's your three major ones. You can of course, nurture your leads with more emails in the sequence, but that's just like a jumping off part and would get you started, especially if you're going to DIY it. Small Business Trends:\u00a0I want to ask Taylor to jump in a little bit here and talk about what you see when you're working with small business customers? Are you surprised that they still aren't using automation more to help in this area with sales? Taylor Backman: I wouldn't say I'm exactly surprised when I was looking at some of the surveys, but one thing I think that ... And I say this coming from a software company that makes a lot of software, a lot of products. But I think the thing that I would underscore and I think everyone would agree is, the importance of understanding of process before you even go to the software, right? I mean, the software is going to be able to do a lot for you, and it's going to be able to speed things up through automation and keep things structured in a really nice way for you. But ultimately, the software isn't magic, right? I mean, it's still starts with having an idea of, of how does this process actually work. And as being pointed out, where are the weaknesses in the process? Where are the things that are repetitive that are time consuming? Software doesn't know that, just innately, right? So I think that when I see customers or prospective customers or small businesses, and I see them very dependent on spreadsheets, for example, that is kind of usually a red flag in some ways, because you know that a spreadsheet just kind of has some limits to just what it's really going to be able to do. And it can get very kind of crazy very quickly, which is of course, going to kind of maybe make the process a bit less clear, a bit more ad hoc, and then it becomes hard to kind of model that. And modeling it, of course, is going to be key to being able to automate it. Small Business Trends:\u00a0Hey, one thing I'd like to just chime in, a lot of small businesses, they kind of run their business on spreadsheets. And which is totally understandable to a certain extent. But I think if we could remember that spreadsheets, they're great where dealing with numbers, because that's what they're supposed to do, deal with numbers. Not really great at dealing with people and relationships with people. So it's probably a good thing to get away from trying to do that on a tool that has no business in doing any kind of relationship management. Monique we talk about how video is starting to fit into the process, drumming up leads, but also, closing opportunities. So maybe you could just talk a little bit about that. Monique Johnson: Rhonda definitely said something that I strongly believe is one of the most important types of videos that any business can create for themselves, are testimonials or success stories; I prefer to call them success stories. But there's nothing more powerful than someone else talking about your business, versus you talking about your business. So if you're able to collect a bunch of video testimonials, I highly suggest do not make it complicated. Don't use professional equipment, just use a simple webcam like I'm using here or a smartphone, if you will, and really make it simple. And the thing about automation is that, you want to be able to do something once and have it work for you over and over and over again. That's the whole point of having automation. That's the whole point of having a system. And there are so many different things that you can do, depending on where you are in the funnel, top of funnel, middle funnel, or to close it, as Brent stated, to me, in my personal opinion, is to use tools like BombBomb or Bonjoro, which these are specific video tools that allow you to send personalized messages via email. And what's so great about utilizing something like this, especially from a small business owner is, number one, it instantly sets you apart from your competitors because they're not doing it. Number two, tools like those that I just mentioned, provides tracking. And to me, there's no point of doing anything when it comes to marketing if you're not able to track it and collect data. So tools like that will allow you to see if people are actually listening, how far along they've listened, et cetera, et cetera. But to me, by having those personalized message where you could send it personally in a LinkedIn message or Facebook Messenger, killing several birds with one stone of putting in email and also other messaging platforms, will allow you to close the sale much easier than whether doing cold calling or doing other random acts of marketing that just won't work. Rhonda Wall: I totally agree with that too. And if you think about that, because I was going to mention that. It helps you in tracking to know if your emails are working, even if they're written or their video, if they're being open where you need to tweak, what messages isn't working, what messages working really well. And so that really helps you to track that. And then too, Monique, I was going to say, I have a lot of people who, if they are resistant to automation, their number one complaint or their number one resistance is, they don't want it to feel automated and they want it to feel more personalized. And they don't want to be like, they think, "Oh, I'm just sending out these automated emails to my audience." Well, if you fill that way, video perfect, because it puts that more personal touch on it and it doesn't feel so static. And so that's a really good way to get that real personal feel too, and not feel like you're automating everything. Taylor Backman: I think that's a really great point. I love the idea of these personalized videos. And I think that also, it's not necessarily an all or nothing kind of choice, right? I mean, as I think Rhonda is kind of suggesting, right, it's that the super tedious kind of, "Hey, I got the form submission from my website." That doesn't need to be a huge production, right? But when you go to actually introduce yourself, that's where you can reinvest that time into that personalized message, potentially. Ivana Taylor: If I can jump in here, one of the things that a lot of small business owners come to me with, and they're so frustrated about this, and I think this speaks to that very large DIY number. They struggle with sales, because they are the ones doing the selling. They're that subject matter expert, they're the ones who are out there doing the sale. And it's really difficult to scale and grow. If you can't repeat yourself. You can't clone yourself, that's really hard. And they really struggle finding sales people, they invest in sales people, they invest in training, and then it kind of doesn't go anywhere, because it's just really hard work to multiply yourself. Well, one of the really great things about automation and everything that Monique and Taylor and Rhonda have talked about, is that you now have the ability to multiply yourself, to find a process that works and automate that process. And now you're maintaining the quality of the sale. And if you're in a business such as financial services or legal or something where it's really, really important to get that message right, automation can handle that for you. Small Business Trends: Anita, what role has automation played in what you've been able to do and accomplish with Small Biz Trends? Anita Campbell: Well, it's been absolutely essential and it's really helped us, I feel, punch a bit above our weight, because we've had automation. So one of the things, for example, we create a lot of content, and there are a lot of content creation, spreadsheets out there, I mean, you can find all kinds of them to use. But spreadsheets, as various people here have mentioned, are very limiting, they're hard to use, they're hard to really keep track of things. They just get very unwieldy. One of the things we did, is use a product called Zoho Creator. Which, if you don't know what that is, it is a wonderful tool. It is what's called a low code tool. One of these things where you don't have to be a developer, but you can create your own custom application for your business. And so it's just been invaluable for us because we've built our entire assignment process around this application that we call SAM, Superior Author Manager. And we use SAM every day and we track everything. We even track our budget, like, what it's costing us when we assign out content to freelance writers, for example, so that we can stay on top of our budget. Because we were always getting beyond our budget as well. We would track our budget in our accounting program, but we didn't know until the end of the month, how much we were actually assigning out and spending. And now we can literally track in real time, "Okay, not only this is what we've spent, but this is what we're actually assigning and what it's costing us." I would estimate that that application has probably saved us one full time equivalent head count, when you consider everything that it has been able to do for us. So, was there a little bit of a time investment involved? Yes. We had to invest time to learn it. And originally I did it, I did it on the weekends. I mean, I literally built this application on the weekends. And then gradually other people got involved in the organization and they learned to use it. And now I don't really develop with it at all. So to get back to the point, I think it's a very valuable thing that you can do with automation. And the way to look at it is this, does it let you go after opportunities? Does it let you do things? Does it free you up to do these higher value ad things, like Rhonda was talking about earlier, so that you're not working in your business all the time? And you have the mind share, the time that you can put into thinking about opportunities and so on. So don't just think about, "Can I automate marketing?" but think about a lot of those back office things that take up so much time.