Top admin-busting tips for SMBs

Small business admin is a headache for any busy entrepreneur. But there are ways to minimise the pain, speed up processes and improve business performance.


No one enjoys paperwork or digital admin. And, for small business owners, mundane tasks can eat up a huge part of the working week. Australian and New Zealand employees waste three hours each week on unnecessary admin, according to research.

Almost six out of ten people running smaller businesses recognise they spend too much time working ‘in’ their enterprise rather than ‘on’ it, National Australia Bank has found. So, how can SMB owners reduce their administrative burden and free up precious time?

Find out where the time goes

Start by identifying where man hours are used. The least productive people in the workplace tend to spend more time in unnecessary meetings or put their efforts into meaningless production, a study by EY Australia shows.

Cloud-based project management software and productivity tools, such as Wrike, Teamwork Projects and Evernote, could help. These allow staff to share files, track their time, handle budgets and invoices, plus they reduce the need for face-to-face meetings.

Review your meeting cadence too to see where you could streamline – going from weekly status meetings to one a month could mean a time saving of three hours a month. That’s 36 hours across the year or 180 hours annually for a team of five.

Make technology your friend

Three out of ten SMB bosses don’t use dedicated admin software because they believe it’s too costly, according to research for Sage. Roughly a quarter fear it will be time-consuming, while 16% expect it to be too complicated.

In fact, these innovative tools are often available on free trials or short-term subscriptions. And they definitely save time.

Aussie firms spend about a quarter of all administration time on accounting, while generating invoices and taxation come a close second, according to the Sage research. It’s estimated small and medium firms could claim back 120 days currently dedicated to admin each year by automating day-to-day tasks such as accounts, back office processes and recruiting. Businesses that aren’t already using tech are wasting hours, days, even weeks needlessly.

Share the burden

Why have all the cost and admin burden of maintaining a fleet of company vehicles, large premises or specialist staff? The sharing economy is growing, with more SMBs splitting the cost of services, office space, accounting, administration and human resources functions with other companies. In New South Wales alone, the collaborative economy grew by 68% in the year to 2016, according to Deloitte.

Smaller firms are also tapping into the gig economy to hire services or expertise with minimal hassle on an ad hoc basis. Examples include DriveMyCar, the peer-to-peer vehicle rental service, Spare Workspace, a platform that lets companies rent out unused office space short-term, or UpWork and Expert360 for hiring freelancers or consultancy services.

Again, time saved can be considerable. Expert360 estimates small organisations take 29 days on average to fill a full-time position, whereas an online platform can find the right person in just three days.

Automate payment collection

Any business knows chasing payments is a thankless task, but when Australian firms are currently owed $27.9 billion in unpaid bills, SMB owners can’t afford to ignore the issue.

GoCardless’s own research indicates SMB owners spend up to nine working days chasing payments.

Accounting software can automate invoices, follow up tardy payers and liberate man hours. But if your company invoices customers regularly or takes recurring payments, automating money collection via Direct Debit could also remove a lot of admin – and uncertainty – from the payment process. It will also improve your enterprise’s cash flow.

Too often, SMB bosses have to nudge clients to settle up overdue invoices by bank transfer or card payment. Getting your customers to pay by Direct Debit means bills are paid automatically when they're due, meaning no more time wasted chasing payments.

Plus, if the Direct Debit payment process is allowed to integrate with a company’s billing system such as Xero, things become even quicker, as payments can be reconciled automatically, likely saving your accounts team 2 hours a week.

Dispensing with all admin is never going to be possible for those running a business. But it is possible to minimise its impact. Be aware of where effort is going, use tech to its best effect and ensure systems and processes are as efficient as can be. Then, use the time gained wisely to develop your enterprise.

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