People, of course, are the most important part of your organization. But people cost money. And people cost time. Even your best employees sometimes disappoint you. And losing a key person can be devastating to a small business.

After all, we love our people.

But we’d like to have as few employees as possible to get the work done. I know this sounds a little harsh. But it’s the truth. It’s why supermarkets are adding self-checkout kiosks, gas stations have self-service pumps, and companies like Amazon are investing in robotics and drones to ship and deliver products. It’s nothing personal. It’s good management to keep your costs as low as possible.

And, small business owners like you and me don’t have the resources to build drones or robots. But we can afford a few new productivity tools and apps that will help us limit, or even eliminate, employees.  And the fewer employees we need to get the same amount of work done, the lower the fixed costs and overhead our businesses have to support – a good thing, particularly when times get tight. Here are three technological services you should look at this year:

Bill.com

This service automates both accounts payable and receivable. Here’s how it works for accounts payable:  Your business gets assigned an email address at Bill.com. You tell your vendors and suppliers to send their invoices to you at that email address as a PDF or other compatible format. Bill.com then scans the document and processes the details (vendor name, invoice and due dates, amounts, descriptions, etc.) into a view that you can review and automatically enter into your accounting system. If you’ve set this up with your bank account, Bill.com will also schedule and then process payments after requesting electronic approvals internally. Yes, this takes some time to setup. And yes, relying on an automated service to process your accounts payable and payments instead of a human being takes getting used to. But when it’s up and running, Bill.com does the work of an accounts payable person, without the cost of accounts payable staff.

Expensify

Similar to Bill.com, Expensify also reads scanned documents, except these documents are related to travel. The service is able to understand and decipher receipts forwarded to it by any airline or hotel chain. Like Bill.com, Expensify assigns your company an email address and your traveling employees download it as a mobile app. They can forward airline and hotel bills to Expensify and snap pictures of taxi, restaurant and other receipts and forward those too. Each person has a unique email address which allows Expensify to scan the receipt and build an automatic expense report for workflow and approval. Like Bill.com, Expensify can be integrated with most major accounting software packages. And like Bill.com, it reduces the effort needed to process, approve and pay travel expenses, therefore reducing your need for accounts payable people.

Upwork

This new company is the result of a merger between Elance and oDesk, two leaders in the outsourcing field. Upwork gives you access to more than 10 million independent business and professional freelancers with specialties ranging from marketing to bookkeeping to quality control to technical writing. They’re located all over the world. And, if active, they have detailed profiles, resumes and references waiting. You post jobs and projects on the site and members can apply. The site allows you to review applicants and applicants can review you too. Once you find someone that’s a fit for a particular job, you can hire them and put money up in escrow. That way, the freelancer knows you’re good for it and you can release payment as milestones are delivered. Upwork, of course, takes a transaction fee. My clients who use Upwork have been able to eliminate full time positions by working with temporary and contract employees, to parcel out specific jobs and tasks out to independent contractors instead.

We love our employees, and we hope they love us back, but our job as a business owner is to run our company as efficiently as we can with as few people as possible. That’s why technological tools like these are critical to our growth and success.

Next Steps:  Are you looking to expand and grow your small business but don’t have time to keep up with the latest trends and technology? We’ve got you covered with the weekly Small Biz Ahead newsletter. Sign up today and start receiving the weekly newsletter chock full of the latest tools and resources to help you run a successful business.

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