I recently attended IMA’s annual conference, ACE2021. One of the hot discussion topics was Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The technology itself isn’t new—let’s face it, we’ve all dealt with chatbots—but now RPA is more streamlined and in a price range that small businesses can afford.

While chatbots are ubiquitous, there is a broad spectrum of what RPA can do for small businesses. If you find yourself repeatedly making the same series of clicks, you can automate that process with RPA, saving you and your company hours. No more copy and paste. No more moving data from one spreadsheet to another. No more hunting online for updated data.

Over the years I’ve helped many businesses automate parts of their operations and accounting. It’s not my specialty by any means, nor my main focus. But over time those automations have had a tremendous impact, which has prompted me into thinking how automation can help small businesses. So how can you start reaping the benefits of RPA in your small business accounting?

1. Automate your current systems.
Most accounting software allows for a bit of automation, so be sure to pick the low-hanging fruit first. That is, take advantage of built-in accounting software capabilities. You don’t need an RPA bot to send out invoices if you can simply use the Recurring Invoice feature built into accounting software. And once you’ve automated as much as you can, it’s time to analyze your accounting process.

2. Designate an RPA manager.
Designate someone on your team to be responsible for RPA across your company. RPA must be considered in a specific linear way, and in order to be successful you need to document each step in the process.

3. Rethink your accounting process.
Sometimes your current way of doing things will not be automatable. Some managers and owners maintain that their process is too unique and can’t be automated, but the way to overcome this hesitation is to read use cases. After doing so, think about how you can redesign your accounting process so that it can be automated. The goal is to ultimately reduce the amount of time and money a business spends on accounting.

4. Document your process.
One of the biggest challenges for small businesses is that there is no process documentation. While in most cases this allows a small business to be agile and adaptive, it makes it harder to identify tasks that can be automated. Additionally, without documentation you can lose a lot of productivity if you have employee turnover since the incoming employee has to rediscover how to do the job instead of picking up where the outgoing employee left off.

5. Implement RPA.
This last step is the most difficult. Without successful implementation, the work done to this point will be in vain. Implementation is always the hardest for small businesses. It’s easy to get excited about a new technology but fail to implement it. There will be stumbling blocks and failures along the way, but the benefits are too great to ignore.

Accounting in general has a lot of repetitive tasks that are easy to automate. With the recent push toward automation, much of the data entry and report building is now mostly automated. For many small businesses RPA might not make the biggest impact in the accounting department. However, it can be a great start that enables you to expand RPA to your operations.

With RPA now being available on the cloud and at affordable prices it’s time for small businesses to take advantage. When comparing the price of an RPA bot to the cost of hiring and training a new employee it is clear which is the smarter decision. Successfully implementing RPA in small business accounting and other departments will allow small businesses to compete more effectively and make more money.