What Are SharePoint Workflows?

Small business owners face problems with repetitive tasks that require lots of paid hours — often at high supervisory rates of pay — to approve simple items like expense accounts or collect signatures or approvals for new documents, contracts and completed parts of special projects that different groups are doing. SharePoint, which is a Microsoft product that was launched in 2001, consists of workflows, lists and libraries that commonly perform simple but time-consuming business tasks that require collaboration between workers or workers and supervisors. You don’t need to understand computer code to use SharePoint workflows to increase productivity and cut operational costs.

How SharePoint Workflows Save Time and Money

Workflows are similar to flowcharts, which most business owners have seen. However, these workflows automatically progress to the next stage of the flow chart without human efforts. For example, if you need several people to review a document and approve it, workflow can handle the matter automatically. Suppose that you have a sales force that routinely submits expenses for reimbursement. Some items might get approved automatically if the proper documentation is included.

An approval workflow can approve certain minor expenses automatically.

If the expense is more than a certain amount — say $1,000 — the workflow automatically goes to a supervisor’s account for approval.

Once all expenses are approved, the reimbursement request can be sent to accounting to cut a check or copied to a sales manager, group manager and/or corporate officer for final approval.

Only after gaining all required approvals will the expenses be approved.

That’s just one example of what SharePoint workflows can do to increase productivity and automate repetitive tasks. Workflows are useful for collaborating on projects, approving new documents, getting price-quote approvals for your sales team and approving changes to the standard terms of a contract.

From Simple Approvals to Complex, Interdependent Processes

In small businesses, workers often wear many hats and are required to work with other staff members, vendors or clients without really understanding what their roles are. You can use SharePoint to create libraries of lists on common business scenarios. You can use a workflow to outline and check-off the steps in an employee training program, to collect signatures needed by your HR department, to track the status of a large project or to trigger additional workflows. A good example of one workflow triggering a secondary workflow is in marketing. If a customer buys a product or subscribes to a service or email list, the event can trigger a welcoming email or a series of ongoing marketing emails. You can set workflows to send notifications, SMS messages or emails for annual events like birthdays, one-time affairs or recurring events like happy hour or singles nights at a bar or restaurant.

  • Workflows can be sent when customers reach a certain dollar volume of purchases.
  • Automatic workflows can send information on potential sales leads to your staff when customers access certain parts of your website or social pages.
  • You can welcome new visitors to your blog by configuring a workflow to send a message automatically.
  • Event workflows can automatically trigger marketing messages for holidays, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and other events.
  • Remind customers who usually buy products at certain times that it’s time to reorder.
  • If you use content to promote your business, you can set workflows to perform certain tasks when a viewer reads or reacts to content that you’ve posted online.

Internal Workflows Expedite Routine Tasks

Maybe your business requires collecting signatures from various stakeholders on a document, workbook or form. Workflows can automatically trigger sending the materials to everyone at once or in sequential order up or down the chain-of-command. These automated flowcharts eliminate the need for staff to supervise and monitor the process. SharePoint comes with predesigned workflow templates, but you can create your own workflows to achieve astonishingly complex business goals. You can track sales leads, customer service issues and project management details.

Help-Desk App

Help desks are one area where workflows provide dramatic business benefits. Each time you receive a customer service complaint by email or phone, it can trigger a workflow that can be tracked to completion. You can track what was done to correct the problem and forward each workflow to a supervisor or company officer for review and approval. Another option is to send certain kinds of customer service issues to your sales staff because any marketer knows that complaints often lead to new sales opportunities.

Workflows save business owners time by freeing their workers to handle core business issues instead of repetitive tasks that can be accomplished automatically.