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small business payroll

How to Automate Payroll for Small Business

March 24th, 2022 | 6 min. read

By CSI Accounting Staff

payroll check.jpg

Time is extremely precious – and putting in extra hours after a full workday to run payroll software can take its toll, especially if you’re still dealing with spreadsheets and cutting checks by hand. Even if you're working with a national payroll service, their customer service is known to be so poor that you may still be manually carrying activities that you didn't know could be automated.

Wouldn’t it be great to get some of that time back? If you're feeling like a work/life balance is impossible, automation can be helpful... but don't forget the big "IF." (Automation can be helpful IF it isn't a nightmare to set up, there are no errors, and if it's tackling everything it can be, instead of leaving some things on your plate that don't need to be there.)

Using automation to streamline payroll means you can focus on actually running your business - where your time offers the most value to your business. An automated system also makes payroll processing more efficient and less prone to errors.

CSI's payroll department has offered quality service to small businesses for over a decade, so we know what business owners want to know about automating their payroll:

  • What is manual payroll?
  • What is automated payroll?
  • What are the different levels of payroll automation and services?

What is Manual Payroll?

Running payroll manually requires more time and effort and is more susceptible to errors. That doesn't seem like a very good payoff, does it?

So, what kinds of things are normally done when payroll is not automated? 

  • Tracking various things on spreadsheets, such as PTO
  • Timekeeping and timecard notes
  • Writing checks and handing them out to each employee
  • Consulting IRS withholding charts
  • Monitoring HR/HCM features, such as emergency contact information and leave requests

It's important to note that much of this can easily be automated in the modern world.

What is Automated Payroll?

In the most basic terms, automated payroll is a way to simplify the process of paying your employees. Automated features are lifesavers. You can take your hands off of time-consuming tasks and reduce the human error that would occur individually or from poor flow of information. You're able to enter hours the way you want, but software calculates everything and generates reports.

When it comes to automation, there's old school automation that everybody already knows about, and then there's modern automation that we wish we saw more people taking advantage of.

Old school automation is your parents' style of automation. It's generally been around for a decade or two, and most people are aware of these automated payroll features:

  • Calculating checks (net pay and taxes)
  • Processing direct deposit
  • Filing taxes
  • Calculating overtime rates
  • Calculating tax withholdings

Modern automation isn't necessarily whatever is brand new, but we feel that it isn't commonly known about or recognized for its value. These automated payroll features include:

  • Timekeeping
  • Making tax deposits
  • Report access
  • Employee self-service access (portals, electronic paystubs, W2s)
  • Reporting retirement contributions
  • PTO accrual tracking
  • Tracking local mandates for sick and vacation time
  • HR features monitored on an HCM
  • Worker's compensation premium calculations payments

Levels of Payroll Automation & Services

If you’re considering switching to an automated payroll system, there are three main options to choose from that are guaranteed to make your life a little easier. Each comes with some advantages and disadvantages. The key is to choose the right payroll system for you and your small business.

1. Payroll Software

Payroll software, such as QuickBooks, is a popular option for businesses that are just starting out. There are templates to help you get started tracking and reporting all the necessary information, and there are good levels of automation involved. However, there comes a point when this work needs to be outsourced to prevent mistakes and to save time and money.

The cost of doing your own payroll with software is more than it seems. Someone at your business still needs to handle all of the data entry. If you hire a payroll specialist, the cost will be their salary and benefits. If you do it yourself, consider what your time is worth. If you generate a certain amount of revenue for your company by doing what you do best, chances are you're better off doing those tasks than doing payroll.

Plus, software is no longer just software; it's SAS - software as a service. Gone are the days when you can purchase useful software and just, well, use it. You now need to purchase software and pay routine fees to "update" it and to continue using it.

2. National Payroll Providers

Online payroll providers, such as ADP and Paychex, offer a variety of payroll services depending on the size of your business. While these large, online providers can help you automate the payroll process, some small business owners find themselves lost in the shuffle of poor customer service.

Online providers can lack a personal touch. Plus, there tends to be a lack of continuity and direct communication due to multiple points of contact for different services. This can be time-consuming for owners, as they feel the need to educate new points of contact about their business on a regular basis.

Not to mention, this lack of quality service means there is a lack of information being passed to you. How can you be sure that you're automating everything that you can be automating - or that your processes are even being done correctly? You don't have a dedicated specialist to keep an eye on your data for you.

3. Local Payroll Providers

Local payroll services, such as CSI Accounting & Payroll, focus on small businesses because we understand your challenges at a personal level. Local firms typically assign one point of contact to clients for the long-term and don’t experience high employee turnover rates compared to the national firms. CSI's highly-praised, expert customer service helps you reach payroll automation's full potential.

Local payroll providers are also able to:

  • Complete your payroll from start to finish (just like the national firms)
  • Use secure, cloud-based portals to complete the process
  • Provide a personalized approach, so you can pick up the phone and connect with someone to address any questions or concerns immediately

When you find the right payroll automation for your small business, it can help cut stress, save time, and make you and your employees happier. Let’s see if CSI Accounting & Payroll is the right fit for your small business. Click the image below to get a free payroll proposal!

Not ready to get a free quote? That's okay! Read more about how much a payroll service costs first.

CSI Accounting Staff

This article was composed by a member of our staff who interviewed our experts to get the facts straight. Any uncited information found here came straight from a knowledgeable accountant or payroll specialist.