Entrepreneurs love the phrase "Work smarter, not harder." Yet many of them lag behind their corporate counterparts in harnessing the power of automation to work smarter. Thanks to a combination of budget and time constraints, many entrepreneurs are stuck in process ruts.

So where can entrepreneurs look to level up their efficiency? One leader I know overhauled his entire bookkeeping system so it required part-time hours from one employee, plus two software packages. Another friend of mine adopted a project management platform so he could keep an eye on everyone's work and check-in when he had questions -- not necessarily weekly. Both made the right choices for their companies.

How do you know what will most benefit your company? Here are four automation opportunities that growing companies should evaluate:

1. Sales and marketing
If you're looking to spend a little more upfront to be less hands-on later, invest in a full-service CRM from Salesforce, Pipedrive or HubSpot. These are powerful tools that can have a big impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of your sales and marketing. If you're worried about overbuying but still want top-tier support, check out the "basics" packages offered by these larger players.

If you're just getting started, you probably do most of your business via email. Try using email workflow automation tools like Mixmax to templatize your cold outreach and conference follow-ups. If even half the text in those emails can be recycled, you might save yourself an hour per day. Make sure, though, that it integrates with your existing email client -- switching platforms for every message will eat up those gains. 

2. Project management
When you're running a small operation, you truly might be able to keep everyone aligned without a project management tool. But there are still reasons to invest in one sooner rather than later. For one, getting everyone accustomed to using the tool while you're still small is far less painful than implementing it with a larger team.

Just as important as change management is risk management. If you're using spreadsheets to manually manage projects, you risk multiple or outdated versions. A project management tool benefits everyone by keeping people apprised of each project's status and sending reminders about assigned tasks. By keeping workflows and feedback loops where everyone can see them, project management software increases transparency and reduces the risk of error.

3. Business analysis and KPI reporting

Rarely do small businesses have large margins. To stay on track to meet their revenue and growth goals, leaders use key performance indicators. Unfortunately, many of them still dump those numbers in notebooks and spreadsheets, opening the door for human error and loss.

Aside from saving time, automated performance reporting can deliver deeper insights from your metrics. Your software may see trends in the types of clients you retain that you may not, for instance. And because the software can generate reports at the click of a button, you'll always have up-to-date information to present at investor meetings. 

4. HR and recruitment

Ask small business owners, and they'll be the first to tell you that they don't spend enough time or resources on HR. At the same time, they'll champion their employees as the company's most valuable asset. 

HR automation tools can help you fulfill that claim without devoting additional time to the function. The last thing you need to spend your work hours on is monitoring the landscape of healthcare, tax and labor laws. Some systems even automate recruiting processes, such as sourcing and screening, scheduling interviews or tracking application progress.

What if you see automation opportunities elsewhere? Check whether a service like If This Then That (IFTTT) or Zapier can connect the dots for you. With a little setup work, you could automatically add new leads to the contact list for your email newsletter, for instance.

Before you get ahead of yourself in buying new software or adding new team members, evaluate where you stand in these four areas. How many hours do you or your workers spend on each function? How many hours could be freed up, and what would you do with them instead? Those are the key questions; automation is the answer.