It’s guest post week again and today we’ll hear from Benjamin Brandall with some ideas to help save an entrepreneur’s most valuable resource: time. Here’s Benjamin:
When starting out as a new business owner it might seem like you have 101 things to do. Stress comes from all angles, and how you spend your time is now your #1 priority, both to keep things afloat and to grow into a successful brand.
Before you’ve expanded your team enough to delegate all of your time consuming tasks, you only have a few options in terms of how to spend your time:
- Do the tasks yourself and spend all day, every day just keeping everything afloat
- Outsource menial work to VAs, freeing up time but costing you money
- Automate your tasks with free apps to save both time and money
It’s as simple as that – by automating the tasks you have which don’t need human input, you’re effectively cutting them out of your schedule completely while still getting them done. Not only that, but handing them off to a computer also means that the results are generally more consistent, as there’s no human error involved.
So, today I’m going to run through six examples of business process automation which you can achieve for free, saving you the time and money which should go into building your growth. I’ll go through each of the following examples:
- Adding leads to an email list
- Archiving data
- Creating documents
- Making to do lists
- Processing orders
- Sharing on social media
Adding leads to an email list
Producing regular, quality content is a great way to build yourself a dedicated audience who are relevant to your product. You’re attracting your target customers with content they want to read, see, watch, or interact with, and then marketing your product off the back of that.
To that end, getting readers to sign up to an email list so that you can update them whenever new content is published (or when your product has an update / offer going) is a must.
Thankfully, you can use a free Zapier account to link apps such as Wufoo, GoToWebinar, and Salesforce to your email list app (eg, Mailchimp). In other words, whether your audience submits their information through a form on your website, a webinar you’re hosting, or in order to complete a purchase, you can automatically have them added to your email list.
One of the most effective ways you can save time and money when starting up with automation is to use some database automations, such as automatically backing up and archiving data. After all, you shouldn’t need to spend your own (or an employee’s) time just to move around data you’ve already collected.
Again, using Zapier you can link together apps such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Gmail, Twitter, and more in order to automatically copy data into your central archive. For example, you could tell Zapier to automatically save a copy of your Tweets to Evernote for later reference, or add new rows in Google Sheets for Paypal purchases.
I know that sounds a little vague, but that’s where your own creativity comes in. If you can think of a time where you pretty much just copy data from one place to another (eg, recording Paypal transactions in Google Sheets), you can automate it.
Sometimes simple is best. By creating a new document automatically you can make sure that your workflow stays on track, as it is easy to ruin your productivity by filling your day with busy work (such as creating a new Word file or spreadsheet to later fill out).
Again, this will depend on the apps you use and the kind of documents you often create. For the sake of argument (and simplicity), however, I’ll go over how we use this automation idea in our team.
Our marketing team uses a variation on this, as the time we waste getting back into our writing workflow after creating a document to write in adds up fast. We have Zapier detect when we want a document creating and have it do the busy work for us.
We organize our projects using Trello (which stores tasks as cards which you move around depending on its progress). Because of that, we have Zapier detect when a task is noted as “work in progress”, and then it creates a new Google Doc for us to write in, populates it with any notes we’ve already made, then posts a link to the document back to us for easy access.
Making to do lists
To do lists are like automation, in that you often need to spend time setting them up in order to save more in the long run. You can, however, automatically generate your to do lists by using Zapier, completely cutting out the setup and still reaping the rewards of having a focused work day.
The best way to do this is to link your to do list app (such as Google Tasks or Basecamp) with the main way you get your tasks (eg, through Gmail). Obviously, this will need tweaking and testing until you can reliably generate the right tasks from the right information, but once you have it down you can have any task sent your way get automatically sorted and filed into your schedule.
Everyone loves getting paid, but I’m willing to bet that you equally hate the amount of time that invoices end up taking to create. Sure, they’re a necessary part of any business, but that doesn’t mean you have to waste your time creating each and every one by hand.
Instead, link together your invoicing app to whatever you use to take orders to automatically shift data between them and generate perfect invoices without ever having to touch them yourself.
For example, the information from a paid order in Shopify or BigCommerce can be used to automatically create an invoice in Xero or Quickbooks. Think of it like any other form of organizing data – all you’re doing is shifting the information from one place to another, except this time you’re applying it to a template to create a formatted invoice.
Sharing on social media
Whether you sell software or cheese, blog or have never posted online before, you’re missing out a huge potential market if you don’t build up a presence on social media. Unfortunately, doing so (or at least gaining a dedicated following) can take massive amounts of ongoing time and effort.
Thankfully, you can limit a large portion of that commitment by automatically scheduling content to be shared from your social media accounts. Linking Google Sheets to Buffer will let you schedule shared items from information in a spreadsheet, and if you use Evernote you could always link that to Buffer to automatically schedule items you make a note of.
There are hundreds and hundreds of ways that you can save time and money by automating your processes, and many of them can be achieved for free with IFTTT, Zapier’s free plan, or custom API integrations. The trick is getting creative and testing out any and every method you can think of until something sticks.