Workflow Automation: A Solopreneur’s Secret Weapon for Improving Productivity

Posted on 23 August, 2016 in Productivity / 28 Comments

Workflow Automation 101- The Solopreneur's Secret Weapon
I’ve got bad news for you.

You might not be able to become more productive for your business anymore.

  • You’ve implemented all the lifehacks.
  • You’re using all the right time management techniques.
  • You’re batching your tasks.

Overall, you’re a freaking ninja.

And there are no more minutes, seconds, or hours left to save.

If you’re as obsessed with productivity and efficiency as me, you’ve hit that wall.

There’s a point where you’ve done everything right, and then you get stuck.

But you still want to be able to grow your biz, right?

So what do you do when there are no more ways to save time on your tasks?

You get rid of them completely.

BLAMMO.

I know, you’re not a magician, you don’t make things disappear. But robots do!

Yes, my friend – you can automate all the stuff you don’t want to do. Love ya, technology.?

Table of Contents:

(Note: parts of this post were originally published in March 2016. To jump straight to the brand new sections, click here!)

Learn how workflow automation is a solopreneur's secret weapon when it comes to improving productivity for your business. Plus download a free cheat sheet to start automating your solo biz!

About Workflow Automation

Automation is one of the two main ways to save time for your business. With it, you set up or complete a task once, but the activity is performed over and over again.

For example, email management can take a crap ton of time. Finding the important emails, sorting out the newsletters, etc. And then after you read them, you have to move them out of your inbox to the right folder or wherever you put old emails.

Nope, nope, and nope.

You can automate all that with apps, settings, and integrations.

It takes a little bit of work up front, but you can set up rules and filters and other fancy email settings that automatically do all that for you.

For example, if you’re a freelancer you could create an IFTTT recipe to automatically “star” any emails from clients so you can immediately find them among the rest of your inbox clutter, and respond right away.

I like to think of it as delegating to robots. I always loved Rosie from The Jetsons, and dancing, so I usually picture a Rockette-style kickline of Rosies somewhere, managing my inbox and scheduling my social media posts.

(I’ve mentioned I’m highly ridiculous, right?)

Automation is best for tasks that:

  • Need to occur at certain times: If something needs to happen at an exact time, or in relation to something else (for example, a confirmation email sent immediately after a form submission), automation helps ensure that happens when it needs to.
  • Have low customization: Automated tasks are mostly identical each time they occur. So they’re best for kind of mindless tasks that are the same each time, like answering the same common question from customers.
  • Are short but frequent: Some hidden time-wasters only take a few minutes, but you have to do them over and over again. These “tiny tasks” are usually simple and easy to offload to an app or integration.

Overall, it’s highly awesome.

Can’t wait to get started with automation? Download this free workbook to decide what to automate first.

Here’s why:

The Benefits of Workflow Automation

Automation can sound kind of boring, I won’t argue that. And I won’t blame anyone who’s overlooked it for that reason.

We’re creatives!

Damn the man! Save the empire!

(Okay, yes. I’ve watched Empire Records more than once recently. But it was JUST Rex Manning day!)

save the empire

And things like productivity automation and processes sound very corporate and handed down from the man.

They also sound very complicated. And time-consuming, which I admit they can be at first.

But here’s why you’re making a mistake by passing it up:

Workflow Automation 101- The Benefits of Automation

Related: The Easiest Ways to Save Time on Your Business: Scheduling & Automation

Put the work in once for endless results

Automating your to-dos is the kind of thing where the more work you put in up front, the more results you’ll see in the long run.

It has a super high ROI.

Think about it. It may take half an hour to set up email rules and filters, which is more than a lot of people want to add to their already lengthy inbox time.

But even if that only saves you 5 minutes per day, that time cancels itself out in just over a week.

Think about how much time you’ll save over the course of a year!

I’ll even do the math for you: it’ll save about 22 hours – almost an entire day of your life.

Perform tasks on someone else’s schedule (without sacrificing your own)

There are times when tasks need to be performed on someone else’s schedule. For example, an opt-in confirmation email has to be sent as soon as the subscriber opts in. It just does.

But imagine if your email marketing provider couldn’t automate this. You’d have to constantly be on the lookout for new subscribers so you could send a confirmation.

Ughhhh.

That sounds awful.

Automation lets your business run on someone else’s schedule without being always on yourself. “Run by robots.” 😉

Spend more time on the work you enjoy

How much do you really enjoy things like checking email, scheduling social media posts, and collecting analytics?

That kind of stuff isn’t probably at the heart of why you started a creative business.

Automating administrative tasks lets you spend more time on designing, writing, coaching, creating courses, or whatever it is you do.

What you love – and what makes you money.

It helps improve accuracy and efficiency

Like I said earlier, those “tiny tasks” are some of the best to automate. They’re also some of the easiest to be forgotten.

Automating things like creating invoices and updating your finance spreadsheet eliminates the opportunity to forget or procrastinate them. It also ensures things are accurate and consistent from time to time.

Can’t wait to get started with automation? Download this free workbook to decide what to automate first.

How to Decide What to Automate

Once you’ve decided to take a few tasks off your to-do list, how do you decide which ones to do?

Not everything is great to automate (rhyme!).

Here are a few things you might want to consider:

Workflow Automation 101- What Business Tasks Should You Automate

What tasks eat up your time?

The simplest way to prioritize automation is by looking at what takes up the most time. Imagine being able to save several hours per week just by automating one task.

It may seem intimidating to jump right in and tackle a huge task, but hey – eat that damn frog.

Use RescueTime or Toggl to perform a productivity audit. See what apps, tasks, and people you spend the most time on. Then see where you can cut corners without sacrificing quality or accuracy.

For example, you may see you have a ton of back and forth emails with one particular client. This might be a sign to try to automate some of the communication between you two. If you’re always updating each other, maybe a project management tool will help. You could turn on email notifications so that as you cross things off in there instead of your to-do list, your client would be automatically updated via email.

What do you just really hate?

You’ll also want to unload the tasks that bring you down.

If you have invoicing, figure out a way to stop invoicing.

If your actual fear of unread emails has you hiding under your blanket in the morning, do something about it.

Sarah Morgan says that when you have the business blues, ask yourself what you least enjoy and how to change that.

Reading that line however long ago was an a-ha moment for me. Automation is the perfect solution.

You don’t need to really sacrifice anything – it’s win/win/win – and maybe even another win?

You don’t have to do this thing you hate anymore. But clearly it benefits your business somehow, otherwise you wouldn’t have started it in the first place.

So now shit still gets done, your business still grows, but you still get to focus on things you actually like – instead of the stuff that makes you hate running a business.

What’s your Kryptonite?

We can’t all be good at everything.

(Except Meryl Streep – Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.)

If you’re not good at something, don’t make yourself do it all the time.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your skills, but we’re busy bosses. Set aside time for education and personal development, and operate a lean biz at all other times.

For example, I love design, but it’s not my specialty.

I love spending hours fiddling and tweaking placement and layout, rearranging the color palette, and stuff like that. And when I have a lot of time, I can put together something half-decent.

But I normally don’t have a lot of time.

So in addition to keeping graphics basic in general, I created saved templates in Canva for Work with my favorite custom layouts. The fonts, colors, layout, and my blog’s name are already there for me. My favorite stock photos are even pulled into the area for my custom uploads already.

I put a few hours into these templates one rainy Sunday, and now I can create new blog post graphics in 5 minutes or less each time. Not because they’re sloppy, but because I’m basically just changing the text. I’ve already cancelled out the time spent on them, hundreds of times over.

5 Ways to Start Automating Your Solopreneur Business

5 Ways to Start Automating Parts of Your Solopreneur Biz

1. Automate promoting your blog posts on social media

Now, first, let’s be clear. Automating and scheduling are not the same thing. Scheduling social media saves you a good amount of time, automating it basically gives you a free vacation. ?

Here’s what life is life automating social media promos:

  • You write a new blog post.
  • You write a few tweets for it (I usually go with 4-6).
  • This takes about 5 minutes.
  • Your social media accounts will occasionally share that post – with no more work from you – forever and ever amen.

Sweet life, right?

There are tons of apps to help you – Buffer and Hootsuite allow it to some extent, in addition to scheduling. Then there are specialty apps like MeetEdgar.

2. Send an auto-response to new contact form entries

Your blog or website has contact forms on it, right? There’s probably a general one, maybe a “Hire Me” or “Work With Me” one, and others for the various side projects you’ve got goin’ on.

Create some kind of confirmation or autoresponder for each form. Give them any additional information you can offer, outline next steps, etc. Not only does it improve the experience for whoever fills out the form, it buys you more time to respond while still making you seem prompt as hell. 😉

3. Triage your inbox

This is probably the best thing you will ever do, ever.

And if you ever log into your inbox and feel utterly overwhelmed by the chaotic mass of messages there, you need it. Bad.

Setting up simple rules and filters for common email topics will sort your inbox for you and help your prioritize messages.

For example, you can have all newsletters, blog post emails, and other “reading material” skip your inbox and go to a separate folder, so they don’t distract you from new messages about projects and to-dos.

4. Build evergreen email content

Here’s something crazy: on my book blog, I spent a year hardcore building an email list, and then went 6 months without writing any new content for it.

Yet, subscribers still heard from me once a week. They had no idea I wasn’t checking in and writing each Monday morning.

That’s thanks to some evergreen email funnels and marketing automation.

5. Automatically book appointments and manage your calendar

Finally, eliminate all the back-and-forth emails involved in managing your calendar and booking calls or meetings.

All the “Are you free at this time” … “Oh no, that’s the one time I’m not” … “Well, how about” … “Sorry, I can’t” …and on, and on, and on…

Using appointment booking software like Calendly or YouCanBookMe, you can hook up your Google or Outlook calendar, set up your availability and a custom link, and then let clients or colleagues pick and choose a time that works for them.

Scheduling a Skype call with you will be easier and faster than booking a hotel on Expedia – both for you and whoever you’re meeting with.

More Solopreneur Automation Resources

Check out more solopreneur productivity tips here!

Automate It

Seriously, you are wasting so much time by not automating things. I’d say I feel bad for you, but that sounds condescending. So instead, I feel excited for you, because you’re about to transform your workload.

To take the next step automating your business, download my free workbook to figure out what tasks you should offload. Then check back here for the next post in the series!

Can’t wait to get started with automation? Download this free workbook to decide what to automate first.

So what do you automate already? What areas should you be more hardcore about it with? Share below. 🙂

Workflow Automation 101 - How Solopreneurs Can Take Back Their Days to Get Shit Done