Automating to Save Time and Money: My Automation Toolkit
Joe: Automation is like an employee I pay a pittance to. For a very low monthly fee, it saves me hours of work I’d need to spend performing tasks I personally don’t need to do.
See, the goal of your business should be to focus on that tasks that only you can do, and outsource the rest (though I guess the big goal for some is to make it so you don’t actually need to do anything except manage). A great way to start on this journey is through automation. In this solo episode, I’m going to tell you about how you can start automating, how I automate, and some of my favorite tools, but first I want to tell you about our first sponsors, ahrefs.
Break: This episode is brought to you by Ahrefs. Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO toolset that solves that problem: it gives you the tools you need to rank your website in Google and get tons of search traffic.
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Joe: In August 2018 I was challenged to automate more. Now, nearly 2 years later, I’ve removed myself from core processes because of it. I’m saving lots of time, which allows me to focus on the important parts of my business. While I’m always looking to improve, I’m happy with what I’ve implemented so far.
But before we get into my automation toolkit, I want you to start thinking about what you can automate. I’ve come up with a list of questions you can ask yourself.
Ask yourself if a person needs to do the task.
There are lots of things we can do that a computer can do for us. If you’re manually doing something you don’t need to do, there is a great opportunity for automation.
A few examples are:
- Automatically pulling expenses into your accounting software. FreshBooks and other accounting apps will usually have this built it. I put all of my expenses on my AmEx, and FreshBooks imports them for me.
- Sharing to Social Media. Plugins like Social Web Suite will allow you to share to Facebook (pages), Twitter, and LinkedIn upon publish. And of-course, there’s Buffer for auto-sharing.
- Sending emails. I send emails based on events like when a proposal is accepts, an invoice is paid, or something is added to specific folders in Dropbox.
You should make a list of everything you do in a day and determine if a computer can do it. Then start implementing some simple automation.
Ask yourself if you personally need to do it.
This is a little automation, and a little hiring out. But you should determine if some of the tasks you’re doing are tasks you absolutely need to do. If not, either automate, or off-load. A perfect example of this is my podcast episode workflow:
- I record and put the pieces in Dropbox – manual
- My editor gets an email that a new episode is ready for edit – automated / hired
- He uploads it to the Transcription folder – hired
- My transcriber gets an email that a new episode is ready for transcription- automated
- That episode gets uploaded to my audio host, Libsyn – automated
- I add the episode to WordPress (manual, but I don’t need to do this so I should automate or hire a VA)
Hiring is something that can seem daunting. Automation much less so.
What you should do now is make a list of everything you do that a computer or other person can do for you.
What Can I Automate?
I’ve determined that anything that requires multiple apps to talk to each other can be automated, so long as they allow for that sort of thing. I should need to manually put expenses into FreshBooks. I shouldn’t need to upload a file from one cloud service to another. I shouldn’t have to manually backup files to other drives on my computer. So the next step is to take that list and find tools that will let me connect the right dots. Here are a few great tools
Zapier is an integral part to my automation process. It works with so many other apps and tools. Lots of WordPress plugin developers integrate with it too. They also support writing Code directly into an automation, if I want, and so much more. They have a free tier, but I pay for the next level up. It’s well worth the $25/month I pay. For ideas, there’s also their Automation Inspiration.
One place Zapier falls short is device automations, like iOS, Alexa, and Android. This is where IFTTT shines. I’m using a combo of Zapier and IFTTT to do things online and then send reminders to my phone. For example, when I scan a business card into Evernote, I get a reminder 3 days later to follow-up with the person.
TextExpander is a cross platform app that replaces text snippets. It allows me to compose emails from 3 characters, and makes sure I never typo a URL. It also works with with some variables/scripting languages to do some truly cool things. They also happen to be a sponsor of this show. I reached out to them because I was such a big fan. They’re also sponsoring this episode, so let’s learn a little more about them.
Break: This episode is brought to you by TextExpander. Save time typing and boost your productivity with TextExpander. This entire episode is a love letter to automation, and TextExpander is a great way to get started. It allows you to create your own snippets for repetitive text you tend to use everywhere. Add the text, create a snippet, and boom. One of my favorites is my address. Instead of typing out my full address and risking typos, I simply type $-a-d-d-r and let TextExpander do the rest. This is all without special app-specific plugins. Do it anywhere you type.
Plus, if you work with employees or contractors, you can use TextExpander to manage and share snippets with them, so you all get it right, every time..
TextExpander is available on macOS, Windows, Chrome, iPhone, and iPad. If you’ve been curious about trying TextExpander or simple automation in general, now’s the time. Listeners can get 20% off their first year. Just visit textexander.com/podcast and let them know I sent you. Now back to the show.
I love Siri Shortcuts, and I grossly under-use it. It’s an app on iOS that lets you connect apps and actions to voice commands, and it’s fantastic. My favorites are my packing list automation, and my project-based automations.
Hazel is an interesting Mac app that lets you automate folder actions. I’m currently using it to manage my hard drives- delete files, move things around, and even move files into cold storage.
How I’m Automating
So you have some processes to think through automation, and some tools (links to everything on the show notes page at https://howibuilt.it/167/). With that, let me tell you about some of the processes I’ve automated that I’m most proud of:
Automating Saved Links with Pocket And Zapier: Back before I decided to start automating more, the way I would compile my newsletters was to save links to Pocket and then on Monday mornings, scour them for what to share, create the links, and sum up the stories. I also had to be careful that I didn’t share the same link two weeks in a row.
It was a lot of work. And then I realized that I could save myself a lot of trouble by using Pocket to automate not only my newsletter, but social sharing as well. I have a full write up on this one, but basically I set Zapier up to process stories in Pocket based on tag. If the tag is newsletter, it gets added to an Evernote for my weekly newsletter. This along saves me about 40 minutes every week.
Automatically Scheduling Podcast Guests with Calendly and Zapier: This is a complicated automation that also has a video/blog post. But it all starts with Calendly. A guest books a show, and they get a calendar invite + Zoom link. An Evernote note is created from their responses, which serves as the basis for my show notes. Then a record is created in Airtable so I can place that guest in the schedule. All the while they are getting reminder emails, and a follow up after the interview.
Move Old Video Files to Cold Storage: I’m a pack rat, but that directly conflicts with my need to save hard drive space when it comes to video files, which are HUGE. So I have a Hazel script that runs every night to check my Videos folder. If the file hasn’t been opened in 30 days, move it to my NAS, which serves as cold storage.
Create Invoice from Accepted Proposal: The last one I want to tell you about is one I though was particularly clever. I use Nusii for my proposals, and FreshBooks for my invoices. When a proposal is accepted, I have Zapier kick off and create an invoice based on the proposal, pulling client, product, and pricing information.
THEN, based on the type of proposal accepted, a welcome/onboarding email is automatically sent to the client. All without me having to do anything. It’s a fantastic way for me to make sure I communicate properly with my clients, without having to do a time consuming, often repetitive task.
So those are some of the interesting tasks I’m automating. Others include recording payments and expenses, sending emails, social sharing, and other smaller tasks. But I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. If you’re interested in following along in what I’m automating, I have a whole series over on Casabona.org.
I do have another automation for How I Built It, using a plugin I custom coded. If you want to learn more about that, you can join my email newsletter. You’ll get a free PDF, link to the code, and more.
To do that, and for all the show notes, go to https://howibuilt.it/167/. If you liked this episode be sure to leave a rating and review in apple podcasts. Thanks so much to ahrefs and Text Expander for sponsoring.
Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, get out there and build something.