I’m a one-man shop and I like it that way. The main drawback here is that my output is seemingly limited. I have more work than I can shake a stick at, and yet potential leads come in nearly every day. What to do with this high quality problem?
Many of my clients suggest I hire help. Because of my personality, and the way I work best, I must work directly with my clients and vice versa. How then can I break past the ceiling of trading time for dollars? Automation provides a reliable way to increase production while maintaining quality.
Understand how you spend your time.
For any process to be successful, we must have a feedback loop. In the case of automation, we are aiming to maximize the efficiency of how we spend our time. Therefore we must track our time, enact ways to maximize it, and then use feedback to see if our efforts improved things.
A common false pretense holds that tracking time is hard and time consuming. Keep it simple and impactful, and tracking your time alone will pay for itself in the valuable feedback. I use Harvest, but Toggl is also a great choice.
Start by tracking to the biggest of buckets. For me this would be Cutting Code, Email and Calls, Sales, and Accounting. Once you see where your day goes exactly, you will quickly identify how your time could be more wisely spent.
It can be different for everyone, but simple solutions often work well. A 5-minute phone call can often eliminate an hour of back and forth email. Being mindful of the clock can help you to focus, or know when it is time for a break.
Never do or create the same thing twice.
Upon inspection of how your time is spent, you’ll see lots of repetition, which is where automation shines. Automation does not intrinsically imply a carbon copy of the previous item, it just means we will re-purpose as much as we can.
If you write a similar email frequently, template it. Keep the template handy and only handcraft the items that truly matter. When you are busy, the template serves as a quick and effective way to get the most necessary information out. When you are less busy, you can polish and refine that template to perfection.
Another option to email templates is a blog or FAQ section of a website. Most businesses field the same questions over and over. Identify these common questions and answer them in blog posts and FAQs. Not only will you save time, but you will also grow your web presence. You could go one step further and include this information in a newsletter.
Estimates and invoicing are areas where automation makes a ton of sense. Use software to store and replicate estimates. Finely adjust those estimates as needed, but trust that the effort spent on a good range of estimates outweighs creating each estimate one off. On the other end of a sale, automate your invoices. Take the time to find a really good invoicing system so that you do not waste time billing for offerings.
Allow automation to streamline efforts outside of “what you get paid for” and your efforts towards making money will be that more effective.
Productize your offerings.
Many of us are in a service-based industry, and are therefore in the most need of automation. It can be hard, but find ways to productize your services. By packaging your services in repeatable and predictable product packages, you can then flex the power of automation.
Regardless of your craft, you can create jigs, checklists and other tools to become hyper efficient. Jigs are tools created specifically to speed up a repetitive process. It can take some thinking and tinkering, but in nearly any circumstance, you can find or create a tool to reduce repetitive tasks.
Think outside the box. Look to other industries that automate well. Understand that you will sometimes fail, and will often find a better automation solution, but always look to never do or create the same thing twice.
Here again, automating portions of your services will allow you to focus more energy on the areas that truly require your best efforts. You’ll deliver a better value to your customers and they will recognize it.
The sales process, and getting to a fast “no”.
One of the easiest but scariest areas to automate is sales. We want to provide a competitive and fair price to our customers. We struggle painstakingly to ensure we have evaluated the cost and price correctly. The unfortunate reality here: all that effort is often wasted, and artificially increases cost and price.
I have embraced outcome based pricing. This model means that my sales approach differs from many. Many of the lessons that led me to outcome based pricing, can be applied to any pricing model. The hardest lesson I’ve learned: aim high.
A luxury of being busy is that we do not need to fight tooth and nail for each and every job. We can afford to start high, and negotiate down when it makes sense. We can afford to loose the clients that do not fit out target of an ideal client. Those who could never afford the level of services we provide are sent packing early.
As you automate your sales process, consider aiming high. Make it an extra effort to lower your price. You’ll find that you sell better work, and to better clients.
You’ll eliminate waste by getting to a fast no. You’ll increase efficiency by not negotiating a less than ideal yes, or worse, a never ending maybe. By embracing the mentality of a business that is busy, your business will become busy.
Automation is scary.
To be honest, I struggled with automation for a long time. My work is highly collaborative, creative and seems to be distinctly different from project to project. I reached a point of being so busy that I was forced into accepting automation as a solution.
To my pleasant surprise, automation allowed me to focus more of my energy towards the unique and creative solutions my clients need, and not the other way around. I cut out waste and in turn was more able to serve my clients, and I am busier than ever.
Start small. Think very long term. Trust that automation will lead to happier, and better clients.