how to get started with automation

How to get started with automation (Part 1) [PMP #221]

One of the most effective ways of saving time and getting more done is to automate the repetitive parts of your work. By using technology to actually DO parts of your job, not only do you save time but you increase the accuracy of certain processes by removing the potential for human error to occur. As my business has grown, I’ve automated as much as I can and it’s extremely satisfying when things seamlessly happen around you.

If you’ve never done any automation before, stick with me and I’ll help you get started. In this post, I’m going to share some tips on how to get started with automation. And in part 2 (coming next week) I’ll be talking more about my favourite automation tools.

Don’t want to read this post? Listen to the podcast instead:

Paul Minors · PMP #221: How to get started with automation (Part 1)

What should I automate?

Probably the trickiest thing with automation is not even how to create automated workflows themselves, it’s identifying what to automate in the first place. Clients come to me all the time saying something along the lines of:

“Can you help to streamline this process? I don’t really know how yet, I just know it could be better”

Not everything can or even should be automated. There are some tasks that require human input to complete. So, what types of tasks or processes suit automation? Here are some leading questions to get you thinking:

What are the most repetitive tasks you do each day? – Naturally, anything repetitive that you do is a potential process that can be automated. For instance, answering or sending certain emails, making bookings with clients, updating systems like your sales CRM, email marketing tools and accounting software. When you find yourself doing the same task, especially where the process is very repeatable, this is something that can be automated.

What are the simple processes that anyone could do? – But being repetitive isn’t enough, the process needs to be repeatable. In other words, is this process simple enough where you could write down the instructions for anyone to do? For example, when I’m doing my monthly reporting and going through all my sales data, I can’t automate this because the process is quite nuanced. The process requires human input and analysis. In fact, even if I could automate all of this work, I wouldn’t. I like going doing this process manually as it allows me to reconcile all payments to make sure no mistakes were made. Sometimes, doing a task manually is better. But, something that helps this process is the automation I have in place that updates my sales CRM when a purchase is made via my eCommerce system. This is a very repeatable process because all that needs to happen is when a purchase is made, I need to find the corresponding deal in my sales CRM and update it accordingly. It’s a simple and repeatable process that doesn’t require any special intervention.

What are the ‘milestones’ in your process? – What are the milestones in your process where, when achieved, they require work to happen? For example, when I receive a Calendly booking from a new client inquiry, this is what I’d consider a milestone. When this happens, I need to add the person's contact information and booking details to my CRM (Pipedrive) and email marketing system (ConvertKit). I also need to send a personal confirmation email with some information about my services. Or, when a client makes a payment for my service, this is another milestone that means I need to make more updates and create new tasks in my project management tool (Asana). This can all be automated. Thinking in terms of the “milestones” in your sales, or project management workflow is a great way to start thinking about what to automate.

Mapping out your processes

When working out what to automate, it really helps if you can map out your processes in a visual way. Before you start thinking about how it’s all going to work or what tools to use, mapping out the process so you can make sense of all the steps is a great starting point.

There are loads of tools you can use to create a process map but if you’re not sure what to use, I recommend Miro. In this video, I take you behind the scenes and share all the tools I use to run my business and this is all shown using a Miro board.

Behind the Scenes

Mapping out your process helps you to identify the key milestones that I mentioned earlier and how different tools should interact with one another. For instance, when you get a new lead, maybe you need that information to be entered into your CRM and accounting software.

“Is all the hassle of automation worth it?”

As you get started with automation, you may well find yourself asking the question, “Is all this worth it?”

Especially when you’re just getting started and not as familiar with automation tools, automating your tools may take a bit of time. And for what… to save 5 minutes a week on a small task?

Learning how to use automation tools requires a bit of time. But what you’re doing is developing a new skill set that will help you for years to come. It might take 3 hours to figure out how to automate a 5-minute task. But the next time you’re working on some automated process, you may be able to set it up in half the time.

And once you have your automated systems up and running, they can support you for years to come. One of the very first automations I set up in my business was to simply create a new deal in Pipedrive when I receive a booking via Calendly. I set this up in 2016 and here we are in 2021 and that same process is still saving me time today. I’ve done over 1,400 introductory calls in that time and if that one automation is saving me around 3 minutes every time, that’s 70 hours of saved time over the last few years. Plus, automation helps to cut down on mistakes. So that’s 1,400 times where I haven’t had to worry about copying and pasting information into Pipedrive where I may have forgotten something or set up the activity at the wrong time.

So if it feels like automating your processes is taking a bit of time, keep the big picture in mind. And if you really don't want to go through the hassle of learning different automation tools, you can inquire to learn more about my automation services here.

Examples of automation

I’ll end this part 1 post by sharing some examples of common types of automation in my business and things we’ve set up for clients.

  1. Adding bookings to Pipedrive – I’ve mentioned this already but when someone books a call with me on my website, the details are added to my sales CRM (Pipedrive) so I don’t have to manually copy and paste everything. A subscriber is also created in my email marketing tool (ConvertKit) which allows me to trigger a sequence that shares more information about my services with the client.
  2. Updating deal titles and custom fields – In Pipedrive, based on the product I attach to a deal, I use this to automatically update the name and specific custom fields on the deal. This helps me to keep the deal really clean and ensure important fields are filled in.
  3. Adding sales leads to a nurture campaign if a deal is lost – This is one I’ve created for a lot of clients as well.
  4. Updating customer records when a payment is made – When clients pay for a service, this triggers updates to the deal in Pipedrive and updates the subscriber record in ConvertKit.
  5. Sharing updates in Slack – When I upload replays of my group coaching calls to Vimeo, a link to the video is automatically shared in my custom Slack channel.
  6. Creating tasks from my eCommerce system – If a payment fails or a subscription is cancelled, this creates tasks for me in Asana to contact the customer and update Pipedrive.

With all of these processes, there is a clear trigger event and then a list of actions that need to occur. And this is how most automation tools work. They usually require you to identify the trigger i.e. the event that needs to happen to start the automation. The tool can then perform the pre-set actions.

I’ll share more about the different automation tools available next week. If there's anything, in particular, you'd like me to share more about, please let me know via the comments in the meantime.