An Automation Framework, Process and Really Saving Time
In this episode, Jürgen talks about automation, goal setting and planning and really saving time. He outlines our Automation Framework for you and also lists some typical tasks that can be automated. We also have a couple of awesome tools that we share with you.
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Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz. Welcome to Episode No 58 of the InnovaBuzz Podcast – designed to help smart businesses with an interest in innovation become even more innovative.
We did have some downtime over Christmas at the InnovaBuzz Hive and skipped a couple of weeks with the Podcast. Now, we are back in full swing and have some exciting guests lined up to interview for 2017.
This is the first episode of 2017 on Friday the 13th January – yes it’s the unlucky Friday for those of you that are superstitious! However in my world, I think it’s a lucky Friday with the first podcast of the year and some awesome information to share with you.
The start of the New Year is often a time where people make resolutions or plans or set goals for the forthcoming year. I’m not one for New Year resolutions because I like to set goals all the time and don’t link them or restrict them to the 1st of January.
On the subject of goal setting I’m really excited this year to be partnering with four other awesome business owners, to lead a workshop, helping business owners design an awesome year for their business. This event is at the end of May in a wonderful tropical island paradise, so a retreat from the everyday grind of business, where we’ll work with you to really Turbo-charge your business. More about that later.
In episode 50 of the InnovaBuzz podcast, I talked a little about automation, and introduced some tools that we use in the InnovaBuzz Hive to help us make repeating tasks easier and take up less time. Clearly, that resonated with many of my audience, because the feedback was, let’s have more of that and go deeper. So today I’m answering that call. Today’s episode will be about some things to automate, and more importantly, an Automation Framework you should follow in setting up your automated processes.
I also have a bonus for you at the end of the blog post, for those ready to jump into automating some simple tasks.
Before I talk more about automation tools, I’d like to point out that there is a fundamental process that we follow before we automate anything. This is our Automation Framework.
Let’s say I want to automatically send my blog posts that I just published to Facebook. I could jump into a variety of tools and begin an automated process, but it’s important to understand first, what is the sequence of steps involved in this particular process. So the first step is to do the process manually, in other words, copy the URL of the blog post, then go to my Facebook page and paste the URL; then copy the page title and text snippet that I want to have appear in Facebook, from the WordPress post and paste it to Facebook. Now that I have the steps of this process and have carried it out manually, I’ll know where it needs improvement or where it could be streamlined or enhanced. Then we document the process and make sure that the documented process is a true reflection of what we actually do manually. The best way to test that, is to give the documented process to someone else, who has not done this before and ask them to work through the steps. Then improve the documented process, so that it’s clear even to a “novice user”.
- So first step in automation is actually doing the processes manually
- the second step then is documenting the process clearly
- And the third step is improving the process and making it clear, even for a novice user
Once we have completed these steps and have a process document in place, then we can see what steps need to happen in automating that process. If you skip those first three steps and jump straight into automation, then really, it’s just another shiny object which may not give you the benefits that you desire.
So automating your process is the fourth step of this Automation Framework. The fifth step then, is to document what you’ve automated. That might sound anal, but I learnt the hard way that keeping a list of the things that you’ve set up in various systems that now run automatically without your involvement, is an important step to help in the overall objective of making things easier and less time consuming.
Over time, as you build a library of automated processes, you’ll need a way to remember what is driving the processes, when do they run and most importantly how to pause them or turn them off, if something should go wrong. I had many things automated before I was documenting what I had set up in automatic mode, and then one day something happened and I wondered why that particular task had occurred on its own, until I tracked it down in one of my many automation tools, where it was coming from. On this particular occasion the automatic action actually resulted in an undesired outcome and it highlighted to me that it’s really important to keep track of all your automatic processes you have running and make sure that you can intervene when something like this occurs.
So now that I’ve outlined my Automation Framework, let’s talk about what type of things can be automated. Simple things like reminders from your calendar or to do list are easy to automate and usually are features of whatever software you might be using. For example if you were using Google Calendar and you set up an appointment, there is an option to have reminders sent to you by email or pop up on the screen. Some calendars even allowed SMS reminders. Once setup, this is automatic – it’s really just like an alarm clock, but linked to events on your calendar. Many to do list applications also allow reminders, so for example Todoist, which is what we use, has an option to either send an email reminder or push notification to your devices, at times you select. And you can have as many reminders as you wish.
Another popular and very valuable automation process involves making your email easier to deal with. There are many systems available that allows you to pre-filter emails coming into your inbox into different folders so that you find it easier to manage your email. We use Sanebox, which is a trainable app that learns the more you “train” it by moving emails into the Sanebox folders, and sorts incoming email into the folders that you’ve set up so that the Immediate Action emails can stay in your Inbox for you to work on and others are automatically placed in folders which you look at later on, so that you are not distracted by these emails.
Project management systems such as a Asana or Teamwork have native integrations that you can set up with email, so that you are notified of changes in the status of project tasks for example. These software applications also have other in built integrations such as automated notifications. They also allow emails to be sent to the project management system which then automatically assigns them as a task in a project or a comment or whatever you’ve tagged the email with.
Of course marketing automation systems such as Infusionsoft, Ontraport, Drip, Active Campaign all use fairly sophisticated techniques to automate large parts of your marketing activities.
Helpdesk systems such as Zendesk, Freshdesk and others, usually have inbuilt integrations with email and can be linked to your project management system so that incoming help requests are sent to you by email and placed directly within your prefered project management system.
And finally it’s worth mentioning the social media integration tools, examples of which are Buffer and MeetEdgar. These allow you to set up posting to multiple social media sites – so with one entry into the application, you can post to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, your Facebook Pages, Google Plus Pages. They even allow posting to multiple accounts on the pro version two of these tools. There are also options within these applications to automate reposting of your content on a regular basis. It’s important to note here, I think, that while posting content can be automated, this isn’t a complete substitute for manual posting. Social media is just that……SOCIAL, so you’ll want to be having conversations. Most definitely, engagement with your audience on the social media platforms is something that you should not automate, but by automating your content postings, the time freed up can then be used to focus your own time on engagement with your audience.
On the subject of process documentation, I mentioned in Episode 56 the tool Clarify – which allows you to compose a document, embed multiple screenshots right from within the app, mark up the screenshot with text, arrows, signposting, numbering and much more, then export the document as a PDF or Word file, send it to Evernote, WordPress or the web. We have evaluated Clarify extensively in the past weeks and have now purchased a number of licences for our team. I definitely recommend that you give it a try. There is a 14 day free trial available from the Clarify website, which we will link below. But at $30 one-off purchase price this is outstanding value, in my opinion.
Here is a simple example process document, outlining at a very high level, our weekly team review setup in Asana.
So, I’ve outlined our Automation Framework for you today, and also listed some typical tasks that can be automated. I’d love to hear from you, what other tasks you are automating, or want to automate. I mentioned at the start, a bonus that I have for you – if you are listening to this, you’ll need to go to the blog post and at the bottom of the blog post, I’ve listed for you to directly setup, a series of Zapier Automation templates, for simple tasks like automatically posting your blog post to social media. All you’ll need to do is, setup a Zapier account if you don’t already have one (you can start with a free account), then click on these links to use those Zaps. You will need to connect them to your WordPress and Facebook accounts, in order to have them work. They are fully customisable from there. I hope this helps get you started.
Finally for today, I promised you more information on our awesome goal setting and planning workshop – to help business owners design an awesome year for their business. This event is at the end of May, it will be in the wonderful tropical island paradise of Coconut Island, off Phuket in Thailand, where, in just 5 days, you’ll build a plan that will turbo-charge your business and enable you to confidently predict and then achieve your results for the next 12 months. The focus will be on results and on making goal setting and planning fun. And how could it not be fun in such a splendid location. The event is called My BEST YEAR YET, and it is a hands on program, developed and led by 4 masterful business owners who have the capability, focus, power and drive to truly succeed.
I’m really excited to be working with 3 other awesome business owners on this project and looking forward to helping transform some businesses in the coming year! If you are interested and want to find out more, please email me directly or via the contact form on the website.
That’s it for today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it and find the Automation Framework valuable. Let me know how you go with the Zapier templates and your process documentation, I’d really like to hear back what you find particularly useful.
All the show notes for this episode will be at innovabiz.com.au/58, that is the numbers 58, innovabiz.com.au/58, there you’ll find the links and everything we spoke about in this episode .
If you like this Podcast and found this information valuable, we’d love you to leave us a review. Reviews help us get found, so help us help more people! Leave your review on iTunes and then subscribe so you’ll never miss a future episode. If you prefer Stitcher or Pocket Casts you can subscribe there too. If there is anything you’d like us to cover, or questions you want answered on a future InnovaBuzz podcast, please leave a comment in the blog post.
Until next time, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz.
Remember, if you don’t innovate, you stagnate, so think big, be adventurous and keep innovating!
- Google Calendar (via G-Suite)
- Active Campaign
- Clarify and Our Sample process document on Clarify
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Here are some templates for Zaps, which you might find useful and can help you get started with Zapier automation. Remember – get your process clear first, and document it. Then automate!