My Favourite Automation Platforms for Small Businesses
Alright. It's time I sat down and reviewed what has been working for my business and what is just a plain waste of time. Oh, organization.
This has been the year of automation for me. Trying to make my business, and my life, really, run smoothly. I am a huge advocate of saving time on the things I don't really have a ton of time to do (or even want to do in some cases): think sending emails, tracking mileage, posting to social every day, and laundry (still haven't figured this one out yet).
SO after 8 months of exhaustively looking into what's working for others, what isn't working, and learning more about the way I like to work, I've landed on the the following platforms to help me save some of that ohh so precious time.
I'm not being paid to say any of this, I just love all these platforms and hope they can help you too!
This one is a HUGE one for me, and one of the first things I figured out how to do better when I started my business. I use Gmail, so I'm not sure what the equivalent would be elsewhere.
If you're not using canned response, you are wasting so much time my friend. Canned responses will probably take you 20 minutes to set up (depending on how many you create).
You type out a template for the emails you're sending all the time: inquiries, thank yous, etc., and from there you personalize to the person you're sending it to. When you've already got the bare bones in place the time saved is ridiculous.
Also, stop sending PDFs and start putting a link to your packages. You can create a page on your website and leave it un-linked so only those you give the link to can access the page. This way you can also edit your packages and pricing and not have to worry about what you've sent out to others.
Time saved: At least 2-3 hours every week (no joke)
This is one area I've spent countless hours on. Trying in vain to find a platform that worked for me. I would jump on one, spend an hour setting it up, and use it for two weeks only to realize it was just far too labour intensive to upkeep. You'll come to see that I love the no-frills kind of platforms. Well, the one I found for project tracking is my absolute favourite. It's been two months and I could not be happier with it.
Imagine you have a board hanging on your wall with columns for all tasks needed to complete a specific project, like bringing blog posts from idea to publication. You have one Post-It note per idea/project and you move those Post-Its across to the next column every time you complete a task. You now have an easy overview of where all your projects stand and what's coming up next. That's Trello. Best of all it's (mostly) FREE!
I've created boards for my Blog's Editorial Calendar, Social Media Calendars, Wedding Films, you name it. The thing I love the most is that you set up your board and that's basically it! You create a card for each project (takes all of 5 seconds) and then drag them across as you complete different tasks. No more creating to-do lists for Every. Single. Project. You're welcome.
I haven't yet explored all the pieces to this platform, but I'm sure one of these days I will end up upgrading to a Trello Gold account.
Time saved: Oh goodness, I have no idea. I'm willing to say probably at least 5-6 hours in a month. I know that doesn't seem high, but think of what you can accomplish in 5-6 hours. A lot.
Financials & Mileage:
Wave Apps for financials, 100%! You can track receipts, send invoices, pull reports, yadda, yadda. I love that you can download the apps to your phone as well as access via Desktop and it is all FREE! No more holding onto receipts until tax time because I don't want to pay for a financial app like Quick Books. I snap a photo of it on my phone and it uploads to my account. I've had people tell me that this screws them up when dealing with cash transactions, so just be aware and do your research before investing time into this one.
DriversNote to track mileage. No frills and super simple, just the way I like it. Set up is easy, and, again, you can use this from your desktop or phone. I track my business miles and take a quick reading of my odometer every month, that's it. Come tax season, I just print off a report and it gives me all my business mileage and how much it contributed to my annual expenses. Just make sure to double check the mileage rate is set to what the CRA dictates each year, you can easily amend this in your settings if you need to.
For a long time I had been trying to tackle too make social networks at once, so I pared it down to just Instagram since I've been seeing the best engagement there. That and my newly minted blog are my main focuses at this point in time. Spread yourself too thin and you're in for a world of mediocre content and low engagement.
My favourite scheduling platform for Instagram posts is Later.
Since I dread spending hours every day thinking about Instagram, I plan everything out seven days worth of content. I eventually want to work my way up to a whole month of content, but I'm just not there yet. I get all my photos or videos ready, captions written, and decide on timing.
You even get to see a little preview of how your feed is going to look. You can move around your posts until you like what you see, and either auto-schedule them or pick a time for your phone to alert you to post.
Free up to 30 posts a month. After that, I use Mosaico as my back up. I don't love it as much since you can only use this from your phone, there's no way to access it from your desktop (that I know of). But it does the trick! Mosaico has a tiny little fee, but it's a one time 5.99 to access the whole program.
Time saved: 30 minute to 1 hour every day. Potentially longer if you're creating all your material from scratch, one photo at a time..
This one I just recently found and can't get enough of. (I have yet to find a Canadian version - if you know of one I would love to hear it!) Easy to read and understand, and links are provided for when I want to learn more. The Skimm covers world news, as well as pop culture, and takes me 5-10 minutes to review in the morning. Like I said, it is US based, so don't expect much in the way of Canadian news on there. Yes, there's a monthly fee, but it's like $5 a month - worth it.
Time saved: depends how much you read the news, but for me it's approx. 15 minutes a day since I still need to source my local news. It all adds up!
You've got to be willing to fork out some cash for this one, but it's kind of like buying an annual gym membership. The Studio Tone It Up fitness app is a serious time saver if you're one to create your own workouts, like I was. Life got so busy for me that I was far too often going to the gym with no workout in mind. Not the most efficient. Sure, you can find workouts for free online, but for me I like having them all in one easy to access place. If you're not willing to pay, they have a free 'Daily Moves' section (also found on their website). You flip through the photos and do the exercises listed for the day.
You can do these workouts where ever, so it's easy to take a quick work break and fit in bits of movement here and there. Plus, there's a wonderful community on there to help keep you motivated and find some workout buddies.
Time saved: 1-2 hours each week. No more creating work outs for this girl.
I have a few other platforms I'm currently on, but I haven't used them long enough to recommend quite yet. However, once they've transferring over to the tried & true category, I will definitely be sharing them.
If anyone has a hack for quick and easy laundry, please oh please let me know. I'd love to hear what you use and love in the comments below!