Automating Your Business: A Sample Workflow

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SUPPLIES: Technical Help Required by Studio Dawn Inskip

The is the final post in a 3-part series on Automating your business! I hope you’ve found it helpful. Today we’re taking a walk through just one of my automation workflows. Your tasks will probably differ quite a bit from my own, but hopefully this sample workflow will get your automation brain turning.

A Sample Workflow

Call me crazy, but as a self-proclaimed spreadsheet geek, I actually use spreadsheets to create blog posts. I use the “concatenate” command to string together multiple text fields. This allows me to create one blog post, copy the HTML code and paste it into the spreadsheet. I go through and separate the code out into individual boxes, removing any customized information, like filenames or URLs and replacing them with an empty field that I can either fill in myself, or autofill by using a field on another spreadsheet tab in the same document. I know, it’s a little complex, and unconventional. But, to give a practical example, let me walk you through one workflow that I have set up.

1) Send out a Google Form to collaborators and ask them to fill in their name and file name.

2) Ask collaborators to upload their file to DBInbox, a drag and drop Dropbox uploader solution.

3) Set Hazel (the automation app for Mac) to watch that folder, open Photoshop, resize the image to my blog size using an action, save it. Hazel then copies that file to my website server via FTP.

4) Google notifies me when the form is filled out, with the responses going into a spreadsheet. Dropbox notifies me when the file is uploaded. Hazel notifies me when the file is uploaded.

5) Once all responses have come in, I copy all the responses from the spreadsheet into my special HTML spreadsheet. The filenames then auto-populate into the HTML code. I copy the “concatenate” field for the code and paste that into WordPress.

6) Schedule the post to publish at a later date.

This process takes about 5-10 minutes of my time. This process used to take me 30-45 minutes. The spreadsheet probably took me 30 minutes to an hour to set up, but now it saves me time every single week! These are the types of tasks that really benefit from automation. What can YOU automate today?

Automating Your Business: More Resources

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SUPPLIES: Technical Help Required by Studio Dawn Inskip

I had the amazing opportunity to talk automation with Elise Blaha from EliseJoy.com and Elise Gets Crafty: The Podcast. Make sure you stop by and listen! This series of blog posts came out of that discussion. There was so much more to share, so let’s get started. Today we’ll cover more ground than yesterday!

File Sharing & Collaboration

Dropbox is a critical tool for me to share files with collaborators, as well as receive files from others. For clients and collaborators that I work with regularly, I have set up a shared Dropbox folder. Shared folders are nice in that they are two-way. We can both upload and download from the same folder. The downside is that both people can also delete files. (Thankfully Dropbox keeps an archive of deleted files for 30 days through the online interface!)

To offer one-way uploads, I now use DBInbox, a paid service that allows me to give out a web link for customers to drag and drop files onto. The files come automatically to me, and my clients don’t need a Dropbox account. And, they can never delete my files accidentally!

Dropbox has just recently launched a similar feature called Dropbox Requests. I haven’t had the chance to dig in deep but I do believe it works in a similar fashion.

Google Drive/Docs

For any document that I need to share with another collaborator, I use Google Drive. I can share spreadsheets, text documents and more. We can both edit the documents, track changes and even see when another person is editing the file. I use spreadsheets to track so much in my business so that I have a quick and easy place to go to, from anywhere, when I need to refer back to something. Taking a few minutes to record things like procedures, tutorials that I need to refer to often, plan topics for my product release or blog posts, or other things that I might reference allows me to keep organized. Often us creative types want to skip over these steps, but I’ve found that it’s even more critical for me to write things down so I’m spending hours digging through email or files on my computer to find that thing I swear I saved somewhere. Other people use Evernote, Omnifocus, or other apps to accomplish similar tasks.

DBInbox

Dropbox File Requests

Automating Web Tasks

One tool I only use from time to time, but can be a huge time saver is iMacros for Firefox. It allows you to record clicks on a website and play them back. I discovered this when I had to create thousands of unique coupon codes for a client in their shopping cart software, and then delete them later. The basic steps are to record a new macro, save the macro, then click the play tab and play the macro back. Sometimes I have to edit the macro to remove the step where it selects the web page if I want it to run on whatever page I’ve already selected. This tool is not for the feint of heart, but can be a huge time saver if you have a lot of online repetitive work.

You can use it for free, so don’t let the price freak you out. It’s tricky to find the free download, but it is there.

iMacros for Firefox

Automating Your Mac

Hazel is an incredible tool. I use it for so many things! Once it’s installed on the Mac, it adds a new preference pane in the settings. From there, I can add watched folders and assign tasks based on many different criteria. For example, I can tell it, if a new file is added, resize it and move it. Or, if a new MP3 file is added, launch iTunes, add it to my library, then move the file to my EHD for backup. There are so many more ways to use Hazel. I wrote an article for The Daily Digi showing one way that I use it in my scrapbooking. Hazel is only for Mac, but there are some PC Alternatives.

Hazel

PC Alternatives

Another tool that you might be able to use is If This Then That. It works on a similar premise, but for different types of tasks. If you get serious about automation, exploring IFTT might open up a new world to you.

IFTT


Scheduling Meetings/Podcasts

Do you need to schedule meetings, skype calls, meetups or more? Using a service like YouCanBookMe allows you to block off times you are available, send it out to many people and let them choose the time that works best for them. All this done without back and forth emails.

Scheduling Social Media

I’m terrible at Social Media, I know. But, if I were good at it, I’d for sure make use of scheduling apps to help pre-plan posts, tweets and more. A good rule of thumb is to pre-plan your new product release, sales announcements, etc, but to personally post in real time when it comes to interacting with trending topics. This helps mix the personal with the business, but keeps you relevant at the same time. Here are some helpful links regarding scheduling social media.

Schedule social media posts

HootSuite

PageModo

Buffer

Lifehacker article

And, I haven’t purchased this course yet, but it showed up in my email box as I was working on this post, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Automating Social Media by Nora Conrad

Automating Your Business: Email

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SUPPLIES: Technical Help Required by Studio Dawn Inskip

It’s common knowledge that I’m passionate about doing more in less time. My mantra is, “If you have to do something more than once, it’s time to think about automating it.” Not everything can be automated, but so many things can be. And even if the entire process cannot be automated, often pieces of it can. If you’re anything like me, you know that every little bit of saved time adds up! Whether you want to accomplish more in your allotted work hours, or shorten your work time to spend more time with family, friends or on a more fulfilled life, automating some basic tasks can really help.

Today we’re talking email. There’s no getting around email in this day and age. And if you don’t manage and automate your email, it can quickly get out of control. Besides building a quality product, it’s my belief that the most important thing you can do is respond to your customers and colleagues in a reasonable amount of time. For me, that is 24 hours, though my personal goal is closer to 12 hours. Not only do I have personal email to filter through, but I help serve several different clients as the primary customer service point of contact. So it’s critical that I get through my email several times a day, and am able to process it quickly.

Here are some things I’ve done to help me do that.

GMAIL

Gmail (Google’s free email) is critical to my ability to process all of my email. Not only is it available online from anywhere, so I can check it even if I’m away from my desk. It has powerful filtering abilities that I can harness to check and sort multiple accounts, even non-gmail accounts.

First, Google lets me both read and respond from multiple email addresses from within one account. This allows me to set up each of my business-related email addresses in Gmail settings. You’ll need to have access to your accounts so Gmail can send you a verification code to prove you own those accounts. Once you do, all your email can be forwarded into one account. You can add up to 5 email accounts.

Secondly, Gmail allows me to filter every email that comes through. I have filters set up to sort my email into “labels” or folders so that I can work through like email in chunks. All email ad marketing that I have signed up for gets marked as read, and filed into an “ads” folder. Every time I sign up for a new email list, I take the time to filter those emails into that ad folder. This automatically keeps ads out of my inbox. For my customer service clients, I filter those emails into folders by client so I can focus on one client at a time. I even have set up some automatic responses for rare cases where I need to let someone know their email has been received, when I don’t need to send a personal response.

I’ve also installed a couple Gmail “Labs” or plugins that help me immensely. One is SEND AND ARCHIVE which lets me both send and archive a message with one click. When you are working through dozens of email in each sitting, those extra clicks add up! The other is UNDO SEND which gives me 10 seconds after clicking send to change my mind and fix an error. My most common mistake is forgetting to hit REPLY ALL, so I have a second chance to fix that.

CANNED RESPONSES

Canned responses harness the ability to automatically enter text that you have to repeat over and over. A long time ago, I would keep text files full of these type of responses I could copy and paste when I needed them. That only really works for longer chunks of text, though, as many things I could type quicker than I could pull up that document. Then I discovered GMail’s Canned Responses, a module that saves hidden drafts of blocks of text that you can add through a drop down menu in the email interface. This works great, but is a little more manual. You have select the response from the drop down menu.

Then I learned about text expansion tools. First, I tried Type It 4 Me, which allowed me to assign key stroke combinations to add any amount of text automatically into a document as I typed. It works perfectly for common responses, signatures, and even correcting your most common spelling mistakes! Then I discovered the mac daddy of canned response apps…. Text Expander. Text Expander takes canned responses to the next level by allowing the insertion of fill-in fields, date fields, clipboard field, etc. I can craft incredibly custom responses interspersed with standard text to create detailed replies. I even use this for adding html code to my blog. The possibilities are endless!

Canned Responses-Gmail

Text Expander

Type It 4 Me

Text Expansion for PC users (Lifehacker)


SCHEDULING EMAIL

There are two other tools I’d recommend for handling email more efficiently. Sanebox (for any mail client) and Boomerang (for Gmail) allow you to schedule or defer emails. The practical applications for this are mind blowing. For example, if you get an email that you cannot respond to now, you can mark it to show back up in your inbox in 3 days or a week. Perhaps you send an email and want to be sure that person gets back to you in a certain period of time. If they don’t, you can have that email pop back up so you can follow up with them. Perhaps you type up a response, but you don’t want the email to go out on a Friday night. You can schedule it for Monday morning. Sanebox and Boomerang allow you to decide when to deal with important emails.

Sanebox

Boomerang

Don’t let your email control you! These tools can help YOU control your email. What if your email is already out of control? If you have hundreds of emails sitting in your inbox, you can either set aside a couple hours to just clear it out once and for all, and then implement some of these automation tools. Or, file it all away and start fresh. Just be sure you take the time each session to ensure your emails are filtering and your canned responses are set up so it doesn’t get out of control again!

Tomorrow I’ll be back to talk about more automation so be sure to check back!