“What would Michelle Obama do in your shoes?”
It was a strange question, coming from a business coach I’d asked for guidance on how to get myself out of a rut, but she had a point.
My first thought – Michelle would probably die of embarrassment if she tried to wear my shoes… since lately I’ve been wearing Masseurs like all the golden retirees of the 90s.
But, the answer I gave was, “She’d rise up and make the magic happen.”
The conversation was in relation to me feeling like I’d become a slave to my own business. I’d spent the last few months in the deepest, darkest pits of endless to-dos and work that didn’t fire me up in the slightest. I felt like a carrot grinding up and down a grater with no real end goal in sight. I hadn’t come up for air in weeks and I was starting to wonder if I’d ever have dinner away from my desk again.
My business coach was right. If I didn’t rise above my task list and streamline my business by implementing some systems asap, I’d wind up like Macaulay Culkin circa 2012 (except less rich).
It’s certainly not the sexiest side of business, but automation is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of running your own show. We’ve all heard the expression ‘time is money’, and if you’re running a small business, you probably eat that motto for breakfast each day. And it’s true – every minute you spend on tasks that don’t actually grow your company is a minute lost.
So many of us business owners get caught up in the small daily tasks that chew up our time and keep us away from the work that really matters. Sometimes it’s by choice – we’ve all spent hours, and maybe even days, hiding behind admin tasks because doing the granular, mindless work is far less confronting than focusing on the real work. And sometimes it’s purely because your business actually requires you to get down in the nitty gritty and work your way through the trenches before you can rise up and get stuck into the bigger picture of work that will propel you closer to your purpose.
One thing that’s clear though, is that automating certain tasks frees you up to stop sweating the small stuff, so you can instead focus on the parts of your business you love, like building new products, meeting new clients, mentoring your team, watering your forest of indoor plants, and of course, bringing your big-ass vision to life. When you’re running your own show, mindless busyness is your worst enemy. Instead, you need to create space to focus on the juicy stuff that’s actually important to you, your business and your why.
I had a manager back in my retail days who always told me our systems should be so tightly dialled that I could be hit by a bus one day and a new team member could step-in the next day and execute seamlessly. Morbid? 100%. But practical, for sure. The point being, is that there will come a day when you aren’t the only one executing every move your business makes (can I get a hallelujah?). So when that day comes, you’d better have built strong foundations and seamless systems that allow you to step behind the curtains and let your team take the stage.
I’m fairly certain that automating the following ten tasks in my business saves my team and I around between 8-10 hours a week. What I do with those extra hours, I have no idea, but that’s not the point. Automating allows us to spend more time on the work we love, keeping us inspired, on purpose, and in our genius zone.
- CANNED RESPONSES.
Up there on my list of all time, things I love are chocolate, crisp white tee-shirts, steaming hot chai and canned emails. Not even joking. I’m actually devastated that I won’t be able to take my canned emails to the grave with me. Or maybe by then Google will have come up with some nifty app we can use from 6ft under. Let’s hope so.Canned responses are pre-written messages you can store in your Gmail and they are stupidly convenient. When you’re receiving hundreds of emails every day, canned responses can save you typing out the same old message over and over. They are particularly helpful if you often need to answer similar questions from your team, potential clients or refer to a certain process in your biz. All you need to do is create an email template for yourself, where only the recipient’s name and other specific details need to be customised, and then save it as a canned response in Gmail. Then, when the time comes to blast out your response, just add the appropriate one, edit the details and hit send.
- EMAIL SCHEDULING.
There aren’t many things I want to kiss more than the email scheduling extension Boomerang Chrome. It triggers automated follow-up emails, as well as preparing emails to be pushed out at a later time, and resurfacing emails we want to follow up with on a set date. I live by this baby, and consider it an integral part of the Smack Bang arsenal as we tackle our day-to-day tasks.
There’s nothing that inhales your time quite like HR management. While it’s freaking amazing to have a team of 15 wildly talented and fun staff to hang out with on the reg, dealing with the ins and outs of sick leave, holiday approvals and payslips is a complete time-suck (and it just sucks in general). If you’re like most small businesses, your HR ‘department’ probably exists of you, yourself and Irene, which can make it hard to stay on top of human resource issues and processes. Thankfully, tools like Xero let you easily outsource your payroll and HR functions in one system. Staff can log their own sick leave with the click of a button and most HR processes are streamlined to save hours and hours each week.
The pattern here is that I am obsessed with scheduling tools. Whatever I can do to automate, I’ll take it! Schedugram is a delicious gift because I can alleviate any stress I am feeling about the demands of social media (post every day! write a witty caption! take that aesthetic to the next level!), and have all posts scheduled ahead of time. It means you can sit down during a particularly creative or productive moment in your week and get all the content lined up at once, allowing you to upload both images and videos. Basically, it will change your life.
- BATCH SCHEDULING.
Right now, I’ve been sitting in my home office for four days straight. Why? Because I’m practising the art of batch scheduling (and gorging on corn chips and avo). Every so often I dedicate an entire week to sitting down and smashing out a bunch of writing tasks. That might include blogs, EDMs, client strategy pieces and marketing campaigns. By writing a bunch of copy all in one go, I am able to really immerse myself in the task at hand and find my flow. And boy does it feel good to not be interrupted by mundane tasks every two seconds. My content manager is extremely fond of me doing this because it means that she receives a bunch of blogs all in one hit and can then schedule them for the next few months ahead of time. Batch scheduling requires more work upfront, but then just like all good automations, you can set and forget.
- YOU CAN BOOK ME.
This online app is a saviour for everyone who can’t stand the thought of trekking through days and days of email chains to find that elusive time your prospective client is free to meet. It’s virtually impossible to get all your info together when you’ve got a rotation of new clients on the go, and your inbox is out of control. I’ve found it particularly useful for those international clients because it doesn’t make you use all that brain acrobatics to try to figure out what day/month/year they are operating in. This app does all the work for you.
This app is a zippy little tool for connecting… all of your apps! It helps you run your business better by collecting everything you use, moving information between apps and filling in the blanks so that you don’t lose years of your life trying to connect the dots yourself. Once you’re set up, you can run off into the sunset in organised bliss (or at least, get onto the pile of work that you actually need to do). All of those services that help your business physically run can now work harmoniously together, like some glorious orchestra at a fancy concert hall.
I love my boyfriend. More than anything else in this world*. But he drives me absolutely up-the-wall, wanna-rip-my-eyeballs-outta-my-head bonkers because he can’t remember passwords to save his life. The amount of hours I’ve wasted helping him reset his passwords and find login details is probably close to the total amount of hours I’ve spent asleep (could be a bad example given my track record, but you get the gist). One thing that I highly recommend you all do, as I’ve encouraged my boyfriend to do 100 times, is to grab your phone right now and download ‘1password’. This app is game-changing. It stores all of your passwords in one nifty spot and the best part is you only have to remember one password to access them all. You can thank me later.
- STAFF ONBOARDING.
Back in the early days of Smack Bang, each time a new staff member joined our team it was a mad scramble to rustle up some paperwork for them, write a quick job description and fumble my way through an induction process on the fly. Once they had their ‘onboarding’ bits and pieces it was then a long, drawn out process of me trying to download everything about my business and my expectations of them from my brain to theirs. And because our business was growing at the rate of knots, there often wasn’t the luxury of time to sit spending hours with each new team member to ensure that this was done properly. It (and I) was a hot mess. After about our 4th or 5th hire I decided I need to tighten our onboarding process up. I spent a few days writing up all the job descriptions I thought I might need in the next year or so, I got a lawyer to sort out all our employee contracts, I put together a welcome pack, and I spent a decent chunk of time creating a ‘brand bible’ that essentially covered every little thought, feeling, and essence of the Smack Bang brand I had floating in my head. This meant that our next hire could walk in the door, sit down and spend a few hours onboarding themselves in a peaceful and effective way. And my time and sanity?! Saved.
- TOILET PAPER, SERIOUSLY.
Yup, I saved the most important ‘til last. Sign up for a subscription toilet paper delivery and watch how your life changes. A few years ago we subscribed to Who Gives a Crap, and discovered the joy of no longer having to walk up to the grocery store and haul back a gigantic bundle of loo paper in embarrassment. Now, it just shows up on our doorstep every couple of months and bonza baby, no more lost street cred. And what’s more, Who Gives A Crap are total legends and donate 50% of their profits to funding clean water projects in places of need. So literally, just by going to the toilet, we are saving the world. Kinda.