November 20, 2007
Organization, Automation and Delegation - The Keys to Maintaining My Sanity While Running a Home-Based Business Part IV - Automation By Angela Hoy | printable version
In Part I of this series, I gave you a tour of our hectic house and "home office."
In Part II, I shared how we manage to homeschool Max while working more than full-time on our business.
In Part III, we discussed Delegation (for control freaks like me!).
And, in this final installment, today we will discuss automation.
If your home business has grown to the point of bursting, and you are thinking about hiring someone, but don't want the headaches associated with that, you should seriously consider trying to automate some of your processes.
The first step is to make a list of everything you do in the course of a normal week. Then, sort your list by the time it takes to do each item. For example, if you spend the vast majority of your time sending out query letters each week, that would come first. Maybe you spend 30 minutes a day deleting spam (your email program probably has spam filtering capabilities!)? Maybe you spend 3 hours a day looking for specific news for article ideas on a particular topic (have you checked out Google Alerts?).
Ten years ago, when I launched WritersWeekly as a little hobby website, I used to distribute each issue by email, one-at-a-time, manually to every subscriber. I can hear you laughing from here but you need to remember that this was before they had lots of list software to choose from and before I really understood exactly what I was doing (from a technical standpoint)...or even really fully understood the Internet. One day, I switched to an email program (Pegasus Mail) and it had a list option in it. I then would paste my subscriber list (which I kept in a spreadsheet) into a mailing list in my email program and click send. I had just saved myself several hours per month of monotonous cutting and pasting and sending. Later, we moved onto list software and that has evolved as well, the more we've grown.
Several years ago, we used to send out The Write Markets Report in print format. That was QUITE an endeavor... and we later realized quite unnecessary. Since all our subscribers had heard about us on the Internet and since I knew they all had email addresses, I sent an email to everyone one day telling them we were going to stop offering it in print, cut the subscription rate, and start emailing each monthly issue instead. We only lost a handful of subscribers and we found ourselves instantly savings tons of money in formatting/layout time, printing and postage. By electronically automating that print publishing product, I saved myself a few days of work each month. This freed up my time for more profitable tasks...like creating more books to sell!
Years ago, I also used to manually process each credit card order submitted by customers as well as manually crediting each author account the royalties for each sale. It became such a hassle that I actually hired someone to help out with this task. One day, we finally bit the bullet and hired a professional web design company to create the automated shopping cart and author royalty system and it's worked beautifully ever since.
Let's move forward a few years. Every single week, I would spent hours and hours going to each and every job site on a long list I kept, searching for quality freelance jobs to post links to in each issue of WritersWeekly. I admit that was the worst part of my job. Talk about monotonous! Click, read, reject, click read, reject. Every once in awhile, I'd find a gem but the task was so time-consuming! But, it was also so important. New jobs and paying markets are what our readers need most. One day, as I was once again clicking and whining, Richard decided to help. He asked me to send him the list of job sites and a list of keywords I search for. A couple of months later, he sent me the link to something that he dubbed the "jobscraper." We go to a specific place on our server each week and an entire list of jobs pops up. They're all new (only one week old) and, while we still have to cull them to find just the right ones, it only takes about an hour each week to find the gems, instead of several hours.
I used the jobscraper for years but recently delegated that job to Zach. He doesn't particularly enjoy that job (okay, he despises it), but after hearing my sob story about how bad it used to be, he's darned happy it doesn't take more than an hour to do each week!
The point I'm trying to make this week is that you may think your little business is too small for automation. I thought so for a long time, too. But, if specific tasks are taking up more and more of your time, I bet you can figure out a way to automate some of them. If you need some creative help, get on some of the writing discussion forums and ask other writers/authors what they do to accomplish specific activities that are too time-consuming. I'm sure you'll come away with a wealth of automation ideas!
Now, if we could just figure out a way to automate changing Mason's dirty diapers....
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYBODY!