For freelancers, automation is one of the best ways to save time. It’s cost-efficient, time-efficient, and, overall, just really convenient and really, really awesome.
But if you set up automation for the wrong things, you can do more harm than good.
Say you read a blog post about email auto-replies and set them up for every common situation you get into with clients. That’s taking it too far. Some of those are sensitive and should be considered carefully and individually.
Or more subtly, consider social media automation. If you automate the copy for your social media posts (like by pulling in a link’s title) but happen to be an excellent copywriter, that’s something you should take advantage of. An alternative would be to automate some of your posts and write the important ones yourself.
It’s all about figuring out the best tasks to automate, which differs from person to person. You should know your strengths and working style well enough to see where you’re unproductive. If not, a few days with something like Toggl or RescueTime can help you find out.
If you’re too impatient for that and want to start automating things ASAP (and I don’t blame you), here are a few things you can start with.
1. Un-crazy your email situation
Most solopreneurs and freelancers I know can only dream of inbox zero. Personally I have 3 inboxes I check daily and they each have quite a few unread emails at the moment. But I’m not worried, because I know it will only take a few minutes to get through them all.
First, there’s rules, labels, and folders to help you organize your new emails and quickly identify and get rid of/archive unimportant messages. You can even have things skip your inbox altogether and go straight to a folder.
You can also automate email sending, both for marketing emails and one-on-one emails. For example, you can trigger certain email auto-replies based on certain words in an email message or which contact form on your website it came from.
2. Set your calendar
It would be great if we all had assistants to manage our schedules. But alas, that’s not the solopreneur life. Even those of us with virtual assistants have a ton of other things for them to work on, most likely. Unless…you have a robot for an assistant.
Think of all the back-and-forth involved in setting up meetings and calls with clients. Coordinating who’s available and when, how it fits in with your other appointments that day – it can all become a headache.
But appointment booking software like Calendly or YouCanBook.Me lets clients (or anyone else) just pick a time and book it on your calendar. It’s easier for everyone involved and saves a ton of time and emails.
3. Communicate with clients
Like I said before, you definitely need to tread carefully with automating contact with clients. Treat them well and value their time – that means putting effort into your relationship. But that also means knowing when to automate little things so you can focus on what matters.
Some things you can automate include reporting on your progress or handling initial client intake.
Smart contact forms and email autoresponders can help with client intake, and using a project management tool to track your progress lets clients see where you are on things without taking time to provide constant updates. Most tools even send email notifications so they don’t even need to log in.
4. Start conversations on social media
Social media engagement can’t be automated, so make more time for it by automating the first step: starting the conversation.
You can easily automate sharing your own content – blog posts, lead magnets, even letting people know your client availability. You can set up questions or sharing of other people’s’ content as well.
5. Manage your books
Finally, you can use automation to serve as a bookkeeper and handle a lot of the “finance-related admin” in your freelance business.
First, there’s time tracking. I’ve already mentioned Toggl – it’s great, and its extensions make time tracking as simple as one click. Literally one click.
You can also use a CRM or accounting software to manage and automate invoices – for example, if it’s a recurring invoice. You can use Zapier again to connect invoices to your project management tool, or even the app you perform the actual work in.
Automating your business is absolutely worth the time and monetary investment – especially considering they’re both so minimal. Think about how much money you make per project – how much time would automation need to save to pay for itself?