I don’t know about you, but I started my business with intentions of long weekends, amazing vacations and more down time. That is the perk of being an entrepreneur right? Lots of free time on your hands? A few years in and I can say nothing could be further from the truth! Oh, how naïve we can be with a dream! The good news is, it can be easier. Business automation! There are ways to automate your business even if you’ve been at it for awhile. It’s never, ever too late to be better and more efficient. Here are some steps you can take to bring you one step closer to those long vacations with little umbrella drinks you’ve been dreaming of.
All About Email
Email is one of the biggest time sucks on the planet. Think about it: how much time do you spend on your email every day? If you can find a way to manage your email more efficiently, you might actually have time for a shower.
If you aren’t using Gmail already, it may be the answer to your prayers. Gmail has built in features that can make your tedious tasks quick and easy. Have you tried these?
- Set up filters. At the bottom of the folders column on the left side of the page there is a link to “Manage Labels.” Following that link will take you to a new page with a tab for filters. When you “create new filter” you can choose to filter by subject, email address or words included in the email.
Tip: After choosing your filter and clicking “create filter with this search” you will be taken to a page with more options. This is where you will select which folder the filtered mail will go to under “apply the label.” The other options on this page can make a huge difference in how efficient your filter really is. There are two in particular that are worth highlighting.
1. “Skip the Inbox” – if you do not select this box, each filtered email that comes in will be sent to your inbox and the folder you have selected. If you do not want to have duplicate emails, you can skip the inbox and the email will be sent only to the folder you designated.
2. “Apply Filter to Matching Conversations” – selecting this box will activate the filter for any emails you have already received and save you from having to do it manually. It’s also a good way to test if your filter will work. If it says “0 matching conversations” and you currently have emails from the address you are trying to set up a filter for, your filter is not going to work. Check for mistakes or try filtering by a different category until the conversations match.
- Canned Responses. Sometimes it’s hard to write the perfect response, especially if you’re in a hurry. But then there are those days where things flow…you write out the perfect response and you think, “Why doesn’t it always come this easy?” Well guess what, it can. Canned responses are great for common questions. First you have to turn them on. On Gmail, go into your settings. Under “Labs” there is an option for “Canned Response” that you can enable (make sure you save your changes). Then when you go to compose a new message, click on the drop down arrow on the bottom right. Here you have the option to compose a new canned message or insert one you’ve used before. All you have to do is make small changes, add the right name and you’re good to go!
Even though these Gmail features can make your life a lot easier, it’s still really hard to manage your time. Don’t get stuck in your inbox. You know, you send emails out, more emails come in. Hours fly by. Days fly by. It’s a cycle that never ends. It’s impossible to get through everything. Instead of spending all day on your email, try answering email in blocks. Designate a certain amount of time and a certain time of day to check your email. This process will ensure that emails are answered promptly, while also making your Inbox seem manageable. If you’re feeling really brave, you can remove email from your phone to help you stay inside of those designated times without the “new email” alert to tempt you.
If you feel like your Inbox is cluttered with things you don’t need, there are tools for cleaning it up. You can use unroll.me to get off of some newsletters (except those obviously worth keeping, like The Mogul Mom!) and make your inbox a bit cleaner.
Scheduling can be another massive pit for all of your time to disappear into. Booking appointments is obviously a very important task, and there are ways to simplify the process instead of going back and forth with people. Try one of the scheduling tools listed below. You can even automate paid appointments so that once a client pays, they will get a link to book and you don’t have to do a thing.
- Doodle offers simplicity through a professional booking service and provides a system for creating group polls that doesn’t even require registration with the website.
- Bookfresh offers a clean workspace to manage appointments, classes and events, including features that allow you to accept appointment requests and send a thank you message in one click. You can also establish an online list of your prices, staff and services , giving your clients ease of access when booking, and sync your calendars and appointments through Google calendar, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, iCal, iPhone, Android, or Outlook.
- Timetrade offers sales meeting scheduling, marketing lead conversion, higher education online appointment scheduling, retail appointment scheduling solutions, and 27/4 customer service for all available options.
Each of the above tools has a unique feel. Browse their “About” pages to find which one works best for you and your company!
Social media is huge in helping your business succeed. But promoting your business through social media outlets is, in itself, a full time job! Many of us go at it blind and with reckless abandon. Until we run out of time, that is. Have a plan and your efforts in social media can be a little less work!
As with email and scheduling, there are ways to bring business automation into the world of social media. Try Hootsuite (free with a paid version that provides more options) or Sproutsocial (try for free with a 30 day trial). These allow you to spend a couple hours (or have your assistant spend a couple hours) putting all of your posts for the month into an automatic, scheduled system. Instead of posting manually on Facebook or Twitter everyday, watch them go out on their own. All you have to do is pop in to respond, like and chat.
Once you take the time to set up business automation, it works like magic. With all the free time you will have you can work on pursuing opportunities for the growth of your business, or take that vacation you’ve been dreaming of. Happy automating!
What automation tools do you use in your business? Share your time saving strategies in the comments below. You may save someone’s sanity in the process.
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