There’s a scaling secret for online business consultants. It’s small business process automation. Anyone can start an online business with some very small investments. But what many virtual consultants with dreams of the digital nomad life find is that their business doesn’t grow very fast. They hit a wall because they can’t manage all of the daily tasks, and they don’t want to invest in a virtual assistant to help them, because it eats up their profits. If you want to have a business that runs itself, be completely location independent, even make money while you sleep, you’ll need to take advantage of these 5 types of small business automation software.
Download the Free Small Business Automation checklist pdf here:
The first place to automate your business, is with a scheduling system. There are free apps and paid apps for this. (Two of them are Calendly and Acuity.) Why? Because you’ll save a lot of time in negotiating a meeting time and place. It’s SO MUCH easier for someone to be able to see your availability and find something that works for them rather than try to throw out different times and days and go back and forth in emails. It’s also faster, because you won’t have to wait for a response to know if you need to look for alternate available times. If you want to get fancy, you can even have a fun domain pointing to your scheduler, like mine: www.talktojessica.com. I was really surprised it was available at all, given my common first name and all. Your name might be less common, and ready to go too. But this is just for fun. Absolutely not required. The scheduler IS required.
Another fringe benefit of having a scheduling system, is you’ll weed out a lot of spam requests, and people who don’t REALLY want to talk to you, if they have to TRY at all. (Hint, you don’t want them as a client…) You won’t have as many wasted calls.
And, here’s the biggest benefit: having a scheduler to manage your appointments will automate your reminders! Most of the schedulers have text reminders now, and they all include email reminders for your clients, as well as easy rescheduling links. You won’t have to manage this at all, as long as people have your link.
Managing your email list is a must. Most businesses already know this. However, they’re not using their autoresponder correctly. If you don’t have an autoresponder to collect emails of your contacts and leads, go get one. Like now. You can have a free autoresponder with Mailchimp. You won’t have all of the features, and there are some picky things, but it’s a great option for someone just starting out. If you have a sizeable list, or are working toward a sizeable list, I highly recommend Convertkit, because it’s a flat-rate no matter how many people are on your list. Set-up is key from the beginning either way.
Your number one time-saver in any autoresponder is to set up your templates. It takes a few minutes, but gives your subscribers a consistent way to recognize your brand. And, each time you send an email you don’t have to drag and drop and reconfigure all of the pieces within your emails. You can have multiple templates for different types of emails. Take a few minutes and design at least one main template for your autoresponder.
A great feature of your autoresponder is that you get to program your sequences to run without your manual intervention. When you use tags appropriately, you have the advantage of only writing an email once, and the right people receive the email at the right time, forever. No matter when they join your list. This is called ‘evergreen’ content, because you basically set it and forget it.
When you have an appropriate logic to your mailing list, you’ll have a single list and each subscriber will have tags applied for different scenarios. You can quickly grab a subset of your list using these tags so you can offer them your products in a way that’s tailored to their interests. If you have an older Mailchimp account, and multiple lists within it - we need to chat about condensing that list. It can be done easily, and will actually save you money because you won’t be paying for each subscriber each time they appear in a list (because at the moment you are…)
Within your autoresponder, you’ll be saving time when you create new content, because you can quickly and easily duplicate the sequences and automations you already have set up, and then modify just the text within the emails for your new sequences. You won’t have to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch each time.
Have you purchased a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager, something like Zoho or Hubspot)? I’ve personally talked to so many online entrepreneurs and business consultants who have one, and either don’t use it or are frustrated with it because it’s not doing what they want it to.
The purpose of a CRM is to hold your lead and client data so you have one place to look them up and see all of the activity you have had with them. If you have it set up correctly, it houses all of your contracts, invoices, emails, social interactions, and other data you collect from each client. Your CRM can automate almost all of your client paperwork, using templates and workflows. Some of the best workflow uses are client onboarding processes, getting them all set up to work with you, and unloading the client at the end of your contract. Both of these two processes usually have multiple steps, and they can all be automated so you don’t have to do them.
If you’re not using document templates, you should be. Even if you have specific differences for your clients when you do custom work for them, the skeleton of your contracts, invoices, and forms is usually the same. You can have fill-in-the-blank style templates automatically created based on the client data you enter. Wouldn’t it be amazing to onboard a client into your business with a single click of a button? It’s very possible. In fact, smart business owners have hired people like me to set that up for them.
The most basic rule of thumb for using a CRM software is that you only ever enter information about a client in one place. If that data is used somewhere else, like in your email autoresponder or in your calendar, the two softwares should be integrated to pass the information back and forth. Without following this rule, you’re opening yourself up for errors, missed data, and will have low data integrity.
Billing and Bill payments
Imagine a world where you never have to chase a client payment again. Oh, this is possible. If you automate your billing! To do that, all you need is a merchant account that will auto-bill your clients. Especially the ones on payment plans. There are a few payment processors that allow you to have automatic payment plans set up. If you don’t have access to those, you can use automatic invoice generation (hello, workflows!). You’ll just have to create your invoice template, and tell your billing service when and how much to bill your clients.
If you’re generating automatic invoices, don’t forget to set the automatic payment reminders! You shouldn’t have to go in every few days and check on what invoices you have outstanding to send follow-ups. Let your chasing be automated.
Another place you should have your billing automated is for things YOU have to pay for. Utility payments, rent, subscriptions, all of them should be automated. Quickbooks allows you to easily do this. The last thing you need is to increase your business expenses by adding late payment fees to what you already pay for.
Automate your Project Launch, by creating a Product Launch template. You can lay the entire project out from start to finish, one time. Then literally copy the task list for each subsequent project. Why would this be considered automating? Because you don’t have to rewrite it each time. As things change with your business, you can tweak and build onto the template so it grows with you. The template can be as complicated or as simple as works for you, but you’ll find that you’re able to create more products faster if you use a template each time.
Laying out the entire product launch allows you to know accurately what members you’ll need on your team, so you won’t have to scramble to find someone the next time. You can also automagically assign the tasks out if you’re using a software like Trello or Asana. For each project, you can also easily duplicate the project at any time to use again, even if you’ve already started filling in the template with tasks and assignments.
Even within the task lists, you can add duplicatable templates within a task, such as a list of all of the image sizes you need for your social media campaign. Oh, and you can have a tasklist for your social media posts. And even within your software, you can link to the fileshare where you’ve stored all of the files for your launch, and you’ll never have to answer the ‘where are the files’ question again. Snap!
Now that you have these ideas swimming in your head, what will you tackle first? Does it feel like it would be difficult to program these automations? Now we’re to my favorite word...delegate! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, hire your automation out! You’ll actually get a high ROI on your investment for hiring someone because your business will run faster and more efficiently in the future. Here’s another secret - if you ever hope to get to 7 figures with your revenue, you’ll have to incorporate some automation. If you don’t, you’ll be paying for so much labor that your business will go under.
There are literally hundreds of online consulting business ideas, and if you haven’t started your journey yet or even if you have but still feel stuck, don’t despair. There are a lot of ways to free up time in your schedule so you can make more sales which will lead you to making more money.