Nowadays almost every project management tool, CRM, and marketing solution offers some form of automation – allowing you to build workflows that handle tasks that once had to be completed manually like following up with clients or updating spreadsheets and databases.
While automation can save you countless hours of work each week, a thoughtful approach is needed to ensure you aren’t over-automating parts of your business and negatively impacting your client experience.
In episode 8 of Designing Growth, Sam shares his thoughts on what you should and should not automate within your creative agency and gives advice for avoiding the pitfalls of over-automation.
[Designing Growth introduction plays]
[00:00:00] Sam: Happy Thursday, everybody. And welcome back to Designing Growth. My name is Sam Chlebowski and I am one of three co-founders here at Motion.io
[00:00:10] I’m hosting today’s episode solo as Perry is out for the day, but we have a great episode plan. And I think this is one that is going to provide tremendous value to not only newer agencies, but maybe even agencies who are further along in the process of growing their business.
[00:00:28] If you’re just joining us for the first time, what motion.io is, is the platform and the tool that our three co-founders wish we would’ve had when we were delivering over 10,000 design projects to clients in our previous agencies and businesses. With motion.io, you’ll be able to collaborate and communicate with clients using one simple dashboard, helping you get the things that you need from clients to keep projects moving we’re just a couple of weeks away from releasing motion.io to our first [00:01:00] users.
[00:01:00] Totally for free. If you are interested in getting early access to the platform, all you have to do is go to our website at motion.io/launch and enter your email.
[00:01:09] What we’re gonna be talking about is automation. Automation is something of a buzzword these days. You know, nowadays almost every project management tool, CRM marketing software offers some sort of automation allowing you to build workflows that handle tasks you once had to complete manually from following up with clients, to updating spreadsheets and databases, to pulling reports.
[00:01:36] But while automation can save you countless hours of work, it also comes with some big risks. And I’ve learned about these risks firsthand.
[00:01:44] While automation can save you countless hours of work. It also comes with some big risks, especially for creative agencies and brand and web design agencies doing client facing work. It’s important to find that balance between automating without over [00:02:00] automating.
[00:02:00] So in today’s episode, I’m gonna go over what I think you should automate in your business, but also what you should probably not consider automating.
[00:02:07] To help you find that perfect balance where you’re still saving tons of hours every week, because you have a great automation system that does what you need to do, but you still have those personalized interactions. Those one-to-one experiences that result in delighted clients repeat business and client referral.
[00:02:26] After I talk a little bit about what to automate and what not to automate, I’m gonna talk about the areas of your business and where I think automation fits in them I’m gonna break this down into three major categories and provide you a little bit of guidance on the things that I would recommend automating within these categories to provide you takeaways and new ideas for ways that you can save time and ultimately provide a better client experience because you’re not running around doing all of these sorts of manual things, and you can focus on your clients and [00:03:00] put their experience.
[00:03:01] So let’s start first with what I think you should automate in general. I think you should be automating any repetitive task or digital transfer of information that follows a set process and has a set format each. In simpler terms, what this means is that if you are sending these same exact email templates each time, and it doesn’t require a lot of customization.
[00:03:23] That’s probably something that you should be automating. If you are copy and pasting a value from a form submission into your CRM or into some spreadsheet, that’s something you should automate. If you are updating the status of a project to be one of these preset parameters like onboard and complete or design and review or project completed, that’s something you should.
[00:03:46] On the flip side. What I don’t think you should automate are any places where you are having highly personalized interactions. So things like consultations with clients, things like a [00:04:00] loom video that you record for each client and send them as a part of their design review you should not automate anything that is too customizable.
[00:04:09] Now there is some wiggle room here, and I’m gonna talk about light automations that you can do to still have a customized experience or a personalized process for clients while helping you get some of these things done faster. But in general, I caution against. Connecting too many different pieces of software or pulling in too many individual data variables because you open up the risk of taking away from those personalized experiences, but also for things to break.
[00:04:37] This is something I personally experienced quite a bit when I was working with Perry, because we didn’t have this one project management and client collaboration hub. Like we’re building [email protected]. We ended up cherry picking our favorite features from multiple pieces of project management or feedback software, combining them with custom forms and [00:05:00] using Zapier to tie it all together in a really complex way. First hand, I learned that connecting two, many pieces of software together opens up the possibility that things will.
[00:05:11] I wanna talk about Zapier just for a second. As I have been posting stuff on our motion dot TikTok, I’ve been following along with people, brand and web designers out there and finding out the tools that they’re using. I see these popular videos where people talk about, um, Zapier as a powerful way to automate their business and save.
[00:05:31] That is a hundred percent accurate. It is a super powerful tool and I love Zapier. It saved me hundreds of hours of time over the years. The risk of Zapier though, is that you can very quickly over automate what Zapier does is it allows you to, to connect all of these pieces of software that previously weren’t able to talk to each other.
[00:05:53] And combine them in one automation that can do dozens of different things. Right there is the big [00:06:00] risk. Whenever you’re combining more than two to three different pieces of software together, I think you open up a lot of risks that pieces of your process are gonna break. And that was something we saw at Brighter Vision. One tool in an automation workflow would be turned off and the whole thing would break. And we’re wondering, Hey, why don’t we have this information on this specific Trello card? Or why are we not seeing this new inquiry? So be careful with Zapier, but still use it, because I love it.
[00:06:25] It’s powerful. But in general, I think that anytime you are automating something where you have to hook up more than three tools or you’re using more than you. A dozen or so custom fields or data variables that open you up to risk.
[00:06:40] Which is why I recommend that it be something fairly straightforward, especially if you’re just getting going or you’re testing something.
[00:06:48] Now that we’ve talked a little bit about what to automate and what not to automate, I wanna talk about the areas of your business as they pertain to automation and break it down. The way that I think is [00:07:00] easiest. So in general, when I think about business automation and automation, specifically for web designers and brand designers and creative agencies, I typically break down the areas of automation into three categories.
[00:07:12] So you can automate your reporting, whether that be marketing analytics, whether that be business growth, analytics, finances, whether that. Uh, reports on your clients and how long it takes to service them. And the things that they’re needing throughout that reporting is the area where I think you can benefit the most from almost complete automation.
[00:07:34] The reason why I think this is almost every reporting software out there has some type of automation built into it these days. For example, one of the big ways that I automate our marketing reporting here at motion is I use Hootsuite to build these pre creative dashboards.
[00:07:53] And then I use a Zapier integration to zap that marketing information about our various [00:08:00] social accounts and how things are performing into one centralized spreadsheet, uh, via Google sheet. So reporting is one area. I think that honestly, if you’re not automating most of it, you’re probably using a lot of your week or a lot of your month trying to assemble these reports by just looking at the data and pulling it all into one place.
[00:08:21] The next level down of the thing that I think needs a medium amount of automation is sales and marketing
[00:08:29] one of the best things that you can do with automation as it pertains to sales specifically, is that anytime somebody submits a new inquiry form on your website, you put them on some sort of follow up workflow. What I’ve typically done with workflows like this in the past. And I actually have a great example of this on our TikTok account is to set up a system when somebody submits a form on the website, it automatically sends them a follow up email asking them to schedule that initial consultation.
[00:08:58] So we can meet one on one. We can [00:09:00] talk about their needs, understand their product and hopefully close. When creating a follow up workflow for your new inquiries on your site, something you can also do use automation for is filter out good requests from bad requests. This is something that I’ve done with HubSpot that I’ve found is really effective.
[00:09:18] What you can do with HubSpot is create a form that asks questions, like, what is your budget? What are the services you need? What industry do you work in? So that you don’t have these spammy submissions and spammy new inquiries that are people you’re probably not gonna work with. Anyways, you can use HubSpot to filter those things out and only send these types of follow up emails.
[00:09:40] once the system has had a chance to analyze that, and you know, that they’re a good fit. If you just wanna create a basic. Follow up workflow that reaches out to everybody who submits a new inquiry form on your website.
[00:09:52] What I’ll typically do on a new inquiry workflow, like this is I’ll automatically send them an email every couple of days to check in, but I will [00:10:00] also send myself a notification using automation to remind me to reach out to that client, to give them a call. If they haven’t scheduled a time
[00:10:10] I call these kinds of steps in automation, light automation, because it is an automatic thing. It sends me an email notification automatically and knows if that person has scheduled a time.
[00:10:22] But the ultimate outcome is that I have to complete some manual tasks. This sort of light automation comes into play, especially when we start talking about your client process, blending things that you can automate to save time with manual tasks and personalized interactions.
[00:10:39] So I wanna talk a little bit about that. Your process of working with clients is my final business area that you should consider automating. But this one, I am mentioning last because it can be one of the trickiest ones to get just right. And I think out of reporting and sales and marketing requires the least amount of [00:11:00] overall automation for most.
[00:11:02] That said there are ways that you can use light automation to still provide that personalized client experience, but save you a ton of time. So you aren’t writing manual emails, you aren’t manually updating project statuses and you aren’t manually requesting things from clients that you need to to keep a project.
[00:11:24] At motion. What we are building is a system that combines all of those things. So you can automate parts of your process without needing to over automate it and connect a ton of different tools together.
[00:11:37] We’re building that one tool that prevents you from setting up complex workflows or Zappier automations. You’ll be able to do it in one platform that’s designed for you and the way that you work with clients to make it easy, to get the things that you need to keep projects moving in general, though, the things that I’m about to talk about. With what you can automate in your [00:12:00] process of working with clients are all things that you’re gonna be able to do with motion.io.
[00:12:04] So let’s get into it. Within your process of working with clients, I’d mentioned that light automation is one of the best approaches to take. Some examples of this light automation, things that I think you should be doing within your process of working with clients. If you send them a.
[00:12:19] And a stage of their project gets updated on a client portal or on some Trello board or an Asana project. If you have to manually update that stage each time, that is something I think you should absolutely be automating. What I recommend is having a way where you send a design for review or feedback. Automation takes care of updating that project status on some sort of visual dashboard. This is something you’ll be able to do with motion.io. Additionally, any sort of follow up email that you use to request things from clients is also something I think you should be automating. So in our previous example, once you send that design off for [00:13:00] feedback, if that client doesn’t give you feedback, you’re likely gonna follow up with them. You should be automating that follow up process and set up your automation to know when they’ve given feedback versus when they haven’t.
[00:13:13] So you can keep following up with them. This idea of accidentally reaching out or automatically sending an email when you shouldn’t is why I really encourage web and brand design agencies to put some thought into how their automations are set up. There’s a ton of different ways that you can do this.
[00:13:30] I’d mentioned HubSpot earlier. That’s a good way to remove people from an automation workflow or prevent them from sending emails. Once they’ve done specific actions, Drip, which is the tool that I use for email marketing here, allows you to create decision trees, where if a client does something or they have a certain tag applied, they’ll be removed from that workflow and put onto another. Thinking about the actions that you want to use to remove people from automation. So you’re not blowing them up with [00:14:00] emails or or asking them for things when you shouldn’t be, is really crucial to automating parts of your client process.
[00:14:08] . One example, which I think is particularly cool and something we’re working into motion.io is the ability to use a light style of automation. To still have that personalized experience and consultation, but help make it more effective.
[00:14:23] So that feedback call doesn’t turn into an hour and a half long pixel pushing magic adventure.
[00:14:29] I say magic adventure only because I know how hard it is when feedback spirals out of control. It’s something that I’ve seen. It’s something that I’ve worked with over the years. what I’m gonna share, I think, is a good strategy for making the most effective use of everybody’s time. So what you can do with automation and a cool example of something you’ll be able to do with motion.io is ahead of your feedback call or your consultation with the client, send them a form, or send them to their [00:15:00] client portal, where you can ask them questions and cover the main points of what you’ll want to cover during the call. So going into that call, you know, on all of the things to hit on and you aren’t just, you know, staring at a blank screen, hoping your client’s gonna give you feedback or say things about the project.
[00:15:17] So, for example, if you are sending somebody a wire frame of their website ahead of that call, before they schedule that call, you can send them a form that says, Hey, what do you think about the header image?
[00:15:30] What do you think about the fonts that I used in this section and this section, and then in the footer, how do you feel about the placement of these sections and the calls to action that I’ve placed on the page? Asking them. These questions ahead of time will allow you to have a list of the things that they are ready to move forward with.
[00:15:48] And then the couple of things that they wanna talk about. So you go into that call, you know, exactly what you want to hit on and things don’t divulge into pixel pushing or an unstructured conversation [00:16:00] where you’re just spinning the tires constantly.
[00:16:02] A final example of things that you can be automating within your client process is once a project is completed, ask for things like a client referral or a review that they are posting on whatever review sites you happen to be on, Send a request after they complete the project to give you a referral, but also to leave that review, it’s something that can be really powerful, uh, for your business growth as a whole
[00:16:28] So that does it for my three areas of your business, where I think you should be considering using automation and also breaking it down into how much automation for a quick recap of what to automate, automate any digital transfer of information or repetitive tasks that follow a set format and a set process, what I don’t think you should automate avoid automating anything that requires you to connect more than two to three different pieces of software or requires you to pull in more than [00:17:00] a dozen. Fields sets of data variables to make this automation work. Because in that case, things just get messy, things break and you wanna avoid that. Automation is about making your life easier. it’s not about making you go into Zapier every single day to check if your automations are working, that’s not an effective use of anybody’s.
[00:17:21] So that does it for episode eight of designing growth. I hope you found the information I covered in this episode. Helpful. If you did, we would love for you to give us a five star review on Apple or Spotify.
[00:17:35] If you didn’t find it helpful and you think that there’s something I didn’t talk about that I should have feel free to go on our website, send us a contact form, send us an email. We would love to hear from you, uh, because we wanna make this podcast as helpful as possible. And the only way that we’ll know that is if we, you know, get information from you.
[00:17:52] also get in touch. If you have feedback for us about the motion.io product or suggestions on things that you really [00:18:00] think it needs in order to be able to make it something that solves your problem and something you can use in your business and with your clients.
[00:18:07] As a final note, if you are interested in getting early access to motion.io, when it launches. Head to our website at motion.io/launch. Once again, that is motion.io/launch. Sign up for a launch list. We’ll be sending out free, early access and inviting people to try out the motion.io platform in just a couple weeks until next time everybody – keep it moving.