Note: This post is a guest post by Alex Birkett, Conversion Optimization & Growth Strategist @ HubSpot.
Business is an exciting game, but the truth is, any of the tasks you work on daily can be relatively mundane.
Startup founders and leaders tend to be strapped for time, wearing multiple hats, and yet there’s always something more meaningful you could be working on. Let’s dig into why you should consider automating tasks & what are the ones that you can automate!
Why should you automate tasks?
Think of all the random tasks that take your eye off the ball each week:
- Taking data from one system and moving it to another.
- Updating waterfall charts to show clients your progress.
- Sending and optimizing outreach emails or repeating stock email responses.
- Or, merely updating your project management apps with email updates.
The way I look at this is — the less often I have to do the boring stuff, the more I can focus my mind on the higher level (and fun) problems. These problems are typically more significant and meaningful to the business.
That philosophy guides me to try to automate and delegate what I can.
I won’t promise that this guide will feature any “blow-your-mind-crazy-hacks” or anything way out there. Still, it will detail what I consider a pretty fundamental playbook of automation techniques used by myself as well as other founders and marketers I respect.
List of Everyday Business Tasks You Should Automate
1. Managing a Recruiting Pipeline
Why do you need to automate managing a recruiting pipeline?
Between inbound and outbound, the various job boards, and the different hiring processes within a company, a recruiting pipeline can get quite cumbersome. Your data would be all over the place, and there is a need to sync so you don’t miss on reaching out to candidates or sending over an offer letter.
That’s where automation comes in handy.
Steve Corcoran is co-founder and CEO of LawnStarter, which recruits hundreds of employees every year for the spring rush.
“Without automation, we’d never get through the spring rush”, says Corcoran.
What can you automate?
At LawnStarter, they use Workable as their centralized tracking system but have several different screening processes depending on the role. When an applicant comes in, they answer a set of screening questions, some of which are set to automatically disqualify candidates, such as candidates not being in the correct state.
Then, for some jobs such as written support, the system will automatically send them a Google form to do a quick writing test. Once that Google form is completed, a reviewer will get a Slack notification to review the submission in a Google Sheet, and if it’s a ‘pass’, it will then email a Calendly link to start the process.
“When you’re doing this much volume, scheduling can become extremely cumbersome, so we automated a ton of that,” says Corcoran.
Specifically, once they hooked up Google Calendar to Twilio to remind candidates when it was time for their interview and reschedule if necessary, saved the team a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted in back and forth conversations.
2. E-Commerce Business Automation
Why do you need to automate e-commerce business?
In my opinion, the future of retail is fueled mainly by intelligent automation.
From inventory and shipping to marketing and payments, it feels almost impossible to stay on top of every aspect of your store without e-commerce automation in place. Anybody who has built an e-commerce business knows that managing these tasks manually is not only a pain but can result in a significant amount of revenue lost.
If you’re an e-commerce business owner, read on.
What can you automate in your E-Commerce Business?
- E-Commerce Inventory and Sales Management
- Email Marketing Automation
- Customer Support Management
- Product Pricing
- Social Media Campaign
Luiz Centenaro, the founder and VP of Ecommerce at Hammocktown, an online store that sells hammocks, shares a few of his automation secrets with us.
Out of Stock notification automation
Hammocktown has integrated Shopify with Google Sheets and Trello to notify when individual category pages have out-of-stock items. When this happens, a virtual assistant is tasked with populating those categories with new items, using templates set up in the Google sheet. Once the Trello card is moved to ‘Done’, someone can do a QA process in order to ensure that everything was done correctly.
Marketing performance automation
Additionally, Hammocktown set up Google Analytics with Slack alerts, which notify the team when individual pages convert lower than they are supposed to. This can be a sign that something is wrong on the page, thus disrupting the shopping experience.
If you wish to setup automation across your e-commerce store, head on to our E-Commerce Automation Guide for a detailed walkthrough of each automation.
3. Content Management
Why do you need to automate content management?
As the co-founder of a content marketing agency and as someone who has a full-time role at HubSpot, I need to automate what I can for my own sanity.
True, there’s a large portion of content marketing that can’t be “automated” (or shouldn’t be at least). You’ll still need to set up your blog properly, write great content, or hire those who can write great content. Some things can be easily automated, though.
What can you automate?
Here are some low effort automations with high returns:
- Rank tracking
- Influencer outreach for quotes and roundups
- Certain aspects of content promotion
Automation doesn’t have to be fancy or highly technical; there are dozens of SEO tools on the market that can tell you where you rank in search engines for specific keywords over time. My favorite tool is Ahrefs, but I’ve also used AccuRanker and love it.
There’s absolutely no reason to pull this data manually every week or month. Get a tool and automate this stuff.
Personally, if I’m reaching out to someone for a quote for an article, it’s not because they’re an “influencer” (the idea of an internet marketing influencer is still strange to me), and I don’t usually automate the process.
However, I’ve worked with clients who are producing content at scale and need to leverage experts for their networks (in addition to their knowledge). Some companies’ content strategy, notably, is based fully on this sort of expert contribution (G2 and Databox being examples).
Know how they do it?
- You sign up for a contributors email list
- They send out Google Forms for each article they write with simplistic prompts like “What’s the #1 tip you have for using Google Search Console.”
- You write an answer and submit the form
- If they choose your answer, they send an automated email out to all whose answers they put in the article and ask you to share the article.
It’s a minimum viable effort, but very effective — a great way to scale out working with experts if you don’t want actually to do the journalism part. The automations here is:
Content promotion should mostly be able to be run from a checklist, and a good portion of it can be automated. First off, who did you quote in the article? Automate the process of reaching out to them to ask them to share it:
- Pull their emails using an email finder tool.
- Automate emails using an email marketing app.
- Connect email app to your CRM and add this outreach as a touchpoint
- Follow up with further requests or communication if desired (guest posts? Collaborations? Link building? Whatever your greater goals permit)
Also, two quick hacks for automating content promotion: Revive Old Posts tool takes historical blog posts and periodically tweets them out automatically from your account. Isn’t that a great way to automate & generate traffic without doing manual work?
And if you’re skeptical about using paid tools for this, Automate.io lets you connect your Google Sheet & Twitter for free and automate a similar process. Keep your spreadsheet updated with your social media content & voila!
A bit further down the funnel, if you’re writing content & collecting email leads, you should be setting up automated drip sequences to nurture to a purchase point.
Essentially any email newsletter or email marketing tool is capable of setting up a basic time-based autoresponder, and almost all of these tools make their own signup forms. Go a step further, and connect your lead generation form with your email marketing app to nurture your leads effectively. Here’s an example:
4. Link Building / Digital PR
Why do you need to automate link building?
Link building is a slog, but it’s one of the most important and underrated parts of SEO. Even large brands with a lot of content can benefit from link building, but it’s rare that a company looks at this through the lens of efficiency and scale.
There are a few levers you can pull to make your link building more effective:
- The quality of the content you create
- Who you reach out to
- How you reach out to them
- How you track and optimize your efforts
The quality of the content you create is arguably the most important piece of all of this, as without substance it’s always going to be an uphill battle trying to get people to link to you. It’ll be a lot of cajoling and persuasion, but few results.
As to the question of who you reach out to and how, there’s a lot we can do to automate and make this process more efficient.
What can you automate?
There are tons of outreach tools out there you can use to improve this process.
For one, you can use email marketing apps that can do the job for you. These tools typically require strict permission-based opt-ins for their lists, though, so they’re a tough sell for cold email.
And if not an email marketing app, you can check out more specialized tools for cold outreach like Respona or Buzzstream. The only downside is that these tools tend to be more costly than “regular” email tools, but it might be worth the cost depending on the scale of your outreach process.
For a small scale & cost-effective outreach, a Google Sheet & Gmail would do the job for you. Setup a Google Sheet with your lead data and connect with Gmail to automatically send out emails.
5. Data Management
Why do you need to automate data management?
Many analytics tasks are actually easily replicable analyses that could essentially be automated with a good dashboard.
Analysts are a valuable resource, and their time should be spared for working on meaningful problems and pursuing important business questions. Creating a colorful dashboard to appease executives and pasting those graphs into a monthly slide deck is a waste of time.
What can you automate?
Here are a few things we can automate for data and reporting. These are our personal examples but you can go beyond this.
Connect Apps & Automate Data Sync
If you’re manually importing & exporting data from one application to another, you’re wasting time that can otherwise be utilized to gain more business. Let Automate.io do that for you!
Automate.io lets you connect 200+ apps like Salesforce, Facebook Lead Ads, Mailchimp, Google Sheets, Shopify, etc., in a 1–1 integration & multi-step integration way to automate your sales, marketing & e-commerce business processes.
Content marketing analytics dashboard (Data Studio)
Every content marketing strategy assessment we do for a new client ends with a comprehensive Google Analytics audit and a brand new, shiny Data Studio dashboard to track all of our efforts. Here’s what we typically show:
- Total blog sessions
- Total organic blog sessions
- Last touch conversions driven by the blog
- First touch conversions driven by the blog
- Keyword rankings and impressions (via Search Console)
And that’s pretty much it — it saves both us and the client a ton of time, and we have something to review week over week.
Automate graphs in slide decks
If you’re presenting slide decks regularly and they’re the same charts week over week, you can automate them.
If you’re using Google Sheets to create the visualizations and Google Presentations for your deck, you can link your charts into your presentations and they’ll update automatically. No one should be manually adding data to a waterfall chart week over week.
6. Sales and Customer Onboarding
Why do you need to automate sales?
Every salesperson dreams of an all-in-one solution that handles prospecting through onboarding. However, we also want our perfect workflow, which only exists by connecting various tools together.
What can you automate?
Take DebtHammer, a service that helps people consolidate loans. “Our sales process involves about 6 different tools which we’ve had to stitch together,” says co-founder Jake Hill.
DebtHammer’s flow starts with connecting WPForms to Pipedrive, the company’s CRM of choice. From there, they integrate Pipedrive with Twilio for SMS, Five9 for phone calls, and Drip for email campaigns.
Once a customer has been closed, the company needs to get paperwork signed and bank account info on file securely. They set it up so that when a prospect enters the ‘onboarding’ stage, they send a Stripe form to collect payment info and a Docusign envelope for the sales contract.
“When making multiple-step automations that involve an end-user, as a salesperson, the key is defining the central place that person ‘lives in.’ For us that’s Pipedrive. You never want to have a sales rep switching between 5 different platforms if possible” says Hill.
7. Customer Support
Why do you need to automate customer support?
I’ve made it no secret that I’m no fan of NPS. Its value is extrapolated far beyond what it measures, the scale is elongated to prompt artificial differences, and there’s really good evidence that your NPS doesn’t actually predict loyalty, retention, and all of the other things it’s supposed to predict.
However, NPS (or any other survey rating scale, such as Likert) does one thing well: it allows you to segment distinct users based on their stated satisfaction at that moment and takes action based on that metric.
For instance, whatever the question is (“how satisfied are you?” or “how likely are you to recommend a friend,” doesn’t matter), you logically shouldn’t treat someone who rated your service a 2 the same as someone who rated it a ten. Yet, most companies that deliver these surveys do absolutely nothing in terms of attitudinal segmentation.
What can you automate?
Here’s an easy one.
Take all of your detractors and route them to a customer support rep.
Take all of your passives and send them a follow-up question or something delightful to kick them up to being a promoter.
And send all of your promoters a request to give you a review or some value additive action for your company. They’re super happy with the shopping experience and they’re telling you that — they’re the perfect segment to use for reviews, testimonials, case studies, etc.
Tons of consumer mobile apps (think Tinder, Duolingo) do this, but very few B2B SaaS companies are doing it. You should easily be able to hook up your customer survey tool with your marketing messaging tool (e.g. Automate.io gives you an easy SurveyMonkey and HubSpot sync).
Automation isn’t a set of prescribed recipes, but rather a way of thinking about business in terms of efficiency. Some say opportunity cost is the most important cost, and when you spend time doing one thing, it means you can’t spend that time doing an infinite amount of alternative things.
Because of that, I find it both financially responsible and psychologically soothing to automate the boring, repeatable stuff. That way I can find the time to do fun and important things (like writing this article!)