Freelance designers and other creative business owners only have so many hours in the day, yet we expect ourselves to complete so many tasks.
Have you ever felt frustrated because you haven't crossed off every 'to do' for the day?
Have you felt unproductive because you only completed 80% of the things you needed to do?
Do small tasks suddenly turn into long, hard tasks that take hours? Hours of time you could be spending on your clients, or on creating others forms of income?
It's difficult not to be so hard on ourselves. A lot of pressure comes with being a one-woman business. But we don't have to do All The Things. If we can automate some of the small tasks that pile up, we can save ourselves time and stress!
What is automating?
Automating is your new best friend! It's when you use a system or software to complete a task for you. It eliminates the need for you to be involved with the task at all, freeing up your time to be spent on something more important.
21 things you can automate in your creative business
1. Sending blog posts to your newsletter subscribers
You don't need to log into your newsletter, paste your blog post, add images and then send it to your your subscribers. If you use a system like Mailchimp you can set up an RSS campaign that automatically sends your blog posts to your subscribers when you've published them on your blog.
2. Publishing blog posts
If you use an editorial calendar to schedule your blog posts you'll feel a lot less stressed about blogging. If you use Wordpress then I recommend using Coschedule. It enables you to schedule blog posts as well as social media!
3. Social media posts
Gone are the days when you have to create each Facebook post and tweet just seconds before you publish it. My favorite social media scheduling app is Buffer. It lets you schedule posts to Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook (page and groups), LinkedIn and more.
Do you send the same emails over and over again? I bet you do. Create canned email scripts to use for your processes. In Gmail, I have a canned email template for every stage of my design process. This saves me having the write the same things to my clients all the time.
5. Pinterest posts.
Pinterest is the biggest source of traffic for most creative websites, yet it can be time-consuming to log on and pin things every day. My favorite tool EVER for scheduling Pinterest posts is Boardbooster. It allows you to bulk-schedule hundreds of pins in just 10 minutes!
6. FAQ pages.
Create an FAQ page where you answer common questions. I link to my FAQ page on my contact page so inquirers will see if their question is answered there before contacting me. It saves the inquirer time writing a message, and it saves me time answering it.
7. Support tickets
If they haven't found an answer on the FAQ page, use a support system. If you don't have many clients then you probably don't need one, but if you sell products (like Wordpress templates for example) a support system will organize the questions you receive. There are lots of systems you could use, like Zen Desk.
8. Feedback reminders for your clients.
My clients never used to provide feedback on time. It would usually result in their project going weeks over its deadline, and I'd be pulling my hair out. Not anymore. I use Asana to manage my projects, and inside Asana I create a 'feedback due date' for my clients. A day before their feedback is due, Asana sends them a reminder. Awesome, right?
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9. Invoice reminders.
Emailing clients to remind them of payments is just as uncomfortable as emailing them to get their overdue feedback. Once or twice is okay, but after that you start to feel reeeeally awkward. Most invoicing systems (like Pancake- my favorite invoicing system) will allow you to set up invoice reminders, so you don't have to feel uncomfortable asking for overdue money anymore.
10. Project schedules
I really recommend creating a project schedule you can use with every client. I shared mine with my mastermind group recently and was surprised to hear no one else really had one.
A project schedule outlines the timeline of the project. It shows the days and weeks in calendar format, and the tasks you're going to complete on each day. It also includes the days your clients feedback is due.
To put this kind of schedule in place, just commit to starting each project on the same day (eg. Monday's.) Then follow through with the schedule for every client you have. With a project schedule in place, you'll always know when to expect your projects to end. And with that level of organization, most projects will actually end earlier than expected.
11. Project templates
As I mentioned, I use Basecamp to manage my projects. Within Basecamp you can create a project page for each client. Instead of creating a new page from scratch every time you book a new client, you can create a project template. This will include all the documents, files and tasks you need in each project, and it will save you time having to add them for every new project you take on.
12. Instructions for clients
This ties in with Basecamp. Do you find yourself giving your clients the same instructions all the time? I was always giving my clients a PDF about my design process, instructions on how provide great feedback etc, so I added these instructions to my Basecamp project template. I never have to write them out again!
13. Client support
Do your clients email you lots of questions after you've finished working with them? I'm sure you're happy to help them, but does it take up a lot of your time? To stop receiving so many questions, create a client area on your website. Your client area could include all the common questions clients ask you + tutorials and videos. Since I created my client area, I've received a lot less questions from my clients, saving me a lot of time.
If you still do your bookkeeping in spreadsheets then maybe it's time to switch to using a system like Freshbooks? It automatically imports your transactions so you don't have to manually input them anymore.
15. Meeting reminders
Do you email your clients a reminder before your meeting? Well, you can stop that now. With scheduling systems like Calendly, they can book a meeting through it AND they'll receive confirmations and reminders through it.
If you don't follow up with clients because you forget, you need to automate it. Schedule a follow-up email to send 30 days after your client's project is complete. To schedule emails to send at a later date, try using Streak.
17. Complaint follow-ups.
If you receive a complaint from a client or customer, it's a good idea to resolve the situation and then follow up with them a couple of weeks later to see how they're getting on. To do this, just create an email template and schedule it using Streak.
18. Tiny tasks
You know those tiny tasks you have to complete, like adding clients to your Mailchimp newsletter, or creating a new project in your project management system after your client has paid their invoice? You can automate them using Zapier. It connects your apps and automates small tasks.
To make sure you never forget to pay a bill, set up a standing order with your bank account. A standing order is an instruction to your bank account to make regular fixed payments to a particular person or company.
20. Guest post reminders
Bloggers and business owners lead busy lives, so we sometimes forget when guest posts are due. It's totally understandable. To help out your guest posters, give them a due date for their article and schedule an email reminder to send a few days before the due date.
Has your debit card ever been declined because there's no money in it? Because you forgot to pay yourself this month's wages? It happened to me in January! Sooo embarrassing. To never forget to pay yourself again, log in to your online bank account and set up $XXXX to automatically go into your current account on the last day of every month.