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One of my clients recently asked me:
“I would like to set up an automated system that schedules my appointments, tracks hours and creates invoices. I want to make it as easy for myself as possible. Is this something that can be set up easily and securely. If so, how can I do it?


This question targets an issue many solopreneurs and entrepreneurs are facing. It’s basically about how you can move more of your work from manual to automated and use automation to your advantage. Your motivations are perhaps that you want to free up some of your time, save your energy or even make more money.
Coming straight back to your question, it is certainly something that can be set up. However, I’d be cautious with the statement that this is easy to set up. It will depend.
It depends on how intimately familiar you are with the processes or sub-tasks of your business’ particular workflows. To illustrate, I am picking an easy example here, that of scheduling appointments with your clients.

 

 

 

What would be needed to automate such a required process?

  • A website that your clients can access to schedule an appointment
  • A calendar application that is embedded into the website which accesses your business calendar in real-time to identify free and taken time slots
  • Some kind of CRM (= customer relationship management, basically a database) that stores your clients’ personal data like name, address and phone number
  • A time tracking application that stores the number of hours you worked on sessions with your client
  • An invoice application that processes the information from the calendar, the CRM and the tracking application and prepares invoices that are ready to be sent off

This is a very rough outline and does not really identify the underlying processes. It only points at the involved applications here: a website, a calendar app, a CRM, a time tracking app and an invoicing app.

using automation to your advantage

I am assuming that in the first place, you have a website in place that is flexible enough to handle the deployment of an external calendar, or links your visitors to an external calendar site. Your next step would be identifying those applications available that offer the functionality you need for streamlining the process AND that you find acceptable to work with. In this case, it means a CRM, a time tracking app and an invoicing app that are able to communicate with external applications.

Business automation has become very popular in the last few years. Every major application today allows you to make one or more connections with external applications. This often naturally demanded functionality is called integrations.
Additionally, there are services like Zapier, elastic.io, or WeWiredWeb, which all specialize in setting up connections or hooks, which allows interconnectivity with all kinds of web apps. In case your chosen calendar app doesn’t offer an interface to your preferred time tracking application, there is always a possibility that one of the automation services can bridge the gap.

Is using automation a safe thing to do?

In another article, I have thrown light on to the aspect of saving your data in the cloud. The automation of software applications wouldn’t be possible if there weren’t a cloud, but I would say it contains considerably less risk for daily routine tasks than the storage of all your data.
The goal behind automating these tedious little business tasks is to achieve efficiency and improvement that can have a significantly positive impact on your business, and even your lifestyle. It can be the difference of making self-employment rewarding. After all, you have only 24 hours in a day, and things can get quickly out of hand.
When contemplating security issues, I would always question what the process is about. Should it really contain a significant security risk for your business, I’d advise you to use common sense. Fact is, all these applications do attach importance to making their usage secure. They are fully aware of how crucial these integrations are for their customers and I believe they do what they can to set the standard high.
However, that will probably not spare us from one scandal or the other in the future, where security holes are being exploited. How can we best protect against that? By risk-minimization: don’t send any data into the cloud that could backfire on your business one day.

Conclusion

For streamlining and automating your business processes, you will have to first evaluate the sub-tasks that amount to the process you wish to automate. You’ll also have to look closely at your technical infrastructure and how the applications you intend to use communicate with each other.
To prepare the setup of such an automated system, a careful itemization of all involved sub-tasks is needed. Also, be aware that the use of external tools for automation purposes comes with a cost attached, such that an evaluation of how much work and time would be saved is certainly a good idea.

Clients that consult me for setting up their technical systems really want to take their business to the next phase of success.
In one-on-one sessions, I’ll dive deeply with you into your business processes. Together, we identify the workflow(s) that are prone for automation. If you don’t use web applications that can alleviate your manual tasks yet, I will help you to select one and evaluate how the different applications can be best connected to create a professional and reliable system for you. After doing careful test runs, the system will be given back to you. Should this be your next step, don’t hesitate to fill out this little form or contact me here.

You can also contact me via this form should you need help with any of these tasks.

 


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