Getting Started on an Automation Project

A lot of business owners have heard business automation can dramatically save time and money, but they don’t know where to start. In this post, I’ll talk about how to get started with an automation project.

The idea behind this process is to get you thinking about some of the details of your business both in terms of:

  1. the challenges you are currently facing and

  2. the tools that you use.

First write down a sentence or two about some areas in your current processes that are problematic. Do it in non-technical terms. Be specific about the people and the apps involved. Getting into the details of the current process we can save for later. Here are some examples:

At the end of the month, Larry spends two days day copying time entries from our consultants’ spreadsheets into our accounting system.

Our sales staff gets frustrated when talking to existing customers because their CRM system doesn’t have the latest contact and contract information for the account.

Now, make a list of the current apps you use in your business. Try to also indicate what the app is used for. It could look like this:

App Used For
QuickBooks Online Accounting
Autotask Operations and Project Management
Toggl Time Tracking
Hubspot Marketing and Sales
MS Excel Sales Quotes

Note, if you have an in-house technical expert, they might be able to provide you with a list of your current “application inventory” which will help you get started with this list.

The next thing to figure out is how “connectable” each app is. This can be tricky, and ultimately it may take help from an expert to figure it out, but there are definitely some things you can look for.

Is the app cloud-based? In other words, can you use it in a web browser, or do you access it via an installed program on your computer?

Does the app have an API (“Application Programming Interface”)? If it does, it means it can be interconnected with other apps. The easiest way to tell is to do a simple search (i.e. “QuickBooks Online API”) and see if you get some search results. By the way, you don’t actually have to read the API documentation - that’s our job!

Can the app send notifications? A notification is simply a way for the app to send a text message, email message, or other kind of message when something happens. This is pretty common; but you might need check the documentation to be sure.

Older applications, including desktop and on-premise software may not meet any of these criteria, but still can “speak file” (i.e. they can accept a file and do something with it or they can produce a file with data to be used elsewhere). This is slower, not necessarily elegant, but it might still be good enough to start building an automation process. Make note of this.

Also make note of any other details you know about, like:

  • whether the app has been put into use recently

  • any existing automations that you might currently have in place

  • other details, such as where files are stored and organized (if applicable)

Now your list might look something like this:

App Used For Cloud? API? Notifications? Notes
QuickBooks Online Accounting
Autotask Operations and Project Management we already use the QBO/Autotask invoice automation
Toggl Time Tracking
Hubspot Marketing and Sales implemented Hubspot in last 6 months
MS Excel Sales Quotes maybe (see notes) Each rep has their own spreadsheet folder. Stored on Google Drive

This “application inventory” is a great start! We’ll cover how to use this information in our next post!