Thursday, November 23, 2017

How To Automate Small Business Processes

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Many people know that some time ago my wife Julie started her own business called StitchTek Services, LLC when we lived back in New Hampshire.  Since then having moved to Tennessee, the business has started to grow and she has been posed with some challenges.  Most of those were many of the small business tasks that one person needs to do to run a small business with no working or venture capital to hire people to do.  Let’s face it most small businesses don’t make it mostly because one or two people are trying to do 100 things from sales, marketing, production, ordering, social media, and accounting just to name a few.  Enter the “Tek” part of StitchTek which is me who has spent many early morning, nights, and weekends helping apply technology where it can help with systems and automation of these many business tasks and systems.  Yes I have said before “Chris does not code” so the beauty of what I am going to share is you don’t need to code.  it’s about leveraging best of breed platforms already out there.

What Small Business Tools Need To Be Automated?

This is going to be different for every one of course.  For Julie I tested MANY different applications out there for specific uses.  The age-old, “Don’t drive a nail with a screwdriver” mentality is always in my head.  So what did that mean?  Well she needed tools for the following just as an example:

  • Book Keeping
  • Quoting/Estimating
  • Invoicing / Online Payment
  • Customer Relationship Management
  • Project Management
  • Graphics Editing
  • E-Mail Marketing
  • Video Hosting
  • Social Media
  • Online Storefront
  • File Storage
  • E-Mail
  • Website and contact forms

Now not all of these need or can use automation this list is just to provide some context on all the tools just her one small business needs.  It’s pretty mind-boggling when you think about it.  All of these tools are needed and used, and there is ONE person that has to do all the work in them.  In some cases data needs to be duplicated between systems.  I will explain that next.

What Actual Applications Did We Choose?

I will not go into the “why” we chose them at this point, but suffice to say it was based on usability, cost, features, support, and trial and error.  Ultimately we took the requirements above and landed on the following applications.

  • WordPress (Web Hosting and Contact Forms)
  • QuickBooks Online (Book Keeping, Estimating, Invoicing, Online Payment)
  • Insightly CRM (Customer Relationship and Project Management)
  • ActiveCampaign (E-Mail Marketing)
  • Google Apps for Business and Google Drive (E-Mail and File Storage)
  • YouTube (Video Hosting)
  • Adobe Illustrator CC (Graphics Editing)
  • Buffer (Social Media)
  • Shopify (Online Store Front)

I may in fact write some individual reviews in another Blog Post since some of these I have become a HUGE fan of.  This is just the start of the story at this point.  I can tell you we use ALL of these, and most if not all are cloud based Software As a Service (SaaS) and all are subscription based pricing for the most part.

The Key To Small Business Automation Is…

One word…ZAPIER.  That is the glue that can make your small business run like a much bigger one.  It’s like IFTTT for business and yes it has some free access, but we elected to pay for it.  As of today I have 15/20 ZAPs running on our account under the “Basic” Plan.  Initially they supported only a small set of steps in a ZAP, but now you can do some pretty extensive things.  My longest ZAP has about 7 steps within it.  The only DOWNSIDE is that you cannot do Yes/No Branches yet in a single zap.  So there are instances where I have had to split something into two nearly identical ZAPs to get what I want but you can copy and edit a ZAP.  I will try to do a single post digging into more about how I use the tool.

So What Kinds Of Workflows Do I Have?

I will give you one simple example that was the initial problem we needed to solve.  It has since expanded and gone much deeper of course.  Julie was putting customer information into the Insightly CRM, then needed to get that customer data into QuickBooks Online and ActiveCampaign.  She was also manually adding initial tasks for that customer contact in the CRM.  Additionally when she invoiced a custom project in QuickBooks, she was manually creating tasks and items back in the CRM.  So it was about customer data and tasks.

Note:  Insightly is integrated with QuickBooks Online so you can push a new customer record from there, but that was it we wanted to do more.

So one of the primary ZAPs that runs essentially looks like this:

main_zap

Without expanding the details it basically uses Insightly as the Trigger, then runs a few utilities to format data before looking up or creating the customer in QuickBooks Online.  Then there is a filter to continue before it updates or adds the contact into ActiveCampaign.  This is just one of the many we have running that does thins like:

  • Creates Sales Receipts from Shopify Sales
  • Sends Payment notifications on Invoice payments in QuickBooks
  • Project Update E-Mails to customer from ActiveCampaign triggered off new project creation in Insightly
  • Capture Leads from Web Forms and insert into Insightly and ActiveCampaign

If You Want To Know More

Just let me know.  I’m happy to help explain more, but I will be working on a few blog posts about each of the selected apps.  I may even think about building some video training content on these topics….you know….in my spare time so I may not want to give away all the “How To” aspects in blog posts.  If you think those could be useful let me know!

About Chris Colotti

Chris is currently a Field CTO for Tintri. In his role he spends the majority of his time talking to customers and partners alike helping develop use case architectures for the Tintri platform and software. He also acts as an active interface between the field and engineering/product management. Chris is active on the VMUG and event speaking circuit and is available for many events if you want to reach out and ask. Previously to this he spent close to a decade working for VMware as a Principal Architect. Previous to his nine plus years at VMware, Chris was a System Administrator that evolved his career into a data center architect. Chris spends a lot of time mentoring co-workers and friends on the benefits of personal growth and professional development. Chris is also amongst the first VMware Certified Design Experts (VCDX#37), and author of multiple white papers. In his spare time he helps his wife Julie run her promotional products as the accountant, book keeper, and IT Support. Chris also believes in both a healthy body and healthy mind, and has become heavily involved with fitness as a Diamond Team Beachbody Coach using P90X and other Beachbody Programs. Although Technology is his day job, Chris is passionate about fitness after losing 60 pounds himself in the last few years. Now he spreads both the word of technology and fitness along with the Team Beachbody Business through his blogs.

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