Automation Instead Of Manpower

Last week I launched an interesting internal programming project that I had been working on for a few months. Whenever we run a sale or promotion there are an increasing number of things that need to be created and scheduled: a newsletter, a blog post, a home page banner, sitewide banners, social media posts, etc. All of this was previously organized by Mike in a Google Spreadsheet. If we wanted to run a similar promo to a past sale, at best we could reuse the graphics but everything else needed to be done all over again. The new system not only helps Mike create and organize the sale in one spot, it also allows him to duplicate a previous sale in a matter of minutes instead of hours. You click a button, enter in the new dates, and then the system creates an identical newsletter, blog post, etc with the new dates in it. Some light editing and then it’s ready to go.

Yes, this took a lot of time and effort that could have been devoted towards revenue generating projects, but the long term time savings of this system for Mike are tremendous. It’s hard to say an exact number, but sales and promotions was arguably his most time consuming task and now that’s greatly reduced (and will continue to be reduced as he builds a library of duplicable sales). He’ll be freed up to work on higher level projects instead of monotonous tasks, which no one enjoys.

One of the reasons we’ve had some success in e-commerce is that we’ve done a pretty good job of identifying opportunities like this and then implementing them just before someone gets burnt out or we’re in need of hiring extra help. It’s what’s kept our head count low, our revenue per employee high, and it’s a big morale boost. I think this is really important for any important startup these days, and it’s a challenge. You can’t/shouldn’t pre-scale everything for a slew of reasons, but you also can’t only focus on sales all of the time because eventually you’ll be totally inefficient and taking away from your bottom line with those inefficiencies, whether that’s in labor costs or the cost of missed opportunities.

You don’t need to be a programmer or have a custom built shopping cart to adopt this mentality either. Most e-commerce software has add-ons or plugins that automate just about anything you can imagine. All sorts of SAAS companies exist to help automate an aspect of your business for a monthly fee, generally much cheaper than doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it. Google Analytics, IFTTT, and other web services can send you scheduled reports at certain times if certain things happen, saving you time and effort. Almost any Google service can be customized and enhanced by using Google Apps Scripts, which is simple enough for anyone to learn in a few hours on a weekend. We used it to create a vacation management spreadsheet that also posts our time off to a shared Google Calendar.

If you’re looking for these types of opportunities, there’s almost always a way to make them a reality, and often more easily then you’d think.

2 comments on Automation Instead Of Manpower

  1. Dale says:

    Adam, I find myself with the same issue on a smaller scale. When I want to have a sale of something I have to remember all the different promotion channels to hit. I use Hootsuite and IFTTT but having the ability to apply it to a newsletter would be awesome. Any chance you’ll commercialize this feature?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Dale,

      That’s a good question. I hadn’t really thought about it, but now that you mention it there may be an opportunity here. Our version is highly customized for our unique internal systems, which has it’s pros/cons, but one con is adapting it commercially would require a decent amount of re-writing to work with all of the available software for newsletters, e-commerce software, etc. It does work perfectly with WordPress for creating/editing blog posts, which was a challenge and could be pretty much ported as-is.

      I’ll discuss with my partners…thanks for the idea 🙂

      – Adam

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