Solopreneurs aren't just the captains of their ships — they're often the entire crew, too. They make sure the business is heading in the right direction and roll up their sleeves to get the tough jobs done.
For that reason, it's important to be efficient. Solopreneurs are increasingly turning to automation to offload repetitive tasks and freeing up space for more valuable work. So, let's take a look at a few key areas where solo service providers are gaining the most efficiency.
Solopreneurs usually look to automate their procedural, recurring tasks first. These can often be found within their day-to-day business operations.
Financial tasks are among the easiest to automate. A lot of time can be saved on invoicing, especially for clients whom you bill on a consistent basis. An accounting platform can help you schedule recurring invoices, send reminders, and — most importantly — get paid.
"Ditch the spreadsheets and manual invoicing by selecting a cloud-based invoicing system," says entrepreneur John Rampton. “Switching to an electronic invoicing system allows you to create and send bills electronically. This means no more waiting in the mall for a check.”
Expenses are another area where technology comes in handy. You can sync certain tools to your business accounts for better insight into where your money is going. Many tools can even break down your spending into categories — e.g. office supplies, salaries, rent and overheads, taxes, contract work — for you.
Tracking expenses could even help you save money during tax season. Business expenses can add up, and automation helps you keep track of all of it. "Given how easy some expense tracking software is to use, there’s no reason to leave this money on the table," consultant Vanessa Kruze writes at Accounting Web.
Professional service providers may find that more time is spent trying to schedule a meeting than is spent during the meeting itself. That's where appointment scheduling and reminders come in.
Scheduling platforms will help you coordinate meetings so you don't have to keep going back and forth via email. More than that, they can push out reminders to clients about upcoming appointments.
In many cases, missed appointments represent missed opportunities. Yet they are still a common drain on many a professional's time. It’s a particularly frequent issue in cases where clients are required to schedule appointments well in advance.
Data, contacts, and information are the lifeblood of many modern businesses. If your hard drive crashed tomorrow, how would it affect your business?
Backing up files can be a pain, but it's a precaution that shouldn’t require too much attention. Setting up a cloud-based backup that automatically safeguards your data for you is key. This can be daily, weekly, or whatever cycle makes the most sense for your business.
Over the last decade, it's become much easier to automate pieces of the marketing and sales puzzle. Technology has advanced to the point where automation brings real value to the equation, allowing business owners to create relevant and personalized campaigns.
Social media is a valuable marketing channel, but it can also be a time-consuming one. Frequent posting is a large part of what makes social media effective, which is part of the challenge for many solopreneurs.
Planning and automating social media posts can make things much easier. Blocking off a few hours to plan a week's worth of content can help you make sure that your plans don't get pushed to the back-burner.
"If you’re looking to increase engagement on your social accounts, it’s important to first understand when your audience is most active," says digital marketer Jeff Bullas. Automation tools can give you that insight, and help you schedule content at times when it's most likely to move the needle.
This is particularly true for entrepreneurs with audiences in different time zones. It can be hard to find an overlap between when their audience is active and when they actually have time to post. So, rather than setting your alarm at 3:00 a.m. to post at an optimal time, use automation to do the heavy lifting.
Many solopreneurs are finding ways to automate the lead generation and proposal-generation process. For example, they create a set of templates that can be auto-populated with certain fields. This makes the proposal feel customized without having to spend too much on it.
"It really hurts when you spend time on creating quotes or proposals for deals that never come through and in many cases you’ll never even hear from the prospective customers/client again," Aaron Brooks at Venture Harbor writes.
Successful solopreneurs don't miss an opportunity to capture leads, either. Many go to networking events, conferences, and trade shows to grow their lists of sales prospects.
In a recent PieSync blog post, content marketer Lucy Fuggle encouraged real estate agents to automate their lead collection at their next open house." Capture the emails of everyone who attends, send automated follow-up messages, and integrate with your CRM so you can keep nurturing those new leads," she advised.
Even if your prospect doesn't turn into a paying customer right away, they might still represent an opportunity down the line through lead nurturing. In many verticals, it can take a long time for a lead to convert into a sale.
"If you’re generating a steady flow of leads and need to take them through a sequence that helps you turn your prospects into customers or clients, then it’s time to start with marketing automation," says Brian Edmondson, writer at The Balance Small Business.
For instance, if you're a real estate agent, a home buyer might come to your website and fill out a form to download your free whitepaper. Then, you can send a series of follow-up communications to nurture that lead without having to manually draft emails each time.
Drip marketing is another effective strategy solopreneurs use automation for. Drip campaigns send leads or customers a defined set of messages over time, usually based on where they are in the purchase cycle.
So, for example, imagine someone signs up for a free consultation with a financial advisor. The provider might send out a welcome message as soon as people sign up, and then send out a series of tips and tricks emails to help them plan for the consultation.
Communication is another major area where automation is helping solopreneurs work smarter. According to research by Adobe, most people report checking their email “every few hours,” and the average person spends more than two hours per day reading and answering emails. For entrepreneurs with daily inbound requests for proposals, customer support requests, and/or offers, that time spent can easily creep upward.
As mentioned earlier, many small business owners are using email for drip campaigns to deliver valuable content to their potential clients. However, email automation can be used for more basic levels of communication, too.
If you've ever used an "out of office" response, you're already using automation. Setting up inbox rules will help you stay organized and on top of the many emails you receive daily.
You can also use email for simple check-ins to stay top of mind. These let customers know that you're committed to making sure they're happy and can lead to potential upsells or cross-sells.
Many successful entrepreneurs know that establishing a rapport with clients is key, and can be critical given the industry they're in.
Gloria Kopp writes at Agility PR how important this is in her field: "When you’re in the PR industry, it’s important to stay in touch with your influencers, even when you don’t have news or projects to share with them. This helps you to maintain your relationships with these individuals and can be as easy as sending them an email or sharing an article with them that they might find interesting.”
The key to communicating with purpose is identifying what will be most valuable to their customers at that moment in time. For example, if you're an accountant, you might want to use automation to remind customers when tax season is approaching. It's a simple yet effective check-in that can go a long way to ensuring your customers remain loyal to your business.
Many blogs and websites have contact forms on them for various business purposes. When a potential customer fills out that form, it's a good idea to automatically confirm, or "autorespond" to let them know you received their inquiry. At that point, you can even give them additional information that might help them through the next steps of your sales process.
Let's say, for example, you're a graphic designer and someone fills out a form requesting a logo. You might want the automatic response to include a download of your creative brief. This will help get the client thinking about the next steps before you even reach out personally.
"If things go as planned, your email autoresponder series will build trust with your prospects," says digital marketer Neil Patel. “Your messages will make regular appearances in their inboxes. And, you’ll be sharing useful lessons and progressively gaining mindshare.”