Automation tools - what are they and why do I need them? This is a really, really great topic! This is something that I get really nerdy about. I love automation, I have started using it in my studio and now in this business as a marketing strategist. I really am always looking for ways that I can add more automations into my system so that I can save time, so that I can be more consistent, and know things are getting done and they’re not falling by the wayside.
Automation - what is it?
Automation is using technology to automate repeatable tasks, or tasks that you do over and over and over again. You can automate responses to emails, data collection, lead collection, lots more! Automation makes everything efficient, effective, consistent and so on. As you’re looking to grow your business, it can make scaling possible. With automation, you’re no longer trading hours for dollars, it allows you to multiply your efforts so that you’re able to grow and get more done in less time. Huge benefits to using automation.
Here are some of the basic automation functions: setting your email auto responder; or scheduling out a post on Facebook using a scheduling tool. Very basic things that you can probably use that you don’t even think about!
6 Key Benefits of Automation
1. Time savings for you (and also your customers) – Because you are multiplying your efforts, you’re getting the same level of work done in less time. And it’s also going to save time for the customer, as well (depending on what kind of systems you use). I like to use an appointment scheduler tool to automate calls with my clients, to automate trial classes at my studio. It’s going to save time for them too because they’re using software and booking a time that is convenient for them. I’ve already put it on my schedule as available so I know I have these blocks of time that are available, and they pick what works for them. We don’t have to email back and forth, we don’t have to call back and forth. It’s really convenient!
2. Cost savings for you (payroll fees, marketing) – You’re not paying a labor, you’re not paying an admin person to do certain tasks. They’re able to focus on other things or they don’t have to work quite as much. And that’s going to save you money on marketing.
3. Accurate information – It’s a software…so you’re removing the human element for the most part. Once you have it setup and verify that everything is accurate. The links are still going to work; they’re going to be the correct links, you’re going to be sending people the right dates, there’s not going to be any typos, there’s not going to be any misinformation that is sent out or given to people.
4. Speed of service to customer – We’re talking about customer service and I immediately go back to the appointment scheduling tool. That’s speed! Customers can schedule their appointment on the spot; they don’t have to wait for a phone call back, they don’t have to wait for an email back, they don’t have to stop-by. They know if they login to the site at 10PM at night and they can find an appointment and they book it, it’s done! They don’t have to make time to follow up and we don’t have to worry about following up with them.
5. Consistently delivered (tasks and inquiries not falling through the cracks) – Another benefit is consistently delivering. Sometimes when we get busy, things fall through the cracks and I know you know what I’m talking about. We have the message book and maybe there are some messages that don’t quite get returned as quickly as we wanted to, or maybe they get forgotten about or lost. Maybe there are emails that we intend on sending and then things get in the way and it doesn’t happen. Maybe there’s inquiries that happen through Facebook that we missed or that we don’t get right back to and then 4 days later we feel like it’s too late, right? So these things, depending on what automations you have setup, they’re consistently happening whether you have any hands on time with them, or not. Once you set them up, they go! There’s no forgetting, there’s no getting pushed to the backburner, there’s no recital week getting in the way of it. They’re just happening. That’s one of the things I love about automation.
6. Better connections (regularly connect with customers, allows you to offer high touch service, timely service) – This is one of the biggest benefits - better connections. As you are setting up certain automations they can allow you to regularly connect with your customers, regularly connect with people who maybe have inquired but aren’t quite customers. And it allows you to offer that high touch service; that’s timely, that’s accurate, that’s efficient, all those things that I just said. And when you do that, it’s providing a better experience for your customers; both new, existing, potential customers. Which means better customer satisfaction and that all leads to great things; better retention rates for your current customers, better conversion rates for your incoming customers. And ultimately that means you’re spending less money on marketing because you’re having these great experiences, you don’t have to spend money on Facebook ads, or Instagram ads, or newspaper ads, or fliers, or any of those other marketing strategies to find those new customers. Because you’re retaining and you’re bringing in those people almost for free, basically.
Common Hesitations regarding implementing automation
1. Cost of software
Automated systems can be free. Email responders - free, Facebook page auto-reply - free. Other things can be free depending on what level of functionality you need. I use a lot of softwares that have free versions - Just depends on how many functions you need out of it. Do you need text functionality (that might cost extra)? Do you need ability for multiple subscribers, or multiple appointments, or multiple steps to your automation (that might cost a little bit extra)?
But…regardless of what you spend… I have always thought that the cost is outweighed by the performance and the efficiency, and it pays for itself. Because I’m not spending money or time on someone to manually do all of the maintenance. I’m not paying someone to stay two hours later to return all these emails manually; automated softwares are still sending emails to my customers as well as inquiries once the system is set up.
Then you’re delivering that great experience which means, better conversion rate, better retention (which saves on marketing so I’m not spending as much on all of those things). I’m not spending so much money on finding students that way, and most of my automation tools can be paid for with one enrollment every month. All I need to get is one student a month and I pay for it, and if that one student stays all year, it’s paid for the whole year. All I need to get is one student the whole year, and my automation systems are paid for, and it’s more than multiplied what I’d spent on them. Eliminate that thought from your hesitations.
I’m not tech-savvy. I don’t know how to do it, I don’t know how to work it together. It’s helpful if you can find someone to kind of walk you through it, I will say. But…most of these softwares (depending on which ones you are looking at) are very user-friendly. They have tech teams on hand to answer any questions, and they film lots of tutorials for you, they show you how to do it.
You know how to integrate it with your WordPress site, how to integrate things with your Squarespace site, or your Wix site or things like that…how to integrate things with your Google calendar or your Google Drive. They have those things already in place or the documentation in place to walk you through it. And then, every time that I look at integrations on different softwares that I use, there’s more and more to choose from, they’re making it easier and easier for different softwares to speak together. It’s usually like an API key, which I show you exactly how to find and you have to put it in each software. It’s really simple, just copy and paste. An API key is just a piece of letters and numbers about 20 of them that you copy and put in different softwares - that’s relatively simple!
3. Overwhelm/don’t know where to start
Start with one task that you find yourself or maybe a staff member repeating over and over again. And then, see a part or maybe all of it can be automated. And that’s where you’re going to start to find that you’re saving time. If you find something that you’re spending a lot of time on or that takes a long time, has a lot of steps or something like that. If you can automate part of that or all of it, it’s going to multiply the number of hours you’re saving every week and it’s going to compound over month after month after month.
For example, there is an automation that you can setup where maybe you can save email addresses from new customers into an excel spreadsheet or a Google sheet that you can then put into MailChimp or whatever email server you want. Rather than trying to remember to manually copy and paste that email address for studio inquiries or something like that, or manually save that email address for contacts at the costume companies or at the venues, etc. You can save them all into Google sheet and then you have them handy or ready to upload into your mailing list, that’s easy!
Another example, maybe you’re having a problem collecting music from your instructors or you want to find a way to stream line - collecting side contracts from your team or your parents, or maybe new employees. There is an automation you can set-up that will take your attachments and save them to a specific Dropbox or a specific Google Drive. I think that would be super handy especially for music when it comes to recital time or competition time, if they can just email it to you and the attachment saves. I also saw that there was an automation where they could just send, you get a specific email address and you send your file to that email address and it automatically is in Google Drive - that’s like your Google Drive email address, isn’t that cool?
Third example, maybe you find yourself overwhelmed with social media and you don’t know…you know, from year to year you feel like you’re posting the same things pretty much everything happens the same month, or you just are running out of things to post. You can set automation where you save your Facebook page updates to a text file in Dropbox. You can reuse them later on, you can maybe sort them into months, or categories or types of posts, maybe you have certain events that you want to save all of the posts for so that you can pull them out and reuse them for next year; that would save you a lot of time.
4. Fear of losing personal touch with customers
I would say that this is not the case at all. I feel like it’s an assumption that a lot of people who aren’t familiar with automation or aren’t using it correctly have. And what I would say is, as you can set up and automate those personal reach outs or surveys that you might want to send or follow ups you might want to send. For instance, one of the automations I have is a follow up email few weeks after someone enrolls for the first time. You can’t set that up in studio management software, but you can set it up in your mail server. Isn’t that a nice personal reach out, that I never did before because I wasn’t tracking it, I never had time to keep up with it. And it’s a big job to have someone else track all that. So you could set up the automation and that’s a really nice touch, right? A nice follow up, and you could keep going from there. You could set up a 6-month check in, or a 1-year anniversary congratulations email or something like that, when that be fantastic and a great retention tool.
When you’re automating more of your daily work it’s giving you more time to spend connecting with your customers. Because I’m not holding up in my office or my staff aren’t busy returning so many emails and doing so many mundane tasks, they’re able to respond quicker to customer emails; they’re able to sit-in and chat with people at the front desk and not feel like they have to get this this done right away. They’re also brainstorming ways to connect with our customers or plan those events. So it just frees-up more time for that thing.
Remember I did a live where I was talking about creating space (I did this in the soulpreneur group). I was talking about creating mental space to come up with your next big ideas and your next plans and your strategy. And if you’re busy doing all of these tasks, you’re not going to have that mental space to come up with those great ideas, or you know, like I said, to connect with your customers the way you want to.
Different softwares I can recommend for trial students for booking trial classes are… Acuity (I currently use this software and absolutely love it); you can also use Calendly (which I have used before). There’s also Scheduleonce or Timetrade. You can look at those softwares and compare the prices. Lots of them have free versions or free trials so you could try it for a couple of weeks and see how it works for you and see what functions you need. If you don’t need text alerts, that might determine which software you want to use. You could also experiment with a test appointment and see how the user experience will be, what your customers will experience. Calendly is very pretty, but for me it wasn’t the right fit for the kind of classes in all of the offerings that we have. But, it works well with for a lot of people, I have clients that use it and like it. So, you could try that. Scheduleonce and Timetrade, I have not actually used. But I have heard of other people in the coaching space that I’m in using it for their appointment. So I know that you could modify it and make it work for your dance trial lessons.
The other thing with trial lessons that you want to think about is; are you going to be charging? Because not every scheduler allows you to charge on the spot when people book for those appointments. Acuity does, Calendly I don’t think does, unless you want to add a payment button as your follow up email or something like that. So think about that! If you’re going to be charging for your trial lessons, you know, $5 or $10 or whatever, you might want to research the functions for making that a possibility.
I hope you find this information helpful - Please let me know if you have any questions - would love to hear them in the comments!