If you live as we do – and run your online businesses whilst travelling the world – or you’d simply like to free up more of your time, spending less of it in front of a screen then here are some of the simplest things you can implement to help put your business on autopilot…
Plan out your ideal customer journey right from the start
This is one strategy I advise all my clients to do when it comes to marketing to new prospects and servicing clients.
Planing the end-to-end journey that you’d like each person (prospect and customer) to go through when they work with your business, ensures each and every one of them will have the best customer experience when dealing with your business and means you won’t have to keep reinventing the wheel whenever you sign on a new customer or client.
It also means you’ll be making your job infinitely easier by having all the necessary tools and resources in place and available at each stage, in advance. For more information on the customer journey/lifecycle, check out this post I wrote over at Freelance Switch.
Include all information a prospect needs on your website
To reduce the number of similar/standard requests you have, ensure that your website provides all the information a prospect is likely to need to make a decision.
This includes your prices or at least a ball park range so that a prospect knows whether they’re in the right ball park. In addition, a well-written FAQ page can eliminate many of the unnecessary emails you get which are simply tentative inquiries for more information.
Remember: Prospective customers don’t want to have to guess or work too hard to find out more about you or your business, so ensure you give them everything they need to make a decision to purchase, without needing to contact you.
Use templated responses for prospect Inquiries
For the times when prospects don’t read the information you provide on your site and still insist on emailing you, create a bank of templated responses that answer the most common questions and/or direct people to the relevant web page.
You can personalise these but you’ll at least have the basic info you need at your fingertips without having to re-write it each time.
Use sign-up boxes and autoresponders
Still one of the most common ways to automate your marketing (and also one of the most abused), autoresponders are a great way to keep in touch with your mailing list and put this aspect of your marketing on automatic.
Organise your blogging efforts
If you use blogging as a key marketing tool, there are a number of ways to optimise your efforts. These include:
Create a posting schedule: This helps ensure your blog stays on track with regular posts & content and that you and your business remain consistent over the course of each month.
Pre-schedule posts: This is a simple way of ensuring you stay ahead of yourself with pre-scheduling of posts (most blogging platforms let you do this). Prior to going on my “maternity leave”, I set the goal of having at least 2 month’s worth of posts written & pre-scheduled on all my blogs so I could relax once the babe was born, knowing I had content ready to go.
Maintain a set of back up posts: I have a number of posts which I call “back up” posts. I use these when I look at the schedule and decide I’m not happy with something. Whilst the back up posts aren’t always complete, more often than not they’re in an almost final draft state and need just a bit of polishing to be ready to post in place of something already scheduled.
Keep an image swipe file: One of the most time consuming aspects I’ve always found with this blog is finding a suitable image for each post. The solution? Keep a swipe file with images you come across for reference & future use. I do this in 2 ways: Firstly by using the web clipboard functionality in Firefox and secondly using Evernote to collate suitable images as I find them.
Create 1-page documents & document templates
Putting together the following 1-page documents means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you need to email out the following:
- Company Overview & profile
- Media & PR profile
- An “About You” profile
- A template for press releases
- Complete price list of your products & services
- Portfolio document ( as well as your website)
- Terms & Conditions including payment terms
Whilst most of us web savvy geeks would go to a website to find this kind of information, our time in Dubai opened our eyes…many business owners there don’t yet bother with googling or websites – they’d much rather you send them through a document that covers the things they need to know. It just depends upon your market.
Provide a Customer FAQ Support Page
As with prospects, if you typically get the same sort of support requests from customers/clients then consider setting up a “customer support” section on your website.
Depending upon the nature of your business, this could include screen recording videos and tutorials, audio downloads and templates.
Outsource your customer service
If your business model requires 24 hour customer service and deals with simple queries that require no specialist knowledge (or knowledge that can easily be transferred), then consider outsourcing this aspect of your business. Either hire a VA or assistant to do this specific task or use specialist companies to do this.
Set the *right* expectations
This tactic is relevant for the entire way you run your business – including the time you take to respond to emails, the length of your emails, the time taken to respond to customer calls and more.
If you know you’re going to be travelling, busy or unable to maintain your usual level of service then inform people of this by using out-of-office autoresponders or informing clients in advance.
If you typically offer a 3-day turnaround time, or you promise to get back to a client within a certain amount of time, then reset their expectations in advance if you know you’re going to fail to meet them.
Use recurring payments or get payment upfront
Chasing up invoices and customer payments is not only a time-consuming hassle, it also impacts your cashflow.
Try moving to a pay-in-advance model or recurring, automated payments. I know that many of you might say “But no-one else does it in my industry” or something else along those lines but it’s your business so run it on your terms and if people don’t like it, they can go elsewhere.
Believe me, I know how hard that sounds (and is, if you’re desperate for work/money) but it’s worked for us – and even for Jonathan in the design & illustration industry where payment upfront is not the norm.
Use online payment processors or forms of payment
Unless you have somebody who can pay cheques in for you, this is a MUST for a location independent business. Alongside the usual suspects such as Paypal, Google Checkout or your own online merchant account, you can also use a bank account which accepts international transfers.
To do this, you may need to find out the BIC or IBAN number for your bank and provide this to clients. There are usually charges to receive payments, so check these out before asking clients to do this and consider factoring this into your prices.
Personal Effectiveness & Admin
Identify & focus on mission critical tasks only
Here’s a harsh truth…much of what you do is probably unnecessary and wastes time. I know this is true because it used to be true for me too! I spent far too much time reading through my RSS feeds (in the name of research), pottering about on social media, checking out my stats (in the name of marketing analysis) and generally faffing around on the internet – and I know I’m fairly productive when compared to a lot of people I know.
Now I work to a flexible but defined schedule, and focus the time I have to work on mission-critical tasks only, saving the internet “faffing” for the odd evenings in front of the TV.
Using Automator (Mac only)
If you have a mac, the built-in automator scripts are super useful. Once you’ve set up the workflows, you can use Automator to quickly & easily complete single & batch tasks such as:
- Resize/crop/apply filters to images – great for processing images for blog posts, Twitter & Facebook.
- Batch process files – e.g. rename large groups of files
- Make scheduled backups of your files & emails
- Send out birthday emails
- Change image file types
Useful Resource: Automator – Your Personal Automation Assistant
Optimise Your Browser
If you spend much of your working time online, using online tools & services then how you set up your browser can have a massive impact on your productivity & ability to get things done quickly.
- Set your most commonly used sites to open in new tabs when you start up your browser – I have email, Twitter & my Project Dashboard (a Google doc) open automatically whenever I fire up my browser (I use Flock, by the way).
- Ensure you’re using the full functionality your browser offers e.g. install the right plug-ins & add-ons that will help you do your job. The Collections packs in Firefox feature groups of related add-ons for things like web development, travel & life hacking.
- Have your most commonly used sites/URLs collated in a separate “Daily” folder on your taskbar – that way you can access them easily & quickly when you need them.
Useful Resource: Firefox Add-on Collections
Optimise Your Email Inbox
I like to think of myself as a bit of a Gmail Ninja – my Gmail account (technically it’s a Google Apps account) is pimped out to high heaven and I regularly check out the Labs features to see what new, nifty things I can add.
Set up Canned Responses: Use this Labs feature to respond to common queries you receive on a regular basis. A precursor to doing this effectively however is to identify the main drivers of work/tasks that come into your inbox.
For example: there are a number of things on this site which drive & cause incoming emails (e.g. requests for advice, PR requests for people wanting to interview us, affiliate program applications, etc.) – much of the time a similar response is required to share the same information.
So I use a canned response which includes all the necessary information and then just personalise the email before sending it out. That way, I don’t have to write out the same information each time (perhaps forgetting/mistakenly amending some of it) & can maintain consistency and efficiency when disseminating the relevant information.
Set up Filters: Use this feature to auto-process emails by automatically labelling, forwarding, archiving, sending a canned response and more, depending upon the rules you set.
For example: every time one of our jointly-produced Location Independent products is sold, I have a filter that’s set up to forward the sales email to the author of that guide so they know a sale has been made. I also have a number of filters set up to automatically label & archive notifications, system-generated updates & other mail which I typically don’t need to read but might want to keep.
Set up Multiple Email Accounts: I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth mentioning again…you can manage multiple email addresses/accounts in just one gmail account – allowing you to receive emails to all your various different email addresses in the one inbox and also send mail as if you were sending it form whichever email address you want to (i.e. you don’t have to send it as if from the gmail address just because you’re using gmail to manage your mail).
Use Quicklinks: If you regularly need to access a specific email for reference or you want a quick way to reference particular information from within your email, you can use quicklinks to add links to any URL in your Gmail account.
For example: I have an email with frequent flyer numbers in my quicklink section, along with an email with projects & ideas which I add to regularly. It’s sort of in place of a “to do” list although I use Tasks for my daily activities.
Integrate Gmail, Calendar, Docs & Tasks: By integrating your calendar, docs & tasks into your Gmail interface, you’ve got everything you need in one place. You can see your tasks on your calendar & in your email inbox and access everything you need with the click of a mouse from the same screen.
Useful Resource: Become A Gmail Ninja
On their own, many of the above might seem like obvious, small fry things to do but implement them all across your business and I’m pretty sure you’ll notice a positive impact on your productivity, efficiency and ability to get more done in less time.