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Is Automation the Devil?

Automation and outsourcing are often seen as the enemy of us “creatives”, but today I’d like to present the idea of how the right kind of automation can actually free you up to be more creative.

What is automation?

As defined by Google, automation is;”the use or introduction of automatic equipment in a manufacturing or other process or facility.”

The very fact this definition includes the words ‘manufacturing’ and ‘facility’ tells us something about how archaic some of the general thought processes are on what automation can be. The word ‘process’ however does resonate with me, and if you can think of automation as simply putting a process on autopilot you’re on my wavelength.

Let’s face it, most of us are already using automation to some extent, it’s hard not to in the digital age. The most obvious is probably your Lightroom Presets. You use a preset to automate part of your creative process every day without too much thought. The process you have put on autopilot is a series of micro adjustments to each picture you deliver to your couples/clients.

I’m not going to start the explosive issue of whether or not you should think about automating your entire image editing workflow, I’ll save that debate for another day – but I do want to raise a few circumstances away from Lightroom (or Capture One) and a shoot day where you can create processes and thus automate parts of your business that would free up time. Allowing you, if you wish, to spend more time within your editing application of choice, on shoot days, or simply with your family.

TextExpander

We’ve written about TextExpander before, which I’ll link up to here. However, I’m still constantly surprised how often I chat with small business owners and the self-employed who don’t use this frankly, amazing (!) tool.

TextExpander must save me hours each week and it’s less than £10 a month. It’s brilliant from typing email replies to all kinds of things – if you’re likely to type something more than once, make sure it’s in TextExpander.

Other uses beyond emails are form filling; anytime I need my bank details I simply type “bank” and then I instantly have my details – anywhere, including on mobile.

Speaking of mobile, need the phone number of your sister? Simply type ‘sismob’, and bingo! Oh, and that card you need to send for fathers day this weekend, that’s simply sorted with ‘dadadd’.

Seriously TextExpander! It’ll automate almost everything you type – anywhere.

Zapier

There is so much you can do with Zapier, the simple premise is that any two individual pieces of technology that don’t natively talk to one another, Zapier acts as a way to get them to communicate.

  • Xero and Excel
  • Facebook and Instagram
  • MailChimp and Dropbox
  • Paypal and Gmail
  • Text Messages and Your Website
  • Spotify and Google Drive

I cannot justify in a few words how much Zapier can automate for you. I used to have the free account whereby you can automate 5 tasks totally FREE! I now pay around £20 a month and it automates about 15 tasks for me across my photography business, and here at PB.

“Give me an example!” I hear you cry.

The first thing I ever had Zapier do for me was to send me a text every time I got an enquiry via my contact form. I live by a ‘distraction free’ rule on my phone, but I’m happy to be distracted by a new enquiry. So all my notifications are turned off for e-mails, but to save me missing an enquiry I receive a text to say I’ve got an enquiry. Simple, but brings me so much peace of mind during my day. I’d highly recommend this as a way to get started with Zapier.

Some of the other ways I use Zapier in my photography business today are:

  • Auto-generate invoices for online print sales.
  • Duplicate social media content across platforms.
  • Email notifications for when clients complete a contract.
  • Add/remove clients from an e-mail list in MailChimp (i.e album sales)
  • Add enquires to an excel spreadsheet – to be reviewed later.

What will you do with Zapier? – let us know!
FYI; the customer service is brilliant!

MailChimp

As I alluded to above, I use MailChimp to automate some e-mail threads to my wedding couples. MailChimp is simply an email management and automation system that sends a pre-typed email to a designated recipient when a predetermined circumstance occurs. (i.e a given number of days before/after my clients wedding)

Most commonly I use MailChimp to send e-mails at given intervals before their wedding day to let them know I’m thinking of them, offer advice, provide useful information, remind them of things they need to do, and provide them with an easy way to reach out to me if they need something. If they reply, this response comes to my normal e-mail inbox and I can customise my response specifically to them – using TextEpander of course.

This not only saves time in sending what are the exact same e-mails to every couple but also means I never forget to e-mail them about something and thus I can keep the quality and consistency of my service extremely high – all whilst saving me a huge amount of time, and it’s free!

After their wedding, I use MailChimp to send ‘Congratulations Emails’, what they can expect next, ask for permission to share their photos on social media, and then later reminders about how they can purchase an album.

Let us know any further ideas you have in which we could use MailChimp.

Diaries weekly/monthly tasks

When putting this post together for you, Ben reminded me that automation doesn’t have to me technology related – he’s 100% correct! I’m just a little bit of a tool geek (especially free tools)!

Another way to use the idea of automation is to use your digital diary/calendar to remind you every day/week/year to do a specific task, examples in my diary on a daily or weekly basis are…

  • Follow up open enquiries
  • Meditate
  • Arrange pre shoots
  • Check my receipts
  • Drink water
  • Back up hard drives off-site
  • Check my e-mail junk folders
  • Batch Instagram posts

All these tasks I do manually. I mean I can’t expect software to drink water for me, or create my Instagram posts. Yet by setting out these tasks within my diary and being consistent about performing them when they flag up I am automating the thought process and freeing up time adn energy I can spend to write this blog post.

By simply having a routine, a process of a consistent approach to a repeatable task over time – you naturally have the basics of automation.

However, I’d challenge you that once you have that ‘same same’ approach to something it’s time to try and find some technology, or person, who can do that task for you – freeing you up to be creative elsewhere! There are very few things you can’t automate or outsource.

Ultimately I believe the idea of automation is exactly that; an ‘idea’ and it comes down to your perception of what automation is and what it can do for you. Often automation has a negative connotation and is associated with a lack of quality – sure it can be exactly that. It doesn’t always have to me though.

You don’t need to, and probably shouldn’t automate tasks where you add the most value – doing something that only you can do! For you, that’s probably turning up to a photography shoot, or staring at Lightroom, Capture One or Final Cut Pro. That’s what having a ‘job’ is all about, it’s where you add the most value for your time, but please recognise where you truly add value and where you don’t.

Then automate accordingly.

Photo by Alex Knight

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