Case study: how we automated our sales process and saved up to £25,000/year
Chris Gilchrist of Hitreach joins us as a guest blogger - check out his blog post on how he has used automation within his business.
Why we're automating
In the last two years Hit Reach have grown from a team of three to more than 10 full time staff and one of the things that happens as you grow a business is you end up doing more and more "stuff". Stuff like admin and tasks. Not only is this "stuff" not profitable but it's often not much fun either and most importantly, it's time that we're not spending taking care of our customers, finding new business, keeping up with the daily changes in Web Design & SEO and making money.
By automating lots of small tedious jobs we're able to save tens of thousands each year, making us much more profitable.
How to automate without writing any code
There are services which make automation extremely easy even if you can't code a thing. IFTTT (If This Then That) and Zapier are two great examples. Both have free versions and are very straightforward to use.
Both Zapier and IFTTT work by leveraging the API access provided by many cloud-based services, like Gmail, MailChimp and FreeAgent. They then provide you with lots of pre-coded actions you'd like those services to perform when something you define triggers them.
For example, using these services, you can tell FreeAgent to create a new contact automatically anytime you receive a new client form submission via your website. Or you could have any files which are emailed to you saved to a cloud-based storage system like Dropbox.
Lots of the services can do multiple things in one go for you - for example, instead of just saving the attachment to Dropbox or Google Drive, the service can first create a new folder for that contact and name it appropriately based on details available from the email. Dropbox could then trigger another service to do something else for you, and so on and so on.
Services like Zapier and IFTTT leverage hundreds of website APIs, each with many triggers and actions you can take advantage of. That gives you thousands and thousands of combinations that you can potentially automate to benefit your business.
Our automation in action
To help illustrate how this automation works, we created this short video to show how we save about 30 minutes of manual tasks every time someone orders a Website Review from us - we could even automate switching the kettle on once the process was finished!
While 30 minutes might not sound like much time to save, it quickly adds up - we get about two website reviews ordered every week, so this process saves us over 50 hours a year and at our top tier billing of £100 means opportunity costs of over £5000. That's just for one service and one small part of the business - many more can be automated to save lots of time, money and hassle.
Limitations & Future Plans
The only problem you might encounter by using services such as Zapier and IFTTT is that a function may not exist to perform the exact operations you want.
Ideally our automation would have also created an invoice within FreeAgent rather than just creating the contact but the external services currently don't support that function. Luckily, we can always just utilise the amazingly well-documented FreeAgent API and build the function ourselves.
We've used the FreeAgent API and it's really nice to work with. We use it to produce custom formatted itemised billing for some of our clients who need reports broken down by Department, Project, and the Person who requested the job. We then work out the costs grouped by project, show who ordered each job and the total cost for the department.
This itemisation used to take us 4 hours a month to produce by hand, but now we just run a script and the FreeAgent API takes care of everything for us and produces all the Excel files.
There are so many cloud apps that services like Zapier can leverage that it's likely you already use some of them. Think about areas of your business which have lots of unbillable time attached to them and see which parts you can automate.
A desire to automate our processes is actually what led us to FreeAgent in the first place. We were spending hours each month just itemising our invoices, hours sending the invoices out one at a time, hours and hours chasing late payments and also spending a fortune on traditional accounting software and accountants to help manage it all.
Switching to FreeAgent saved us about 12 man hours every month which equates to £14,400 in opportunity costs, about £750 on the accounting software and our accountants fees dropped from £5,000 to £1,200. A total annual saving of nearly £19k and we no longer had to send out invoices and chase clients for money – jobs which none of us enjoyed!
- Video: VAT accounting schemes explained by HMRC
- Cough up! A practical guide to getting paid on time
- Hello FreeAgent, goodbye bank holiday envy!
- Team FreeAgent runs for Mind
- Business basics: how to price your freelance work