Freelancers are always so busy. When you’re the one doing the work as well as trying to run a business, there are just so many things that need to be done.
Take the example of a freelance designer. In addition to the actual design work, there might be gathering client requirements, quoting, invoicing, chasing payments, asking for reviews and the list goes on. Somehow you’re supposed to do all of this yourself.
But as technology evolves and more apps get built, there are so many opportunities to streamline these processes with freelance automation tools. When you automate something, it’s off your plate forever and you never have to think about it again. This is an absolute godsend to anyone that feels like they are in a constant state of “busy”.
When done right, automation has the potential to radically transform almost any business. So why doesn’t everyone do it?
The main roadblock to using any of these freelance automation tools is simply knowing where to start. There are so many possibilities that it can be overwhelming. To make it a bit easier, let’s dig into some of the tools you can use to get started.
No list of freelance automation tools is complete without Zapier, so we may as well start here.
To most people, Zapier is a way of connecting different apps to move data between them. For example, when someone fills out your contact form, they will automatically be added to your email platform. Or it could automatically create a project in your project management system immediately after a client pays their initial invoice.
It goes way beyond this though. With Zapier you can build entire workflows that integrate multiple apps.
That contact form example might become:
When a client fills out your contact form, if they ticked a box to indicate interest in ‘web design’, send them your design questionnaire through your Gmail, then add them to your CRM for follow up later.
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That’s just one example. Zapier has an entire ecosystem of apps with which you can build workflows. To learn more about how Zapier works and get ideas of where to start, try my Zapier tutorial.
Pricing: Zapier has a free plan to get you started. But if you’d like to build multi-step workflows, pricing starts at $19.99 per month.
IFTTT is like a simpler, free version of Zapier. It’s limited in the way that you can’t create multi-step workflows, but if you need to move data from one app to another, it’s a great option.
For some things, they are even better than Zapier. One example is the Google Assistant integration which allows you to make custom voice commands on Android.
It’s a great way to start your automation journey.
Pricing: IFTTT is totally free.
One of the most important skills you can have as a business owner is following up. Too often people send an important email only to have it get accidentally ignored or lost in the email universe.
If someone doesn’t reply to you, it’s usually not because they didn’t want to. It’s more likely that it got buried under a pile of other email and they forgot about it. We’re all so busy that this is really easy to do if you’re not the kind of person that actions every email.
Because of this, it’s super important to follow up with people. But because you’re busy too, it’s likely you’ll forget unless you find a way to remind yourself.
That’s where FollowUpThen comes in.
It’s an extremely simple and easy to use tool that helps you stay on top of your email. It differs from other tools in this space because it doesn’t require any browser extensions or apps – you just “bcc” an address like “[email protected]” and it will bounce that email back to you in 5 days. That means you can use it from your phone, computer or any device where you have access to your email.
Once you get into the habit of using it for any important emails, none of them will slip through the cracks ever again.
Here are some types of emails you want to make sure you follow up on:
- Asking clients for feedback
- Sending quotes or invoices
- Asking to guest on a podcast
- Organizing partnerships
Or really just any time that you need a reply to an email and want to make sure it doesn’t get lost or forgotten.
Pricing: FollowUpThen is free to start, but there is a $5/month option which includes response detection. That means it will cancel the follow up reminder if the person replies to you first.
If you don’t know what text expansion is, prepare to have your life changed.
In short, it’s where you create a shortcut on your keyboard that expands into a longer block of text (a snippet).
A simple version might be turning “lmk” into “Let me know!”
A longer, time-saving version might be turning “;nce” into a “new client email” that you send to each new client – no typing it out or finding a document to copy and paste it from.
Anything you type or re-use multiple times is a good candidate for text expansion, like:
- Links to your own websites
- Your email address
- Your booking links e.g. Calendly
- Entire emails
TextExpander allows you to include placeholders in your snippets. When you expand an email, you might have fields like the client’s name and business name that are automatically populated into the email.
Pricing: TextExpander starts at $3.33 per month
Sanebox is an email tool that plugs into your Gmail, Office 365 or icloud email.
It identifies your important email and tries to filter everything else out into folders. For example, newsletters would end up in a folder called SaneLater. Receipts and notifications end up in a folder called SaneBulk. That way you can scan those folders once a day instead of their contents polluting your already-busy inbox.
Over time you can train it so it learns which folders that each type of email should go.
It also has several other features like:
- Do not disturb – schedule breaks from email
- Follow up reminders
- Snooze emails
Pricing: SaneBox starts at $59/year
One of the worst bottlenecks in a freelance business is getting the information you need from clients. Most people revert to email, forms or Google Docs to collect questionnaires or website content from clients.
Those tools seem simple enough, but often break down into chaos and end up costing you dearly. Constantly chasing clients and collating content from multiple tools takes time – often more than you realise.
Content Snare is a single location for all the info & content you need from clients. It’s easy for them to access, add content and upload files on their own schedule. If they take too long it will remind them so you don’t have to.
- Automatic client reminders
- Simple client portal
- Dashboard for all your client content
- Content approval and change requests
- Reusable templates
Pricing: Content Snare starts at $9/month
AirTable is a special category of tool. It’s easiest to think of it as a spreadsheet on steroids that can help you organize just about anything.
Instead of having just simple text or number columns that you’d expect on a normal spreadsheet, you can add columns that contain almost any kind of data, like:
- File attachments
And so many more. But then you can easily group and filter the data based on just about any criteria. You can even switch over to Kanban view, similar to Trello.
It’s amazing for all kinds of processes, like:
- Tracking blog posts & promotional activities
- Managing contractors or job applications
- Planning online courses
Pricing: AirTable has a free account that can handle quite a lot, but it starts at $10 if you need to upgrade. You may also want to take a look at these AirTable alternatives.
If you work with video or audio in your freelance business, Auphonic can save you time.
Normally to make audio sound better, there are a range of filters and tools that have to be run manually in audio editing software. Auphonic does all of that automatically in the cloud. It also makes it easy for those of us that don’t care to learn the ins and outs of audio editing.
With one click Auphonic can pick up audio from your Google Drive or Dropbox, process it and add an introduction and outro. This is invaluable if you host or edit podcasts for your clients.
Pricing: Auphonic allows you to process 2 hours of audio per month for free. You can add one-time credits or start on the $11/month plan for 9 hours of audio.
Automation ideas to get you started
Using the freelance automation tools above is only the start. To really begin saving time, you have to know how to use them and build an understanding of what kinds of things you can automate.
Since most people struggle the most with just getting started, here are a few ideas to kick off your automation journey.
One of the best opportunities for automation is identifying data that you handle more than once. Here are some easy opportunities for automation.
Updating contact info in multiple systems
When you get a new client, you probably need their info in multiple systems. Those include accounting, CRM, project management, etc.
Social media posting
If you ever want to post similar things on multiple social channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube, it’s tedious to open each one individually and copy the content in.
Anything that results in lots of back-and-forth is a great opportunity for automation.
Finding a time that works to chat when participants are in different timezones is one of the most annoying and unnecessary email trails.
Booking systems like Calendly eliminate this and make it easier for everyone involved.
Collecting information or content
Chasing clients for information, website content or digital assets can result in enormous email trails. Some get so big that gmail even struggles to load them.
Platforms like Content Snare or even simple forms tools can help streamline this for both you and your clients.
Anything being done over and over when it can be automated should be automated. It’s just wasted time. This doesn’t mean you have to ditch all personalization – you can simply add some automation to tasks that require personalization.
Sending similar emails
If you send emails that have similar content regularly, you can partially-automate the process. For example, if you have a new client onboarding email that is mostly the same, but needs to be tweaked for each client.
Use a tool like TextExpander to create a quick keyboard shortcut that automatically pastes the email body into your email editor ready for tweaks.
Setting up new websites
When you build websites for clients, there are probably a bunch of plugins, settings and tools that you need to set up every time.
Instead create a starter site with everything ready to go and clone it when you start a new project. Tools like UpdraftPlus can help with the cloning, but many WordPress hosts have a clone function built right into their dashboard.
Things you forget to do
When you’re busy, it’s easy to forget tasks that you know you should be doing. Automation can help prompt you to do them, or deliver the info you need directly into whatever system you work in.
Check on new leads
If you have people signing up for a lead magnet on your website, it’s probably delivered automatically. If you don’t manually check who has signed up recently, you could miss an important prospect.
Tools like Zapier can “roll up” all your new leads each day into a task that drops right into your task management system for you to glance over at the start or end of a day. Check out “Digest by Zapier” for this.
Social media mentions
If someone mentions you or your brand on social media or on their website, you won’t get a notification if they don’t tag you. But these can be an important opportunity to build relationships.
Kicking off your automation journey
As you’ve seen, there are so many opportunities to begin automating parts of your business. It is one of the best things you can do to begin clawing back some of your time to work on more important things, or to not work at all.
If you’re not sure if you should spend the time learning and implementing automation, try to think of it like investment. If you were investing money, you might put some away into a fund that returns a certain percentage each year.
With automation, you invest some of your time now, and it gives you a bit of your time back every month, week or even day. Eventually, your initial time investment is paid off and it becomes free time.
Do this enough times and you can be saving 100+ hours per month doing things you probably don’t want to do anyway.
To get started, look into any of the freelance automation tools above and see if there is a way you can use them in your business.
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