Are robots, artificial intelligence platforms and automation tools on the brink of rendering you obsolete? The jury’s out on that tricky question, but until tech reveals that it’s out to get us, it has plenty of help to offer. As time goes on and the tools advance in their capabilities, automation is becoming increasingly useful in all areas of our lives – and no matter what type of work we do.
For freelancers, the automation trend is a major game-changer. Many automation technologies have been around for several year, if not decades, but only recently have they started to be accessible to those of us who don’t have the same resources as multinational corporations. The rise of software as a service (SaaS), apps that reside fully in the cloud, has given independent workers more tools to work with, increased efficiency, with more options for automating processes and more opportunities to integrate systems with one another. Many of these tools are free, no less, or at least come in free versions.
How Automation Helps Freelancers
People seem to be somewhat obsessed with both tech and productivity lately, especially those of us who are in charge of our own work schedules. Automation is essentially tech that enhances productivity, so it makes sense that so many freelancers would be attracted to it.
When you automate a business process that had previously been overseen by people, you reduce the problems that can occur due to human error. By automating, moreover, you’re making tasks that much more scalable – more or less infinitely so. Basically, for the solopreneur, who is challenged by bandwidth bottlenecks, automation unlocks new opportunities for business growth.
Several powerful automation tools are available to address a litany of business administration processes, allowing the cunning freelancer to “set it and forget it.” As a result of the increased efficiency, you’ll have that much more time to chase after new business, and, of course, that much more time to do the actual tasks that you’ve already been hired to do. Wouldn’t you rather knock your clients’ socks off than get mired in endless busy work?
Here’s the lowdown on three automation tools that are particularly useful to freelancers.
Automated Data Pushes with Zapier
An integration platform, Zapier offers the means to create connections between over 400 different apps. What does “integration” mean in this context? Basically, Zapier users can set up “zaps,” which stipulate that every time an event takes place on one app, the relevant data gets pushed from that app to another.
For example, let’s say you’ve published a blog post about a new service plan you’re offering, and now you want to share it on Twitter and Facebook. Rather than do all that manually, you can set up a zap that automatically shares every new post on your blog to the social channels of your choice.
Zapier is particularly useful for freelancers, though, because it can be used for much more than social media. You can set up zaps to automate email alerts (or texts, spreadsheet rows, or anything else) when gig listings with specific criteria appear on LinkedIn or AngelList. You can create a client onboarding questionnaire (using Google Forms or any number of other form tools) with fields for contact details, project details, goals, preferences, etc., and then zap the data over to your CRM, email marketing subscriber list, project management platform or billing system.
Automated Client Collections with Invoice Ninja
Invoice Ninja differentiates itself from other invoicing and billing apps for small businesses and freelancers in a number of ways – it’s open-source, supports self-hosting, integrates with dozens of payment gateways, operates with a snazzy real-time pdf editor and offers the most full-featured free plan of anyone in the category.
But where Invoice Ninja truly stands out from the pack is with its native automation functions. After all, who wants deal with the logistics of billing and collections from clients? You want to get paid, of course, but turning to clients and asking for it? Even when it’s as smooth as possible, it feels awkward to many of us. Invoice Ninja can be set to automatically send late payment reminders to your clients, so you can send a robot to handle the unpleasantries.
If you work with clients on a subscription service basis, you can also set the app to auto-bill them each month. Not enough automation for you? Invoice Ninja is on Zapier too, so you can easily set it up for cross-platform data pushes to hundreds of other apps.
Automated Productivity Reporting with RescueTime
Remember when everyone was all up in arms a few months ago over Microsoft’s tracking user activity on Windows 10? What if you were able to track your own activity across all devices, websites and apps and correlate that with your productivity goals? What if you leveraged these capabilities and harnessed the information to improve your life?
RescueTime does that for you – or at least it gathers the data and packages it in a useful way. No guarantees for an improved life. RescueTime operates fully in the background, on an automated basis. You’ll never even know it’s there, until you receive your free weekly productivity report via email.
The platform works with goals, which are based on quotas for distracted vs. productive hours spent per day. These parameters are based on settings that you can tweak per site or app. Once you have that report, you can easily see where your day truly goes and make changes accordingly. For freelancers who are monitoring their time both for billing purposes and for their own desire for increased productivity, this tool is a boon.
Once again, the world of technology has huge potential to ease the lives of freelancers, enabling us to spend far less time on the administrative overhead tasks that accrue when running your own business. Try them out, and see how they can help you to improve your own workflows.