How To Do Automation Right
Devin MillerThe Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
How To Do Automation Right
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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first question that we always ask is what are the areas in your business that you spend the most time on right so we look for redundant tasks we go through that process of discovery with our clients to understand you know where the pain points are what are the bottlenecks what are the things that keep you from being more efficient and from going out and focusing on revenue generating tasks or providing better service to your customers right and we always start with that and what we hear is oh i i do this every day i do this over and over again i spend x amount of time uh you know performing this task or this activity uh this is my process for this and it's just so redundant and so those are you know some simple questions that you can ask yourself to get a firm understanding of what areas you need to focus on in the beginning in order to automate [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive expert i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where he helps startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat now today we have another great guest on the podcast patrick parker and today we're going to talk about one of the uh areas of expertise i like all of them but this one's always one that says especially near and dear to my heart which is automation so if anybody knows anything about the law firm i love to automate things i also think that there's a lot of times where automation is terribly and it doesn't fit so we're going to talk a little bit about when or when to do it when not to do it how or when it's right how to do it right um and get a lot of that how to get started we might also dive in just a little bit to talk a little bit about sas companies or software as a service also a little bit about customer service and setting things up for success off the shelf custom software and everything in between and so it's going to be a great conversation excited to have it and uh with that much is introduction welcome on the podcast patrick patrick absolutely devin thanks for having me uh great to be here and excited to have a good conversation about something that's near and dear to both of our hearts so one of the biggest things that we do with sas partners is is help entrepreneur entrepreneurs do more with less and a big component of that is going to be automation so as you know any company that wants to scale automation's got to be a part of their strategy when they're looking to either grow revenues or achieve any kind of varying magnitude of scale so just kind of want to talk a little bit uh like you said about some of the the pitfalls and and how people can internalize some of those foundational concepts around the the what how how and the the why no i think that's a definitely great area now i'll dive right into the topic of him and because i think that automation has a lot of great things about it and it also can have i guess it can get a bad name in the sense i think a lot of times people think of when they think of automation they think of maybe one of three things one is when they go to the store and they have to use a checkout stand and this is self-checkout and nobody ever has to get their most time it seems like it's breaking or doesn't work the second thing that they think about is when i have to call customer service and i have to dial the robot the answers i have to dial 20 different people i get to the or one person i finally talk with them they tell me it's the wrong one or one they transfer me five more times and then i get hung up on and start the process all over again or the third one is that they go and go on to a website and there's a chatbot there and they trying to get in connect contact with the real person and the chat bot just keeps asking is is ask their answer their question all of which are horrible customer experiences and nobody likes to do so my guess with that as much as a setup is that's not what we're talking about as far as automation so when you're thinking about automation i know it's a broad question kind of what should you be considering how should should you get started what are the businesses that you might consider that are a good fit and how do you even start to approach the thing should i automate at least part of my business yeah 100 i i think kind of along those lines let's let's start with what the challenges are right so i think there's a a misunderstanding about what it is where to start how to approach it right so you just rattled off a bunch of the the examples of of bad automation right things that that uh were not executed properly and and issues that customers have run into as a result right so so how should you start uh and i think the the biggest thing with that is really understanding and looking at the processes right going through a uh discovery and identification uh process where you are looking to see what processes you can actually automate right so it's the same thing if you if you put in uh bad data or bad inputs you're gonna get bad outcomes so you've got to make sure that the process that you're looking to automate isn't flawed in the first place and the best way to do it is to execute it well manually so i think that's that's the biggest challenge the second one would be not testing those automated processes right in the end so a lot of people have a tendency to set up automation on all these these various platforms and then they never really test it they never go through it as a customer they never understand the experience which is why when you call up customer service and you get that robot and you get bounced around 15 times you're just not doing that through the lens of the the customer and understanding uh what that that experience uh looks like and then i think let me ask you maybe just dive in and i know i'm interrupting you know you're good but one of the core issues and i said we do it i self-proclaim i don't know self-proclaimed sounds like it's better it's more it's more it's cooler than it is but one of the things we do is we do a lot of automations and the issue we always find and have some answers but is when you're doing automation it's hard to one and that's the same even as with software in general test for all the friend cases in other words there's a lot of times we have edge cases fringe cases that you think oh these will never pop up or they're not a big deal or we'll worry about them later and then lo and behold you launch it and then the first week you have one of those educations that you never thought would come up is the one that is and then it doesn't have the perfect experience right in other words you're getting some a customer that engages with it to them they're saying this should just work and why is it not working and you're saying well hey it works most of the time you're the one customer that it doesn't work well for and they don't want to hear that and so with that you know i know it's a compound question the other one that i always find is that you if you try and test so long that you're catching every single possibility it's going to take a year or two to get the automation up and going and you're saying we don't want to wait that long to get this in because it will help our benefit our business to offload some of the workload and it will you know be a better experience and you know lay out their reasons and so how do you balance that where you're not testing or not testing so minimally that you're having all these issues and holes in the thing and yet you're not testing so long that it takes you forever to launch does that make sense 100 and so i think the answer to that question is is pretty straightforward it's understanding what can be handled when automating processes and then understanding what to do when you do run to those fringe cases right so what we what we promote uh with most of our clients is as soon as you hit one of those those cases that cannot be handled uh create a ticket open it up pass it along to the right people that's the point in time where you need an actual human intervention right you need someone to pick up the ball and run with it so to speak and to make sure that that that customer is is helped uh throughout the rest of the process so i think that's that's the big thing that a lot of people miss and and you can literally build that into those those workflows with the understanding that hey i'm not going to be able to catch every single fringe case just as you said it can be time consuming up front but the the front loaded effort is all for the back end result right of of reducing the amount of time that you're spending and hopefully improving the efficiency of the actual process itself so that you can continue to to grow and scale and focus your attention elsewhere so that that kind of also goes back to the third point that i was going to make earlier is you've got to understand what to avoid automating too right so it's the same thing it's it's where you have those opportunities for natural human interactions you don't want to completely remove uh the human uh or the humanity aspect of it to where you have uh no opportunities to actually connect and build a meaningful relationship with your customers no opportunity to receive kind of authentic you know real off-the-cuff uh feedback right so i see a lot of people will do that and the other thing i see especially in sales agencies or in sales teams is they will automate processes that could have otherwise been used to upsell cross-sell and cross-promote other products that they have so they're actually they're actually losing opportunities to engage with the customer understand their needs and then continue selling uh into that that customers organization uh et cetera so again it's it's not just uh uh something that you can kind of blanket the organization with you've got to really understand you know that the how what and why so no i think that i absolutely agree and that's kind of one of the things of a bit through trial and error we found out but the our intent was always almost the opposite of what it sounds like in the sense people often think hey well if it's automated it makes it so you don't have to do the customer service or make sure you don't have to interact with the client i think that a lot of times the best systems are just the opposite where it's freeing you up to have better customer service or better interactions or better discussions with the clients because you're not having to do a lot of the what i'd say mundane or redundant things that don't need to be done or have a personal pass but because you don't have it automated now you're having to spend time over here and you don't have time to interact with the client as much so i definitely think that there are areas that can make it improve but you have to do it you have to do it correctly and have it thought through so so let's say okay we've got someone that's listening and say okay i think i need to do automation i need to it'll help it improve my business it'll be worthwhile and i want you sold me and i want to dive in and get going you started to touch on it but what are the ways you know how do you get let's say you decided that it makes sense but you don't know where to get started you know you start going out and fire hiring a specialist that does it for you should you look into off-the-shelf software hire someone internally try and do or you know pay someone to set it up for you how do you kind of go about diving in if you say no i think we need or we've decided we need automation but i have no experience with them yeah absolutely and i i think there's a lot of tools out there that obviously people can kind of jump on and and learn how to use relatively quick and easy but again it goes back to why you have people on your podcast right you want to hear different perspectives and get a foundational understanding of those different areas of expertise uh so you contract those people out or you reach out to those people and have them on your show to share their experience so same thing if you don't know something i always recommend outsourcing it hiring internally again there's a whole lot of challenges the same thing if you don't you don't know what you don't know so it's not easy to hire people uh for a skill set that you have no exposure experience to right so instead uh there's a ton of firms out there that would do it uh ours included but it's one of those things where contract someone that is an expert in the field and then start with the low hanging fruit so the things that we always push up front are crm integrations how to manage those relationships with your customers how to make sure that you're capturing lead leads and nurturing those people and then moving through into those other processes that you can get a huge roi with a relatively little expense so you know again a million products out there to choose from the one that that uh i love probably the most well outside of of hubspot uh which we pretty much run all of our businesses on is uh calendly right i remember when calmly came on the scene it was something that was so simple uh and a lot of people don't even look at it as automation right but it is scheduling automation it's one of those things where we've all sent those emails back and forth saying hey what date and time works good for you and then you respond back with what right uh well here's the date and then i say oh that doesn't work for me uh what about this you know it took all the guesswork out of it so something that simple is just a great example of kind of fundamental automation and some of the problems that it can solve uh with relatively little effort no and i think that you know it is one of those one i i i run my life by calendar invites and you know probably drives some people nuts or some people i know but i usually say hey if you want to grab time on my schedule the easiest way just go to this you know this url my whole schedule is up there it shows all my availability because i i detest having to go back and forth multiple times and say well this is time especially you have multiple people it's like okay i'm working with a client they have three people on there and they all want to be on the call and i'd say you know what here's my calendar you guys figure out what time works for you i don't care as long as it's available it's open on my calendar grab that time but it makes it so much more easy to not have to go back and forth and i know some people like to be able to just call up people and say let or go back and forth with the email and it displays so much time so you're preaching preaching the choir or even getting that low hanging fruit now circling back to one of the other things you said is i think that one of the points i i don't think is you they're just a specific automation or to the to that type of service but if you don't know where to get started you don't know what you're looking for in other words you don't know who to hire or if they're going to do a good job or if they're doing it terrible because you don't have any experience right so a lot of times if you're a startup and you're doing an area of experience hey i've done i have experience on this i'm just looking to hire someone on or offload things great i know if they're doing a good job or they're not doing a good job but if i'm saying hey i'm in a business where we really haven't done automation but we're getting the point that it looks like we should get into it how do you start to gauge if you i you know if if you're talking to someone that knows what there is they're going to help you to walk you through that process as opposed to someone that's just going to take your money set up you know set you up or charge you a thousand dollars to set up a calendarly account for you and say we've done a great job for you know kind of what are some of those metrics or how do you gauge that yeah and how to avoid how to avoid getting scammed almost right i mean the biggest thing is you want to uh you don't know what you don't know like i always say it's one of those things when you when you start talking to a company that either specializes in automation or say you're just talking to uh your marketing agency and you say hey i need a better way of of tracking these leads i need a better way of you know adding some automation to my business to provide better support to my customers whatever those things are most agencies are going to have a foundational understanding of how to do those that does not mean that they have expertise or specialize in it but again they they usually operate with tools that that uh enable you to at least uh gain some exposure up front right so i i think the the right questions to ask um are does this save me time right in terms of the processes that you're looking at automating does the experience suffer right uh for the customer because again you don't want to offer a sub-optimal you know a service or experience just because you're automating something right it should enhance that's that's the biggest thing right automation should it enhance the customer experience uh and reduce the the communication time the turnaround time the processing time et cetera so does it save me time uh does it enhance the experience of the customer and then what are the the outputs or the the outcomes that i can expect to receive from it right and so if if the answers to those three questions are not what you're looking for then you need to run the next thing that you're you're looking for is uh around those those same questions can those be accomplished and can they be accomplished affordably right because there's all kinds of different automation obviously we know it's extremely broad it touches virtually every industry but it's still relatively expensive just because of the multitude of tools so usually you're paying for licenses plus time uh in terms of of time of the agency or the the partner that is actually doing the integration so just understanding uh where those costs come from and again as long as the agency is transparent where they're spending the time you know you should be in good shape no and i think that that is definitely some good takeaways now i'm going to ask one or maybe follow a question which is you know the hard thing with something that you don't know a lot about is you don't know how much it should cost you in other words you know it's kind of like another area that's related to software development in general and it's you know i worked with software developers and one of the first on their side they're saying well depends on the scope depends on how much you want to do depends on if you will keep adding more features it depends on how quickly you want it all valid questions and you have the other hand you're saying i don't know what i want i don't know what i need to do i don't know how what you know what scope that is and so it's that kind of that you know push and pull type of a thing because it's um you know you don't know and they don't know different things which would be helpful to make the decision so how do you even start to understand are they let me back up so and that exacerbates it with because nobody knows they're going to you don't know if they're giving you a great quote and it's an awesome deal or they're way overcharging you and because you don't know what they're doing and it's kind of something that you're not as familiar with so how do you gauge if you're it's a relatively reasonable price or it's a good deal or it's a terrible deal i mean education education education right try to educate yourself obviously there's so many resources in the information age you can literally google it so you can compare competitors very quickly even when comparing quotes shop around but i think the the biggest thing is you want a partner that's going to educate you to some extent in terms of what the possibilities are what the potential results can be and then also guide you through that that kind of pricing model right so again the best firms are always the most transparent firms you know what you're getting you know what the expectations are because you're those are being set early on in the engagement and they're actually teaching you something that you can walk away with at the end of the day that's going to help improve your knowledge and help you to hopefully better gauge whether or not the results or the performance uh that they're delivering is adequate no i and i think that definitely makes sense now i'll ask one more kind of question just because it comes up and i've i've looked at it and had others that looked at it or had the question as well which is the knee-jerk reaction when something is that you don't know what if it's a good deal or a bad deal is you you go out and you talk with you know four three or four or five people or different firms and you get their quotes you kind of get their thing and they say okay which one's the least expensive and then you go with the one that's the least expensive because you're saying well they're probably all about the same you know they probably all accomplished the same is there a difference in the levels and i'm i'm i'm guessing i already know the answer but the level of service which is probably yes but how do you know if you're if the person that i understand getting education but the person that you're going with is providing you the better level of services worth the worth the worth paying more for 100 and you know that that's kind of the hardest piece to to know right and you know what i say there is is you kind of look at the the mean or the median right so if you're talking three or four quotes you get one that's that's outrageously high one that's outrageously low and then one that's in the middle you know it's pretty safe to say that the ones in the middle or the high side are better but those people usually have a better grasp for more expertise um but again it's uh it's it's all education so it's all going to come back to that you know anything you look at the same thing right if you're going to buy a car right and you can buy a honda or you can buy a lamborghini for example one of them is is made much better one of them is more expensive you know you decide which one but again it goes back to education and understanding the the kind of intrinsic value of those different products and why they're priced the way they are so the first thing you've always got to do is educate yourself uh around that process right around automation around uh pricing talk to as many people as you can there's a million different resources that you can you can uh look to kind of seek out that knowledge and then as you've as you've come to understand you know what you can expect to pay what's reasonable uh then you'll be better armed to make that decision so now and you teed it up right for the next question i was going to ask which is i unders there's a lot of resources out there you can certainly google it google sometimes is hard because you don't it's you know it provides it's sometimes the people that are best at seo optimizing as opposed to good so what are some resources or places that people can get started i suppose whether it's learning you know hey i can maybe i can implement some of these tools initially on my own see if it's if we're comfortable with it and then go to an expert or i can come up to speed and say what is or what are some good experts but what are some resources that people can start to look into yeah absolutely so there's a ton of great ones out there youtube is a great resource for it obviously looking up how to's around product specific automation we also are getting ready to launch a very big how-to section on our blog at sas partners dot io that you can check out as well to understand uh automation across a number of different functional areas uh everything from marketing to sales to operations to you know you name it uh so that'll be a great great resource for you to check out as well all right i think that's the great great places to start so maybe one more question before i wrap up with my my normal last question um so two questions but um with that so let's say okay we've gone through a lot you know as far as and people are bought in okay i've got i need to go get some education check i'll go do that i need to you know automate my business i think it's the right you know it's the right fit i've got a bit of an idea of how to get started now one of the other questions we talked about and it kind of goes into off-the-shelf or custom software and i'll even go back a little bit before that is you know are there free tools out there are there off the shelf tools out there that you can get started with should you when should you consider you know as far as what type of software what type of service you should get going as far as off the shelf custom free paid for any thoughts on that yeah absolutely and again we always push people to go the free versions right it's part of that learning process to understand what's possible within a tool some people look at that stuff they download a free trial they look at it they go what the heck is this right they have no clue where to start and again some of that stuff comes back to flaws and you know platforms but a lot of great resources uh especially in the beginning if you look at for example uh hubspot hubspot's got a free trial for just about everything from a marketing tech perspective right you can go there you can go to uh calmly kelly's got a free version for scheduling so you can can get a a you know a big return for free just by taking the time to actually understand what those tools uh can accomplish for you and how they can help you save time and and energy uh before even reaching out to uh an agency to actually help you implement uh solutions within your business so a ton of free tools all kinds have uh free trials it's just a matter of of understanding what it is that you're trying to automate or or what functional areas of your business that you're trying to automate and then moving through and progressing from there no i think that i think that i'm i'm always a big believer of you know the free tools may not get you to where you want or you but it also helps you to learn and discover hey this is this is what we need and sometimes you get the free tools and all we really need is a scheduler and if so then that's great now you have a scheduler that's built in and you can use a free tool and why pay for something that's free and on the other hand you may say no we really need something that's five steps beyond the scheduler and so the scheduler is a great start and you learn you start to learn and to come up to speed and get that educational aspect that you definitely and i think the other big thing is there you you can very quickly start seeing some of the benefits right i mean it's one of those things where again you get calendly you skip that back and forth it's so easy you turn into hubspot and you get email marketing with that and it's so easy right some of that stuff's so effortless and it's like okay what else and then i think that's where you know you can get a little dicey because then people get the the automation fever right they get the ish and it's like all right what can i do next what can i do next without really understanding so hopefully uh you know that's where the education and research can come in and and they understand what they should and should not uh look to automate don i'm right there with him i probably get the automation fever a bit now we we figured out and a lot of times we take it step wise and sometimes we talk it through and say well that would be a great thing to automate but the return on it's just not going to be worthwhile it's going to take too long it's going to take more time than it's worth but that also has come along with we've done enough of it we've got the education we've got a reasonable amount of experience understanding what that what what that would entail and whether or not it's worthwhile to implement so we could talk you know it's an area and we didn't even get through all the rest of the things we could talk about but as you can tell i love automation i think it's a great area if done right and if done uh with the with a lot of thought and effort put into it i think you can definitely help businesses to scale you know one of the things i thought was interesting is law firms are notoriously hard to scale most people say the only way you scale a law firm is that you hire more people and you keep hiring more people and you keep hiring more people you know you still have to at some point along the way milestones you have to hire more people but most times law firms never look at automation they don't look at how they can otherwise scale and make their their law firm have a lot they're a lot more accessible and i do a lot of things without just having to keep growing and growing and growing with more people and adding more people to the problem so i think there's a lot of areas like that are like that that people should be considering but with that let's uh go ahead and jump to the question i was asked at the end of each episode which is we talked about a lot of different areas of automation a lot of different things you could do when you should get started how you can identify people and everything else in between now the question i i have is you know that's going to be overwhelming if i was starting here and i had nothing with automation before i just looking to get started a lot of things i should get started on way if you were to talk to that person that's just looking to get started maybe their startup or small business what would be the one thing that they should or could get started on today yeah the first question that we always ask is what are the areas in your business that you spend the most time on right so we look for redundant tasks we go through that process of discovery with our clients to understand you know where the pain points are what are the bottlenecks what are the things that keep you from being more efficient and from going out and focusing on revenue generating tasks or providing better service to your customers right and we always start with that and what we hear is oh i i do this every day i do this over and over again i spend x amount of time uh you know performing this task or this activity uh this is my process for this and it's just so redundant and so those are you know some simple questions that you can ask yourself to get a firm understanding of what areas you need to focus on in the beginning in order to automate because people hate doing things over and over again right they want to do something new they want to feel challenged and so when you can identify what those areas are through discovery then you can start to look to automate those and so that'd be my advice for for anyone out there that's that's trying to understand uh how can i do more with less understand that that you've got processes that you can automate uh in different functional areas and just go to work no it sounds like a a great uh place to get started in other words identify what are the areas that you could automate or should automate or what might be the opportunities and then you can from that point start to look at what you know how you might go about doing that so sure well with that is as we wrap up the episode if people want to reach out to you they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you contact your find out more love best friends man always got enough of them uh you can check us out at sas partners dot io and uh if you are in search of automation trying to figure out how you get from point a to b how you scare your business uh and generate more revenues uh go ahead and book a discovery call with us and we'll be happy to get with you and help walk through that discovery and process identification process with you well awesome well i definitely encourage people to reach out i think it's a great way for a lot of businesses to one get rid of the monotonous uh product or items that nobody wants to do but somebody always gets saddled with that or that item but also and more important it drives value into your business and allows you to scale so definitely encourage everybody to reach out and find out more well thank you again for coming on the podcast it's been fun it's been a pleasure and uh for all of you that are listeners out there um a couple things make sure to like subscribe and otherwise share leave us a review and share the podcast because we want to make sure that everybody finds out about all these outfits or awesome episodes and uh learns more about air different areas of expertise uh with that um if you ever need help with your patents trademarks or anything else we're always here to help so you can just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat and we'll make sure to get you taken care of well thank you again patrick for coming on and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last awesome thanks for having me devin it's been great [Music]