The Problem with Automation

I get a lot of general questions about automation and scalability from first time entrepreneurs.

People who already have a lifestyle businesses don’t use those words as much. If you already have a business, you are more likely using terms like ‘hiring somebody,’ ‘building a product,’ or ‘evaluating tools or services’ to employ.

An over-focus on automation and scalability from day one will hurt your chances of getting a business off the ground. Getting your hands dirty with the nuts and bolts of every transaction and customer is critical to understanding your market and business.

9 times out of 10, an ‘automation mindset’ is unnecessary during your first year in business. I see people going nuts trying to develop automation plans and software systems for businesses that generate less than a 100 grand a year or haven’t launched yet.

In those cases you’d probably do better with a coffee or two than with ‘automation.’

A few weeks ago I was browsing a membership site that generates 100’s of thousands of dollars annually. It has 100’s of members. As far as I could tell, none if it’s payment systems were automated.

So what’s up with all the talk of ‘you can’t interact with your prospects because it doesn’t scale?’

My guess: automation, and “automated business models,” has been co-opted by online marketers and presented to noobs as business opportunities. Bleh.

“Build a Scalable Business That Makes Money While You Sleep!!!!” and so on…

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How to (Really) Automate Your Business

  1. Identify and understand a repeatable process that generates income. You’ll be more successful doing this if you do it yourself. It’s difficult to do with contract firms, eg, hiring some developers in India or Indiana to build you a web application.
  2. Identify something you’d rather be doing (this is the hardest part…). Some examples: building your next product or service, Starting a non-profit, going traveling, playing in a rock band, writing a novel, catching up on the Sopranos, writing a blog, founding a start-up, etc.
  3. Because you can’t help but to free your time up for that new thing, put somebody else in charge of that process. In many cases it could be a piece of software or a third party service firm.

I’m not trying to be cute: I haven’t been impressed with more than a handful of automation trips, techniques, systems, or tools ever. Most of them are relatively simple and hyper specific to particular businesses.

The real trick is finding something better to do. If you are motivated to do so, finding other folks to take care of your business is relatively easy.

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90% of business folks who I hear struggling to get themselves out of their business are actually struggling with finding something better to do.

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Marketing speak about automation mostly hurts aspiring entrepreneurs.

It makes them put up auto-responder emails to prospects they haven’t cultivated. It inspires them to omit phone numbers on their websites because “they don’t want to pick up the phone.” It prevents them from launching a consulting product 6 months before their membership site ships because “consulting doesn’t scale.”

It inspires them to ‘automate’ cash flows they haven’t started yet and don’t fully understand.

The way to start a successful business is to pick up the phone fast and respond to emails within a few hours. If you want to stay in business, you should consider doing it forever. Just because you don’t want to be Johnny-on-the-spot for the rest of your life doesn’t mean your business shouldn’t be.

If I would have insisted on an “automted cash machine” setup from the outset of my business I probably would still have a job. Talking to customers and doing the dirty work was critical for me to understand what I was doing.

Because I un-automated my business, I was able to hire somebody to take care of it for me. That person is also smarter and better at it than me.

It happens. If you’ve got something better to do….

Meanwhile, on a tropical island somewhere, I’m doing such a volume of un-automated grunt that automation marketers would *gasp* in horror.

So it goes!


PS, I know this article is a bit sloppy conceptually, your critical thoughts and automation resources welcomed!

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