Automagic for the people
Automagic. (/ˌɔːtəˈmædʒɪk/) n. A process carried out automatically in such a clever way that the result appears to be magic.
An early work experience stint in the late 80s - 1987 to be precise - saw me shirking in two departments, IT and media bookings & cuttings. A rant about how cutting and pasting actually meant something in those days is tempting, but I'll hop over that and describe another equally antiquated practice: the job bag.
The job bag was literally a brown envelope that contained a project in physical form - usually an advertisement for a client - with all the documentation, letters, artwork, bills and receipts stuffed inside. They were kept in separate boxes for each client, and ranged from slim packets to bulging, dog eared numbers with splits and tape repairs. They had a unique job number written on the front in heavy black marker, and would often come with attachments taped to the back.
Laughable now, but at the time they worked well. Of course, job bags would go AWOL causing intense panics, and you couldn't back them up in any way. But they were simple, and the person or team working on the project would simply hand it over to the next person or file it back in the box when their work on it had finished.
Today, we're swimming in information. Drowning even. Keeping track of the myriad of documents and emails becomes a frantic exercise in staying afloat. But unless you're a naturally organised person (I'm not), keeping your head above the surface can seriously eat into time and energy. Thankfully there's an app for that.
Several web apps, to be more precise. And cunningly, a couple of them can be used to link the other ones together in fun, interesting and surprisingly productive ways. Whilst large agencies may pay many thousands of pounds a month for integrated business systems, similar effects can be achieved by smaller businesses at a fraction of the cost, using free or low-cost tier cloud services.
Of course, it does involve rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck into some business automation DIY. But if you use any of the mass of online services, like Google Docs, Forms or Sheets, SurveyMonkey, MailChimp, Asana, Monday.com, Slack, or Gmail (to name a few), then you might want to take a look at these two: Zapier.com and tray.io.
Both these services (and there are certainly others) allow you to link your existing cloud resources together in helpful ways. In our office we have, for example, an internal form for creating new projects. Using Zapier, completing this form now automagically populates our project management system with the appropriate data, creates new folders in a well organised file system and puts blank, shared drafts with logical names into our cloud storage. And when it's all done, we're all notified on our messaging app that the project is now live and requires attention.
Zapier (it rhymes with 'happier', apparently) is the easiest service to grasp and the easiest to get started with quickly. Its click and drag interface is simple and intuitive and you can create a 'Zap' in next to no time. The free tier service allows you to link a trigger on one platform (e.g. a form being filled) to an action (sending an email, creating a new invoice) on another. Once you've experienced how useful this is, you'll be tempted by the paid tier service which allows several actions with complex logic to be triggered.
Tray.io is more capable and intelligent, faster, and yes, more expensive. Tray.io might be something to look at if you find that Zapier is cramping your style and you have deeper pockets.
It could take a few hours of trial and error to make even a small part of your business automagic like this. But if doing so saves 10 minutes on a repetitive bureaucratic task and helps your business stay organised, then I think it must be a good thing?
Saving 10 minutes doesn't sound like much. But if you can make that saving several times a day, five days a week, and fifty weeks a year, you could be claiming back hours of lost time.