Thanks to the list of business tools we’re about to dig into I’m able to run a mostly automated B2B service business (we produce videos), and as my side hustle I coach online business owners on how to grow and automate their businesses.
My video production business has largely been running, and growing, without my presence (about 1 hour per week) for 2 years, and the reason why I’m explaining this is because, like Tim Ferriss and his 4-Hour Work Week, I’m not here to promote NOT working. I’ve been working a lot, just not on my video production business.
But the facts remain, the business is profitable, it’s growing every year since 2012, and I’d like to dig deeper into the best business tools and decisions that has allowed me to get the business to a point where it’s effectively self sustained.
We’re going to look at all of the business tools we use for automation, as well as the freelancers that of course are a huge part of a client service business, and just how much time and money they are saving me.
Hiring me costs $200 per hour, so that will be the figure I use to calculate the ROI on all of our automation and delegation efforts.
How much of your time are you wasting?
Use the automation calculator below to see how much time and money these business tools could save you.
This calculator assumes you’ll work until you’re 65.
AUTOMATION BUSINESS TOOLS
Let’s first look at all the software business tools we use to make this business run like a well oiled machine. Some of these links will be affiliate links (these are all services that we actually use).
The ultimate business tools list:
First up: Basecamp
Out of all the business tools here, this would be the most painful to live without: Basecamp.
Managing clients, especially when we’re talking about 30 different clients simultaneously, is that you are
- Dealing with different personalities
- Answer the same questions over and over
- Issuing the same warnings over and over
- Asking clients to provide information (answers to questions, graphical profiles, in our case choosing templates, music, etc)
- As silly as it now seems, in the beginning these were all things I did manually, on a case by case basis with each client at the start.
Basecamp amazing solution:
We have a template project that we simply create for each new client, with a full checklist of everything that needs to happen in our project in order to create the clients video. This is what automation is all about.
Not only are we able to automate things like letting the clients choose voiceover artist by listening to an embedded Soundcloud playlist, we also train the client on what to expect, what to do, what not to do, etc, by having video trainings in each of the checklist items.
“Time to leave feedback on the script we just sent you? Watch this video where you’ll learn about how to provide feedback, why you should never have more than 2 people from your team involved in the project”, etc.
This saves our asses more times than I’ll ever know because to be frank with you, I can’t even remember the last time one of our projects went bad, and we have about 100 new clients per year.
The reason we don’t have as many problems as before is because we have systemized our process, including our client training.
We do get clients who want to change up our way of working, which we simply meet with an ultimatum: our way or the highway.
That’s because we know the only times projects become problematic is when we deviate from our proven way of working, and we know that yielding to the client is just going to be a disservice to them. It’s better to stand your ground in this case.
To be honest we are probably just using 1/10 of Basecamp’s functionality, but this is all we need.
At $100 per month it’s a no brainer.
Next up: Billogram
This business tool is specific for the Swedish market but I guarantee there are version of this service in almost every country. It’s called Billogram.
If you know of an equivalent service in the English speaking market let me know and I’ll add it to this post.
Our clients pay us by bank transfer, which means I have to go check our bank account for the latest incoming payments. I then have to cross reference the payment details with an outstanding invoice and manually mark it as paid.
- If the amount paid is different from what should have been paid I’ll have to manually sort that out with the client.
- If there are several payments for the same amount (this is common), cross referencing it with the right invoice can be difficult depending on what other information we’ve been given
- If the invoice is overdue I’ll have to follow up with the client manually.
- If the payment details aren’t entered correctly it’s very likely I’ll end up not knowing which invoice the incoming payment is for.
Billogram’s amazing solution:
We invoice the client via Billogram who will collect the payment on our behalf. They’ll take a ridiculously small fee (just above $1) per invoice, and automatically cross reference the payment with all our outstanding invoices.
Billogram will then send the money to our account just 1 business day later.
If payments are late, or amounts are incorrect, the client will be notified automatically.
I can’t tell you how much I love this service. It probably doesn’t end up saving me a ton of hours on paper, but the fact that I don’t have to do such a soul crushing task as cross referencing payments with invoices is worth its weight in gold.
Next up: Trello
This is a classic as far as the best business tools go. We use Trello for internal project management. Basecamp is great for client facing project management, but when it comes to internal use, seeing who has been invoiced, whose project is in what stage of production, among many other things, Trello is fantastic.
The more clients and team members you have the harder it becomes to keep track of everything from who placed an order, to which animator is working on which project.
- If we have 30 projects on at the same time, how am I supposed to know which client has been invoiced, and who hasn’t?
- If I can’t get an overview of our whole production line, especially since everything we do online, how am I supposed to adjust any supply chain problems (such as needing to hire more script writers, evenly distributing animation projects between different animators)
- If I need to make some notes to inform our team, but not the client, how can I do that? An example being that the client ordered some add on service in the middle of the project. He told this to the project manager but the founder is the one who is going to send the invoice. Keeping this type of information in one place allows us to run 30+ projects and still keep track of every little detail.
Trello uses boards, lists, and cards.
We have a board where we can see all clients.
We have a different list for each stage of the production process.
We have a separate card for each video that is being produced (if one client ordered 3 videos we’ll have 3 cards for them). Then we simply move cards across different lists as they progress through the production process.
Need to add a note about the subtitle add on the client ordered in the middle of the project? Just drop it in the comments section of their Trello card.
Need to keep track of which clients have been invoiced, and who hasn’t? Simply create a checklist in each card (this is automated), and tick the box when an invoice has been sent. This lets me see how many invoices need to be sent at any moment, at just a glance.
Out of all the business tools on the list this is the only free one, so you know the value is pretty damn good.
PS. One cool automation feature with Basecamp and Zapier (more on Zapier below) is that you can start new Basecamp projects automatically, for example when someone joins your Buyer list in your email automation software.
Next up: Active Campaign
This is probably one of the best business tools out there, especially for marketing automation on a budget. This is Active Campaign.
Offering a lead magnet in exchange for an email address? Need to get your current clients to come back? Need to send an email to a lead that visited your checkout page but didn’t buy?
Active Campaign’s amazing solution:
AC is more than just sending emails. AC is a way to fully automate the backend of your marketing efforts. We are using it for the most basic functions but the truth is they have some really advanced things that we probably should look into.
We use AC to collect and send emails. We also have some really cool automated follow up sequences that I’ll tell you more about in the Zapier section of this post.
One of the really cool features with AC is that you can actually place a piece of code on your site and it will track your users if it knows who they are.
Let’s say someone opts into a lead magnet of yours, and later on they get an email with a new offer of yours. They check out the offer, visit the order form, and don’t buy.
With AC you can put automations in place that will actually send out an email to that person with incentives to follow through with their purchase. It’s like retargeting, but free.
If someone leaves your checkout page you could for example send out an email 10 minutes later asking if they had any unanswered questions, and offer a discount code. How’s that for automation?
There are also plenty of integrations to make all your backend automations accomplish impressive feats. One cool example was when we used Deadline funnels to provide a REAL deadline in our emails that went out to prospects. They would see an actual timer inside the email, and once the timer expired they would actually not be able to visit the offer page anymore.
On top of that we also automated a SALE offer, so that 2 weeks after they DIDN’T buy we put on a 24 hour sale, and again, after the timer ran out the offer went away.
This means you can setup an evergreen funnel with an actual deadline that does make the offer disappear after people don’t buy.
Out of all the business tools on this list, the bang for buck ratio is very high on this one (especially if you sign up and email them about their “light” plan–you’re welcome)
Next up: Zapier
Zapier is simply one of the best business tools. Use it to connect your other services to work together.
- What if I have some information in Active Campaign that I want to send to Trello?
- What if I have information in Clickfunnels that I want to send to Google Sheets
Zapier’s amazing solution:
Instead of every service on the planet building a custom integration with every other service on the planet, why not just have one business tool that sets things up so every service on the planet all connect to one place?
It becomes user friendly so that non coders can actually setup integrations, and it works extremely well.
Here are some ways we’re using Zapier to save time and money:
- When a new client orders a video from us, post a picture of P Diddy pouring champagne in our Slack group chat
- When someone places an order on our website, create a new customer in Trello
- When a new customer fills out our brief with more information about their project, update the Trello card description
- When we deliver a finished video to a client, and we move them to appropriate list in Trello, trigger an Active Campaign follow up autoresponder that reaches out 4 weeks later asking how their video is doing, and if they would like to order another one
Zapier is another service that I would HATE to be without, and I now take all the work it does for my automatically for granted. Thank you Zapier!
Next up: Clickfunnels
Clickfunnels is probably my favorite business tool as far as actually using it goes.
Creating opt in pages, sales pages, upsell pages, order form pages, and everything in between can be a real pain in the ass.
Clickfunnels amazing solution:
Clickfunnels not only has an amazing page builder but they also have full template sales funnels you can use to get a head start.
We actually use Clickfunnels a ton even though our main sales page is on WordPress at this point.
We mainly use Clickfunnels to test new offers, if we ever want to create a lead magnet, or any short term page. We also use it to build our sales pages and when we know they are converting we move them over to wordpress just because it’s a little more robust and faster to load.
Even though we don’t HAVE TO HAVE Clickfunnels we’re still happy to pay the $97 a month because we do end up using it for a lot of testing purposes. The convenience is simply unbeatable. Like I said earlier, CF is my favorite business tool because I just love building out funnels and designing the actual pages with their editor.
They also have an awesome affiliate program so we actually make money from Clickfunnels simply for referring other users so in reality we’re not paying $97 a month, but rather getting paid to use it!
We can’t talk about running a profitable client services business and working 1 hour per week without talking about my amazing team.
There’s only so much you can automate with business tools. People will always play a bigger role in my business.
We currently have 1 project manager, 1 script writer, 2 animators, 4 (on demand) voiceover artists
Makes sure clients are taken care of, and that projects are taken all the way through the finish line. After all you can’t automate everything.
Communicates with the client about their video, writes the script with the client until satisfied
Obviously, they’re in charge of the visuals of the video, and are in direct contact with the client until satisfied with the video, at which point they deliver the files ready for upload to youtube, etc.
Recording the scripts
Can you see how many hours of work are being done every single month by other people, and software?
I’m able to grow and manage this business simply by turning it into a machine that’s continuously working whether I’m asleep, at the beach, or in front of the computer.