Automate Then Delegate

Personal productivity wonks advise us to eliminate, automate, and delegate. It’s not just about having a feeling of control over our lives. For a human scale business, having an eye toward automation is essential, because automation allows us to devote our scarce human time and attention to activities that matter most.

Smart Use of Technology is Required

Technology – from desktop 3D printers to Fulfillment by Amazon to Etsy and Shopify – has made it possible for one and two-person companies to carve out profitable niches in the long tail of global demand. Technology is a double-edged sword, however. Market niches abhor the fixed cost of overhead, because fixed costs push up our break even point. That, in turn, exposes us to increasingly generic competition and the resulting price-based competition, which is deadly for sub-scale manufacturers. To avoid that fate requires the effective use of technology.

Graham Ashcraft at Etsy once told me that as Etsy sellers grow, they find that back office activities can start to consume more than 50% of their time. That detracts from devoting attention to more valuable and rewarding activities such as product design, marketing, sales, and business strategy. It also sucks all of the fun out of having your own business.

  • Become attuned to the activities that fill your day. Are they adding value to your business? If you can’t explain why such activities are justified, eliminate them.
  • If you find yourself repeating a task, explore how to automate the task. Spending $20 per month on software is almost always trivial when compared to the lost opportunity that stems from wasting your time on repetitive tasks.
  • Some tasks are too difficult or too expensive to automate or simply shouldn’t be automated. When a human touch is called for, consider ways to delegate tasks that aren’t strategic.

Eliminate first; then automate; then delegate. In that order. Too many founders of human scale businesses skip over the automation step because delegation often seems easier. In the short term, it may be. However, premature delegation tends to create excessive overhead, adds management complexity to the business, and exposes the business to the risk of turnover.

Automate Something Today

The good news is that there is a fabulous and growing array of automation tools available at very modest cost. Tools such a Zapier allows a nearly unlimited number of productivity mashups.

ZAPIER

The sooner you start eliminating low-value activities and automating repetitive tasks, the sooner you can get back to the work that gives you energy and that pays the rent.