TFYW#092: Don’t Invest In Automation Without This.

Jun 21, 2024

Protect Your Investment

Just over a year ago, I wrote about What $10,000 worth of automation looks like

That newsletter detailed the custom system we built for ‘Dave’ who was looking to systemize a new part of his firm.

A few weeks ago, I reconnected with Dave. 

He provided an update on the work we did for him.

Even after a year, the documentation was clear enough for Dave to avoid wasting additional resources to pick up where we left off. 

Documentation is the hero.

Over the last 2.5 years, my team has built over $200K worth of systems and automation for firms. 

We’ve done:

  • Sending drip email campaigns for cold calling follow-ups via Active Campaign
  • Onboarding via WordPress landing pages to Financial Cents
  • Adding clients to Client Hub (and numerous client portals) after a proposal is signed in Ignition.
  • Sending lead magnets via Go High Level and Click Funnels for paid Ad campaigns.
  • Automating timesheet collection, and payroll approvals via Asana. 

Each of these systems was more complicated than a simple native integration. 

They had an upfront investment that, when fully leveraged, is repaid in a few months if not weeks. 

Spending the time and money on tailored no-code system automations is worth it and in today’s market is a necessity.

However, if you, or a consultant, build something, make sure you have good documentation. 

Now, I’ll be the first to say documentation is not sexy.

When an automation gets finalized, documentation is the last thing on your mind. 

 

If you don’t remember anything else from this newsletter, remember this:

 

Documentation is the only protection for the custom investment you’ve made in your systems. 

 

When automations work, it’s magic.

When it doesn’t, it’s absolutely infuriating.

And if your documentation is non-existent, combing through and troubleshooting what you (or someone else) have built can be an expensive nightmare.

Transparently, low-code and no-code systems and automations aren’t perfect.

APIs and integrations change. Things break all the time.

We can’t pretend that our automations will work eternally.

Here are the guidelines my team and I follow with documentation:

Starting Documenting from the beginning

Don’t save the documentation until the end. 

Before starting the build, open a blank doc (or better yet,  your process doc template), and list the steps of what you’re trying to accomplish. 

Those steps will become foundational for focusing the build and preparing the documentation framework.   

We’ve found that steps inevitably change during the build because not all the variables are evident initially.

Documenting detailed steps as they are being built significantly increases the clarity of your documentation. 

With Dave, he was an editor on the Google docs we used during the build. 

Given the level of the customization, we needed his input frequently.

We asked for his input directly within the doc and were able to move quickly while accommodating his requests. 

Naming Conventions

Everything has its place, indicated by its name. 

I use a 9 firm systems structure:

If your newly signed engagement letter from Anchor needs to trigger a new client onboarding sequence task in Click Up, that would fall into the Proposal/ Onboarding system. 

The Process Doc would be named 7.1.0.

7. – It is in the Proposal / Onboarding system

1. – It is the first automation in the Proposal / Onboarding system (the next automation in the system would be 2. etc.)

0. – It is the first part of the automation. In this example, if the Anchor agreement also triggered a welcome email drip in Convert Kit, that would be named 7.1.1. 

Then, each of the components in the automation would be named in the same way.

The zap in Zapier would be named 7.1.0. Signed Anchor Agreement > New Client Onboarding Sequence. 

I’ve seen some dumb names for zaps that make it almost impossible to know what the zap is for without opening it up and wasting time deciphering the steps. 

The naming convention is a fail-safe way to mitigate wasting time and frustration.

Further, the email drip automation in Convert Kit would be named 7.1.1 New Client Welcome Email Sequence. 

As the number of automations increases, the naming convention saves time and reduces confusion when new people adjust or build on the automations. 

List of Assets

If you haven’t looked at an automation for a while, it is easy to forget what tools you used to build it.

At any given point, many firms have 25+ tools that are regularly used.

We list the assets (tools) at the beginning of the process document and provide hyperlinks to specific iterations of each asset for that process.

If you’re using Google Sheets or Air Table to collect and repurpose data, we will list Google Sheets as the asset in the process and then the specific sheet URL.

It seems simple, but it saves time looking through your cloud docs that aren’t organized as well as they should be.

Yes, I’m looking at you.

Troubleshooting Spots

If you can preemptively highlight dynamic steps or weak points in your documentation, this will save you hours down the road. 

Here’s an example.

During some builds, you will include logical triggers or paths. These IF/THEN rules reduce the manual intervention when we need to make decisions. 

Sometimes, when creating the automation, we may not consider all the IF factors we’ll need. 

For Ignition proposals, we set up a path in Zapier that triggers certain recurring or one-off tasks in the practice management tool based on the agreement’s name. 

If the Ignition agreement says ‘1120-C for ABC Company’, the corporate tax tasks are launched in the PM tool. If it says ‘Monthly Bookkeeping for XYZ Company, the monthly bookkeeping group of tasks will be launched.

However, if you want to add ‘Advisory Services to your firm after you create the automation, a new IF/THEN path needs to be created.  

We’re familiar with the dynamic steps that may cause issues in the future, so we highlight those at the beginning of the process doc. 

When something doesn’t work as intended, that is our first section to check for a quick answer.  

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If you’ve made it this far, congrats.

This is a more technical newsletter, but this stuff is foundational in reducing the time you spend running your firm.

Build the firm you want.

Mark

P.S. Email Mark@FirmNexus.com with something that you want me to talk about. I’ll add it to the list. 

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