Scaling up your company through business automation and organization with Stephanie Blake

Today we’re talking with Stephanie Blake on, you guessed it, all things business automation and organization. Stephanie is the founder of The Blake Collective, where she helps entrepreneurs automate and organize their businesses. She also founded Biz Babe Collective, a membership, directory, and community for female service-based business owners. It’s a lovely community where you can collaborate and learn from other women through educational workshops or virtual coworking sessions.

Tell us about how you got started with business automation and organization. How long have you been doing this?

I have been organizing, since the day I was born. When I was younger, I would take the receipts from the stores that I would go to, I would put them in a notebook to organize them and highlight the things that I bought. Ridiculous, I know! I have always been obsessed with organization and color-coding. So it naturally made sense to run a business around it at some point in my life, though I only started it a year ago.

Prior to running this business, I spent nearly a decade working in the corporate world doing everything from graphic design to public relations and digital marketing.

Right on!

I stumbled into the online world about three years ago. And since then, I tried a lot of different businesses that failed because they weren’t what I wanted to do. I was trying to do all the things that I thought were going to make me money and that people told me would make me money.

What I really wanted to do was to help people organize and automate their businesses. Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t start there!

I’m glad you finally found the right fit for yourself! Why don’t you start us off by telling us why is business automation and organization important, and what are some benefits of this?

The biggest thing is that it helps you determine what the money makers are in your business and focus on those. If you don’t have a system set up, you’re basically just doing anything and everything. You don’t really know what to focus on because instead, you have an ongoing to-do list of tasks.

It’s honestly never-ending for the vast majority of us. We just keep adding things on to it. Once you become more organized and systematized in your business, you really know what those “money makers” are, and you can focus on the right tasks to get those done and move the needle forward in your business.

What are some characteristics of an effective automated business?

Testing out your system is a big one because every business is so unique. Although companies will have similar processes, no one company goes about everything in the exact same way, so the system needs to adapt to your specific business needs to be the most effective. With that said, there are broad roadmaps that you can follow to ensure that you’re setting your specific business up for success – this is something that I teach inside of my membership.

Another big one is the onboarding process, especially for service-based business owners. It is one of the most important things that you can have because you want to give your clients the best experience possible. Keep in mind that you’re not going to have that process outlined right off the bat. You do need to push through some trial and error, especially if you’re new but once you get it set up, it will not only save you time but also make your business run more efficiently. I would say that’s one of the most important things to have is a great onboarding sequence. 

How long does it usually take to set up the automation?

It depends on what automation you’re setting up. For example, I use Dubsado, which is a CRM or customer relationship management tool. The caveat to that is you need to know what you’re setting up. You need to know your own process before you can go in there and set it up while the actual automation of it within the program is easy to do. It only takes a couple of minutes.

You really need to sit down and focus on the tasks that need to get done for the clients, as well as the automated tasks that you want in place first. For example, sending of the contract, the invoicing, questionnaires, all of that needs to be mapped out before you start using a CRM for business automation and organization.

Setting up the CRM takes, I would say, anywhere between one and two hours of uninterrupted time.

That’s actually pretty quick.

It is, as long as you know what your business’ process is but this is where most people fall short. They don’t know how to outline those processes.

How long does it take to work out your clients the business process? What steps do you take to define it with them?

If your process is all over the place and you don’t have anything standardized, it starts with a few conversations to wrap your head around it. I often tell my clients they need to talk it out with somebody else. So you can either hire somebody like me or talk it out with your spouse, business partner, your friend, whoever. Because the best way to begin identifying the process is to really talk through those messy processes to make sure that everything in your head is being cataloged. You do things in your business that you don’t even realize you do until they’re actually written down.

For me, I help my clients on different levels. Anything from an onboarding workflow, to mapping out quarterly, monthly or weekly plans, putting those into project management tools, things like that. Those levels depend on the support that my clients need but usually they all start with this clarifying conversation.

The simplified version is that I start the process by getting on a call with the client (I use Zoom) and getting everything out of their head that they have to work on. All of the projects that they have coming up, the goals that they want to reach, the tasks that they need to do on a daily basis, every single thing that they do in their business. We get it out on paper, and we start there.

Next, I help them break it down into the most important things that they need to focus on. From there, we take it into different tools.

Let’s talk about tools for a little bit. What kind of tools do you use? Do you have any recommendations?

Yeah, absolutely. Dubsado is my favorite CRM. For a service-based business, you need a project management tool, and you need a CRM. Within your CRM, that’s where all of your client files are like their questionnaires, contracts, invoices, all of that. Then, your project management tool is where your projects live, and that’s where you detail all the different tasks that you’re working on. My favorite project management tool to use is ClickUp.

For email marketing, my favorite is Active Campaign. It’s a little bit more advanced. The reason that I love it so much is that it grows with your business. There are free tools like MailChimp, but I never recommend MailChimp; it’s a pain to use. And, you’re going to have to switch off of it as your business grows, anyway.

Do you have a favorite project management tool?

Oh, project management, it’s my one true love. I love project management. And, for that, I use ClickUp. That’s the only tool that I recommend people use and the only tool that I use in my business too.

I’ve actually ever heard of that one before. What makes it so special?

Oh my god! Have you heard of Asana or Trello? Imagine those two coming together and having a beautiful baby.

Haha, amazing!

ClickUp a combination of those two. You can use the different boards, or you can create lists. You can also do different calendar views. On top of that, you can do so many other things like you can create sub-tasks and due dates, embed Google Docs and Airtable sheets. The sky’s the limit with it and the best part is every business owner can completely customize it to work for them. They have a free plan, but I’m on a paid plan because I needed some extra file storage, which I think is $35 a year or something. It’s pretty cheap.

What kind of different aspects of a business can be automated? 

There’s a lot. There is so much. But, there are eight that I can share with you just off the top of my head. We could do email marketing (and my favorite tool for that is ActiveCampaign). You can also do social media, blog posts, email – like your Gmail account. Yes, you can automate that too. For example, I will write all the emails and replies and schedule them to send out later dates or times.

What kind of emails do you automate in Gmail? 

Follow-ups or initial calls. I have a podcast, so I will send show notes to my guests or bullet points to them with what we’re going to talk about a couple of days before the show. I write all of them for each upcoming quarter at one time. Then I scheduled them to send to my guests individually before our calls, like a couple of days before the calls. Right now, I have those scheduled out for the next three months.

You can also automatically organize your emails into different folders so they don’t even hit your inbox – that’s probably one of my favorite tricks!

Damn, you weren’t kidding when you said you’re extremely well organized!

I told you, it’s like second nature to me, if I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t know what I would do, haha!

When is a good time for a business to in this kind of business automation and organization?

Right away. There’re a lot of tools that you can use for free. Dubsado, for example, where you can get your first three clients for free. So you can start using that just to test it out, see how it works for you. The Gmail thing that I just mentioned that is also free. Calendly is a free calendar tool to set up calls for different clients, or set meeting times. 

As far as paid tools, it really depends on what your business goals are, but I do think that everybody should start an email list from day one. So, investing in email marketing is extremely important. ActiveCampaign, for example, has its first plan starts at $9 a month, which is very cost-effective, especially for somebody new in the business. 

What about investing in someone like you who provides business automation and organization services?

That’s actually kind of tough to answer because I’ll just be honest with you, I am not cheap to work with because I work so closely with my clients. I’m basically their go-to accountability partner and organization expert. I speak with my clients on a quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily basis to make sure they’re getting what they need in their business automation and organization.

I would suggest waiting until you have a little bit more flexibility with your budget before you can invest in another person to help you. You’re asking someone to basically be the go-to person that’s telling you what you need to do all the time so that won’t be cheap, especially if you want someone who’s good at their job.

Alternatively, if you did want to work with me but don’t have the budget to do so on a 1-1 capacity, I created a membership that teaches you the processes that you can work through at your own pace while also getting access to me on group coaching calls.

What can you tell me about your ideal clients or favorite clients?

Yeah, absolutely! I love working with women, first and foremost, in the creative space, because like I said, I have a degree in graphic design. I understand how the creative brain works and I resonate best with those types of people. And I prefer to work with women who were a little bit further in business, not brand new. Usually, it’s someone who is 2 or 3 years in, but they’re just really overwhelmed with everything that they need to do, and they don’t really know where to start.

How soon do people see results when working with you?

I would say that most people see the light bulb go on after that initial call. Most often, it’s a sense of relief. This isn’t a tangible result that can be tracked with metrics. But, it’s an emotional win because they’re able to finally get all of these things out of their head and pass it off to somebody else, knowing it’s going to be taken care of.

What about your client’s clients? What kind of effect have you seen on your clients’ customers by helping them organize and automate?

First of all, when my clients are organized, they’re no longer overwhelmed when a new lead or client comes their way. Business automation and organization ensures my clients aren’t tied to their devices all the time either. This allows them to have time outside of their business to lead their lives; however, they choose and without the stress that they forgot about something. 

All of this creates a really custom and branded experience for their own clients as well when they receive those automated emails and notifications. They’re feeling supported and enjoying the experience of working with my clients a lot more. My clients are fully supporting their own through all the different stages, and their clients feel like they’re being taken care of by my client’s business too. Feeling supported is important to high-quality customer experience. The better my clients take care of their customers, the better their businesses will grow.

What is the one takeaway you wish everybody had from this interview?

Pick a digital project management tool! They are a lifesaver.

You’ve got a freebie offer, Stephanie. Can you talk a little bit about that?

This freebie is a workbook called Organize in Five. It walks you through organizing your quarters, your weeks, your months, and your day. It will help you breaking everything down to show you how you can do it on your own. It’s also part of the Core Four method inside of my membership so you can get a feel for the training.

And, you’re also starting a collective?

In September, I am launching Biz Babe Collective, a membership for female service-based business owners. There is training to help them organize and automate their businesses plus a directory where you can list your business and search for other female services business owners to work with.

There’s also an amazing community aspect to it.

They’ll be monthly workshops where you can learn from other experts, live ‘Ask Steph Anything’ calls and virtual co-working sessions. It’s all about supporting each other as women and building each other up and making sure we all have successful businesses. Check it out and use the code PAULA20 for 20% off your first month of the Biz Babe Collective membership.