How to Automate Your Small Business

This is a guest post by Conor Malloy, a partner at Chi City Legal.

Business automation is an intriguing notion which intimidates many non-techy professionals. However, it doesn’t take a degree in computer science or binge-watching Mr. Robot to understand how to automate your business. Instead, it requires taking a step back from the daily grind and understanding your internal procedures. Here are my top four tips to automate your small business, from my lens within a busy Chicago law firm.

1. Connect the Dots

There’s an alpha and an omega to your business, which are connected by a series of processes. Many business processes, although integrated on some scale, tend to act in a vacuum.

Imagine you have a new client or customer:

  1. They call or reach you online.

  2. You begin a dialogue to distill their information: name, contact info, a summary of their issue, etc.

  3. You begin the process to record that information in various databases in order to execute tasks for them: input their info into your accounting software, contact management system, matter management database, etc.

These tasks are prime for automation and under some workflows may require multiple logins to various pieces of software, calendaring systems, and the like. Understanding the tools at your disposal will help you grease the skids on these steps. The main tool we use at Chi City Legal is Zapier, which connects the steps above to a variety of services with just one data entry point.

2. Streamline Client Intake

New clients can, and should, reach you in many ways. But whether it’s online or by phone, the data should all have a singular endpoint. A great tool for businesses is online forms. You can embed these forms into your website and use for internal or external purposes for data entry. Meaning, you can have forms that require a login and forms that are publically accessible (so new clients can complete them, for example). Further, you can share these forms with (or prepopulate them with data from) a virtual receptionist service.

For example, with Smith.ai, our virtual receptionist service, the receptionists record information from the potential client (lead), which passes into Capsule CRM, and then we use the data from Capsule CRM as a foundation when we take over the call (in the case of a live-transfer from the receptionist) or perform a follow-up call.

3. Break Down the Communication Breakdown

Routine client communication can be a drain on resources. When is the next court date? What happened in court today? When is the deadline on X, Y, or Z? All these updates are extremely important to keep the client informed, but can strip your day of precious time.

How do you know when a project is due or a court date is scheduled? It’s in your calendar. And if it’s in your calendar, it should be in the client’s, too.

Here’s how we connect the dots:

  • A due date is added to one of our client Trello cards (a phenomenal tool we use for practice management), and Zapier "listens" for that event.

  • Once Zapier gets wind of it that we added a date to a Trello card, the event is added to a shared Google Calendar. 

  • The event is also shared in a carefully formatted email, which tells the client the "who, what, where, and when."

  • Finally, the event information is added to our daily planner, which we print (yes, print) for our court call.

4. Automate Documents

A wide-variety of industries use, or should use, standardized documents. Lawyers encounter pleadings, contracts, and administrative court forms, just to name a few. It is all too common for professionals to encounter this scenario:

  1. You're presented with a situation.
  2. You recall the last time you drafted a document to address that same (or similar) situation.
  3. You pull the file.
  4. You begin the process of copy-and-paste.

This is not only time consuming, but can expose you to all sorts of data-entry errors.

That’s where document automation comes in. It’s all about pulling information from a central source and populating, or otherwise formatting, a document to your satisfaction.

In the ever-expanding universe of document-automation tools, we use two: Doxserá DB by TheFormTool (a Word/Windows product) and WP E-Signature by Approve Me.

  • WP E-Signature is an inexpensive service that connects with a WordPress site and requires no special software to generate authenticated electronic signatures. It’s a beautiful, Zapier-friendly product that is very accessible and handles our engagement letter preparation.

  • Doxserá prepares everything else and draws our client data from a centralized source. When generating a document, it can customize which clauses you want to contain, perform pronoun agreement, and more, while you sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee.

About Conor Malloy

conor malloyConor Malloy is a partner at Chi City Legal, a law firm dedicated to serving small- and medium-sized landlords in Chicago. He merges his knowledge of technology and legal processes in order to reduce friction between his clients and the court system. Conor is a graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law, and a recent recipient of Meritorious Recognition of the 2018 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access. Follow him on Twitter: @chicitylegal.



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