With the tools we have in this day and age, it will be a waste of energy and talent getting stuck doing work that can be easily automated. Introducing us to someone who has the solution, host Paul Higgins interviews William Christensen from DataAutomation to share how he went from working for mid-sized companies to running an automation agency that aims to eliminate manual entry to give more creativity to the world. He talks about the value of automation in your company and where you can start implementing that. Plus, Will also discusses the importance of rewarding team members who automate and how to automate your sales to gain more clients. Join him in this insightful conversation to make that transition and do more.
Helping The World Take Back Creativity Through Automation With William Christensen
Build Live Give. Mentoring with Paul Higgins
Our guest is someone who is a self-proclaimed nerd. He grew up inspired by his father and grandfather to be his own boss. After working for some mid-sized companies, he took several risks and now runs an automation agency to eliminate manual entry to give more creativity to the world. Where in your company to start automation is something that I didn’t think of that’s good. The importance of rewarding team members who automate and how to automate your sales to gain more clients. We have given you an exclusive offer during the episode as well. Over to Will Christiensen from DataAutomation.com.
Welcome, Will Christensen from DataAutomation to the show. It is great to have you here.
I am excited to be here. It is always a good day to talk to other brilliant people, looking to share ideas and automation tips with the world. One of my passions is sharing how to attack this problem of automation.
Some people collect watches and cars. I collect tech. We got a lot in common. I’m more of someone that loves when someone does it for me, rather than doing it myself. This will be a perfect combination. Why don’t we kick off with something that your family or friends may know about you that we may not?
I am a dancer. My wife would tell you that not as often as she would like, but we met dancing. My first successful venture was creating a social dance group in Salt Lake City, Utah called the Social Dance Effect. The thing is still running and I haven’t been involved in a few years. We do ballroom and all different kinds of social dancing.
I’m more of a freestyle dancer. I’m the guy at the wedding that my wife gets embarrassed when everyone goes, “I don’t have to do that.”
You’re the guy from Hitch where when the girl turns around, he starts doing all the crazy moves and everybody’s like, “What in the heck is that?” The reason we started the Social Dance Effect is I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They have what they call Singles Wards, where all of the young single adults, 18 to 30 meet together for church. I went to a Halloween dance and a waltz came on and the floor was cleared. Nobody would go up. I raised my hand like, “Is there anybody else out there who wants to dance?” This girl came out and we danced. I was like, “I am starting a club to meet this need.” We started teaching guys like you how to get girls by knowing how to waltz.
I know you’ve had a fantastic career. You worked for a mid-sized company. You’ve been consulting for quite some time. You’re involved in a tech incubator and you’ve got DataAutomation, which we’re going to drill more into. Take us a little bit through the journey. In particular, what was the shift from working for someone else to work for yourself?
If you’ve listened to any of those other episodes, you may have heard this story in more detail. I’ll give a top-level. I went and decided that I wanted to work for myself. That was my goal from day one. My grandfather and my father are both entrepreneurs that they don’t have a regular boss. I saw that lifestyle and fell in love with it immediately. I love that my dad was in my games. I’m not much of a jock or anything. I’m a total nerd. When I say games, I probably should say something like when he was at my plays. I was in several musicals in high school and stuff like that. All the guys were like, “He’s a theater nerd,” I am a theater nerd.
From the very beginning, I fell in love with the idea of having a lifestyle where I wasn’t tied to doing everything the corporate way. It’s funny because I need to get back to that a little more. Now that I’ve found some of that and I have some of that freedom, I need to start putting up some better boundaries so that I can be there for my kids. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Robin Williams, Hook, the movie where he’s literally on his way to his son’s baseball game and he misses it by two hours. His phone rings and this is the beginning of the movie talking about those core values.Automation is the key to unlocking your journey in terms of going to the next level. Click To Tweet
That’s why I started it. That’s why I got excited. From the beginning, that’s what I was looking for in every job I took. I worked for a newspaper advertising company selling newspaper ads. I had a different idea about how the world should work and then I got fired. I worked at a call center for a little while, then I went and worked for HyperX Media as an unpaid intern with a college degree to prove that I could do some of it. I started as a media buyers assistant. I worked my way up to being a media director there, and then got the opportunity to go move across the country from Utah to Georgia to work inside a tech incubator. I gained their trust by being banned from a college campus.
If you’re familiar with Go Dawgs, UGA, I knew that I had to impress the tech incubator guys. I thought, “Let’s go get on campus and let’s do a book buyback,” because I was working for a company called BookScatter inside the tech incubator. I got a textbook buyback set up right in front of the bookstore at the college campus. They were not thrilled with that and banned me from campus. Long story short, between impressing them. I then pitched them on the idea of creating a consultancy that was focused on automation and here we are. There’s the long version of it and it involved me getting banned from campus or getting fired from a newspaper agency to figure out that, “Let’s be part of an agency.”
We’re going to dig a lot more into automation because it’s one of my most passionate things. You spoke about your grandfather and your dad being entrepreneurs and showing you the way. Who else has been your biggest supporters through this journey?
I would have to say my wife. When we first started dating, she was like, “What do you want to do? What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was like, “If I ever grow up, I want to be a millionaire.” She was like, “What? A millionaire?” I was like, “I’m going to be a millionaire.” My grandfather made it to that stage. I saw what he was able to do not only in his own life, focused on his faith and his family. He had to find some work-life balance and it took him a minute to figure that out, but I’ve been impressed with the impact he was able to have on the people around him. My wife’s ability to curb some of her natural fear associated with risk and dive in headfirst with me. We’ve made a great team and made some good decisions with real estate and some of these other things that have paid dividends for us. In the beginning, it was hard and she put up with a lot. She still does put up with a lot, but we’ve seen some of the fruits of those initial risks that we took.
We’ll now go into the Build section because I can’t wait anymore to speak about automation. When someone says to you, “What do you do?” How do you best answer that?
We moved to Syracuse, Utah and our neighbors came over from across the street and we’re in COVID. We’re talking to them from our front porch and they’re 8 feet down and away from us. We’re having a great conversation. They asked my wife and she turned around and said, “You’re going to have to come answer this question because I never do what you do justice. What do you do?” I said, “What we do is we eliminate manual entry so that the world can take back its creativity and put it back into the bottom line. We create automation so that creativity can do exactly what it was meant to do and create real value for the world.” Another way to describe it is I take digital duct tape and I strap websites together so that you don’t have to enter customer data twice or invoice data twice. If you have two systems that both need the same data, we build connections between those systems so that you don’t have to do that manually anymore.
What do you know about automation that many missed?
I know that automation is the key to unlocking your journey in terms of going to the next level. I tell people that I sell the one thing money can’t buy. I sell time. I tell others that I’m a Time Lord. If you’ve watched Doctor Who, I’m the guy who goes in and helps you discover where some of those pieces are. I’ve developed a framework around what to automate, what not to automate, and how to appropriately create a strategy that’s going to build automation as a habit. Zapier put out a blog post saying, “Automation is a habit. Here’s how to work on it.”
I want to talk about that in a moment. Who do you love eliminating manual entry for this automation? Who’s your sweet spot?
We do a ton with eCommerce because when you think about eCommerce, it’s all about the volume of transactions. That naturally creates a lot of repeated manual things. Receiving tracking numbers for manufacturers that are shipping something on your behalf is very manual and automatable. We also work a lot with service-based businesses, where one of the tricky parts is how to scale. How do you get to the point where you can do that? There’s even a new form of business out there. They call it a SWaS business and that’s where you have a service-based business but you are backed by technology.
You create a situation where your reporting is all automated. Instead of having three FTE or Full-Time Employees who are in the background doing some reporting, you completely automate away that process of capturing all of that data and displaying it to your clients by creating a dashboard that they can log into and see their results. It’s all about finding repeatable processes inside your business that are being managed by humans, and giving those processes to robots so that the humans can start focusing on not just the process, but creating real value instead of pulling a lever over and over again.
A quick shout out to Matt Yahes from Extend Your Team. He has come from the eCommerce world where he runs a virtual assistant business. He constantly challenged me because I used to own a tech agency that supplied automation into agencies, but still got quite a few manual processes. He’s like, “How can we automate this?” I get it from an eCommerce perspective, but a lot of service-based business owners are relationship-based. They want the benefits of automation but often, that’s where they get stuck. How do you move someone from being stuck into getting someone like you to help them with the business? What’s the key catalyst for that?
There are a couple of different things that you can do. The first thing is to start at the bottom and go upward. Generally speaking, who is the individual in your company that is doing that manual labor? It’s generally not the individuals who own the relationships. The interesting thing about it is everybody in the organization can own relationships. Sometimes they may not be the right person on the right seat on the bus, but you’ve got to understand that those individuals who are on the bottom of the totem pole often are capable of keeping those relationships. If you think about it, every business is relationship-based especially those service-based businesses. If the CEO can maintain 200 contacts or just 20 contacts, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who can also maintain relationships, delegate, and get those things off your plate so that you have a bunch of relationships.
If those people at the bottom who are doing that manual labor are capable of taking those tasks of maintaining a relationship off of someone at the top, that’s where there’s a real opportunity for scaling. Instead of manually hacking at a spreadsheet all day, they can then begin to understand the spreadsheet and start adding value. A good example of this is when I worked at HyperX Media. I was in charge of looking at the display ads and tracking their overarching change over time. When I could see a change and say, “The blue one versus the green one is making an impact here,” that was the value that we were looking at to create a positive flywheel relationship with our customers. Until I automated some things and got it to the point where I wasn’t just making sure the data made it into the report, I was analyzing the data, we couldn’t create that flywheel.
Start at the bottom, develop a culture of automation, give those individuals rewards and budget to raise their hand and say, “I have an automation problem. Who can help me?” It’s instilling a culture and a system that encourages automation. When somebody automates something, pat the person on the back and hand them a $100 gift card. For the service-based businesses out there, the one thing you take away from this is when an employee automate something for you, you had a better share in the ROI that they created for your company because the fastest way to kill automation is to pat them on the back and say, “Good job,” and let them keep working because they realized how much value they added to your company. If they create something where they all of a sudden have another three hours a week in perpetuity, and let’s say that they were making $30 or $10 an hour, they recognize how much value they brought to you. If you can’t reach out and say, “Here’s $100 Amazon gift card. Here’s a small pay raise for what you did,” they’re going to stop automating because there’s no point in padding your pockets.
That’s an important insight upfront as well because some of the service businesses I’ve worked with start at the bottom. I think that’s great advice, but sometimes they’re like, “This is a threat. What am I going to do?” Once all of this automation comes in, “Is this a way of eliminating me potentially?” It’s important to have that conversation upfront and have the rewards. How have you seen that play out in the clients you’ve worked with?
I’ve found that the ones who truly embrace it as a way of life. There’s a company called Nomad and they embrace the culture of automation quickly. Their whole team got excited and got right behind it. It’s clear down from the customer service person, people all the way up to the top. They’re using tools like Zapier, Google Sheets, Airtable and a lot of these other tools to propel their business forward in a way that’s amazing. They shifted their entire model when COVID-19 hit in a matter of 3 to 5 days and started selling PPE because they had all of the systems in place to be able to tackle orders and look at some of those pieces. When you have that frank conversation with the individual and say, “Your brain is worth more to me than just copying and pasting in spreadsheets. I know that you have more brainpower than that.” All of a sudden, they don’t see automation as a threat. They see it as a tool.
Some people are like, “All I want to do is punch that. I want to be the person who doesn’t have to think about it and I go home.” There’s still going to be room for that individual even if we automate what they’re doing. Automation has to be maintained. You have to have somebody who’s watching it and looking at some of what’s there. Part of that’s annoying. You have to look at the logs and look at those things that are there that don’t take as much brainpower. It depends on the gift that makes the individuals that are there.
I always get confused as to how to pronounce Zapier.
Think of it this way. Zapier makes you happier. It’s at the bottom of their website. They know how hard it is to say their name. Right in the footer, it says Zapier makes you happier. That’s how you can remember how to do that. Most people don’t even know it, but Zapier is a play on words for the word the acronym API, Z-API-er. That’s how they came up with their name. I was working with them for three years and I saw a video where they highlighted that. I was like, “That’s why they’re called Zapier. I had no idea.”When somebody automates something, pat the person on the back and hand them a $100 gift card. Click To Tweet
I remember talking to the founder early on. It might have been 2013 or 2014. It was a conversation that I didn’t realize the heights that would hit. They’re doing awesome. You talked about automation as a habit. What advice have you got on making automation as a habit?
This is a framework that I share often. I call it 15-1-1-5. What that stands for is you’re looking for tasks that are more than 15 minutes a day, more than 1 hour a week or more than 1 hour a month, and that final trailing 5 is more than 5 times before you begin to automate. Get out a sticky note, write 15-1-1-5 on the top of it. If you need to give yourself a little more context, you can write 15 minutes, 1 hour, and 1 hour. If you want to put a little, you can do per day, but you’re thinking about it in terms of period, per day, per week, per month. What that’s giving you Is a threshold of, “If it doesn’t take me more than 15, 1 hour, 1 hour, then I’m not going to write it down.”
You’re going to think about things that are repeatable either daily, weekly or monthly. That’s the framework of what you begin to write down. The five are tally marks next to each task. You write down that you’re doing client reporting and it’s a weekly thing, and you do a tally mark. After you’ve done it five times manually. That’s when it’s time to write up the standard operating procedure. Automate, delegate or eliminate that task. You turn it into a habit by getting this out, writing down that sticky note, and writing down every time you do something like, “That’s probably something that could be automated.” Write it down, put those tally marks next to it, then when it’s time to automate and you’re talking to an automation specialist either at DataAutomation or what you found on Fiverr, Upwork or any of these other platforms, you can say, “This is how much time it’s taking me. These are the processes. This is when you should turn left versus turn right. This is how we tackle and look at all of those different pieces.”
That’s a brilliant point around, should you do it yourself or your team versus getting a specialist in. What’s your experience on that?
If you don’t have any experience automating something, I would recommend that in your first foray into that, you purchase some automation. If you’re worried about your budget, go ahead and try to do it manually or try to do the automation on your own. If you fail, then you’re more ready to find somebody who has that expertise. We often find that people undervalue the automation consultant. It’s interesting that they’re like, “That seems like it’s common sense. I bet I can get this done for $200.” They will try it on their own and they’ll realize, “I do need somebody who understands how to help me put this into real spaces.” There’s a lot of automation that you can do on your own the first time by Googling and finding the right SaaS platform to handle what you’re looking for. Depending on how heavy the process is, it’s important to find an expert to do what you need to be done.
You’ve talked about starting at the bottom back end, which I get it, but for a lot of my clients and a lot of people, sales is where they spend a lot of their time. What automation have you seen work well within a sales space?
There are two things that come to mind immediately. One is automating the response to any of your contact forms. We had an issue where I was the only salesperson at DataAutomation for a little while. I could not handle the lead volume. That’s not a problem that everybody’s going to face, but it’s still a problem. It was getting to the point where I would jump on calls with people and they’re like, “Can you do this for $200?” My next call was like, “Can you do this for $20,000?” We got to figure out how to get these guys who want it for $200 to get on somebody else’s plate or to fill out a longer form so that we can qualify these leads better.
We automated our contact form so that when people would reach out to us, we would immediately reply to them and say, “Thanks. This is an automated message because we believe in automation. We’ve taken all of the things that you put into our little Contact Us form. We’ve pre-filled a form that’s going to give you direct access to my Calendar so that we can jump on the phone together.” We created a choose your own adventure form using Google forms that would take them to an appropriate calendar based upon who they were. We knew if they’re a SaaS company and they’ve got X number of this problem or whatever, then we want to send them to Will’s calendar because their problem is big enough that we can probably solve it and have positive ROI.
If they weren’t getting that large, we would push them to my assistant’s calendar. She would jump on, ask them 5 or 6 questions, give them an idea of where our minimum was, and they would walk away and say, “This isn’t for me.” We completely automated that qualification process by pushing them to that form. You may be at a point where you’re like, “That’s not my problem. My problem is I don’t have enough leads.” In that situation, I would recommend a platform called Reply.io or one of these others where you’re automating some of your outreach to create systems around what’s there and figuring out the right marketing channel to bring in more pieces there. We’ve been surprised at the response as long as your automation helps the customer as much as it helps you.
Think about it, in the beginning, I needed to be talking to more qualified people. What I gave them is a form where I took everything they gave me and I didn’t make them fill it out again. It wasn’t like, “Here’s a form. If you want to talk to me, fill it out.” It was like, “Here’s a form. I’ve pre-filled that form with everything you already gave me. I have more questions about what we’re going to talk about, and then I’m going to give you direct access to my Calendar,” which is why they reached out to begin with. I exchanged value and gave them, “We’re going to automate a process that’s going to help both of us get to what we want faster.”
How important is declaring that this is automated versus not?
It depends on what you’re automating. In this situation, we felt like it was important to declare that it was automated because if there was any piece of it that felt impersonal, they could recognize that we were trying to make the automation as personal as it could be. There are some automated interactions that you don’t need to declare it’s automation. If you can make it seamless enough that they get the same result from a human as they would a robot, there is no reason to declare that it’s automated because in the sense that they’re interacting with an organism that is your business. If you’ve created a way for that organism to interact with them and they get the same value, I don’t feel there’s any need to declare its automation.
Before we go into the Live section, I would like to talk about an assessment to help you work out if you’re going to have a high or low seven-figure business in 2021. Go to PaulHigginsMentoring.com/assessment and answer the fifteen questions in about three minutes. Based on your results, you’ll either get a free 45-minute strategy call and walkway with a clear plan or a chance to be like Will and share your success on the show. The next section is the Live. What are some daily habits that help you to be successful?
A couple of the daily habits that have been huge for me is knowing when to Automate, Delegate, Eliminate, which is the name of a podcast that we founded as well, and knowing 15-1-1. Knowing when to delegate is key. I couldn’t agree more with outsourcing, when it’s time to outsource or getting yourself an assistant, someone who can focus on helping you do what you do best. In order to automate, 15-1-1 is finding opportunities for automation, delegate that you need to stop and ask yourself before you begin any task, “Am I the best person to accomplish what we’re about to do?” If the answer to that question is no, get that thing off your plate.
Find somebody who is a better person to handle that or get an assistant. The first assistant I had was years ago and it took me quite a while to figure out the right way to get an assistant. I have an assistant through a company called Satiated Artists and I love it. I love how effective they are at helping me get there. That third thing would be to eliminate, which is going in and asking yourself, what can I stop doing each week that’s going to free up the business to go where it needs to go? Personally, what can we eliminate that’s going to allow us to get where we need to go.
I’ve heard variations of this order. Sometimes people will say, “Stop the other way.” Eliminate first and then maybe automate. Why did you choose eliminate as the last step?
When I say automate, delegate and eliminate, I don’t mean that that’s the order that it has to be in. Part of the reason I chose that is because it’s alphabetical ADE and it rings. The other reason is that a lot of times it’s difficult to know whether or not something should be automated early on. After it’s been automated, it’s much easier to be like, “That’s not having that much impact.” It is interesting that you asked that because 15-1-1 eliminates all of the things that shouldn’t be automated from the process. My own 15-1-1 process has elimination built into it. As long as you’re using 15-1-1, you can choose to automate first to look at it, but you need to write an SOP. You need to write out what it’s going to do, no matter what.
The next section is the Give section. Faith is an important part of your life, but what other charities or communities are you passionate about and why?
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am incredibly passionate about helping that organization grow. I’m a faith-based person. I believe God’s in the details of our lives. I believe that he’s restored his church on the face of the earth. It’s a powerful place that I believe helps people grow and get there. I’m also passionate about an organization called One Heart, One Light, which is about helping men deal with their emotions and recognize how to handle some of those different pieces of what’s there.
Also, I’ve got a charity. All the proceeds of my book and a percentage of my revenue go to my charity called The Purple House. You can go to PurpleHouse.org.au to find out more. They certainly help indigenous people with dialysis, which is close to my heart. The last section is the rapid response or rapid-fire questions to quote John Lee Dumas. I’ll ask you some questions and get some quick replies. The first one is what are your top three personal effectiveness tips?
It’s automate, delegate and eliminate. Look for things in your life where you’re stuck and figure out ways to go around those different things that you’re facing by automating, delegating or eliminating.If you're looking for new ideas, go find mentors, interview, and talk to people. Click To Tweet
You’ve mentioned Zapier, Airtable, and Google. I’m sure you’ve got lots of gadgets and lots of tech, but what’s one that you couldn’t run your business without?
If you had asked me that question a year ago, I would have said Trello because Trello is a powerful Kanban list-making tool. It’s unmatched in terms of its capability on the phone versus on the web. They’ve done a fantastic job of making a solid piece of technology. We’re in the process of transitioning away from Trello into ClickUp. Especially for service-based businesses, ClickUp puts Accelo and some of these others that are out there that are built for that. It is amazing what Zeb Evans has done in creating that platform. Those are two platforms. I still am in love with Trello. I love the things that are about them. ClickUp seems to have all the things we love about Trello plus several things that we hate about Trello so we’re in the process of transitioning over to it.
I’m thinking the same thing from Asana to ClickUp. I’ll be contacting you to get some tips. What’s your best source of new ideas?
My everyday life is a source of new ideas. I am constantly coming up against new things and listening to people around me. Another huge place that I go for new ideas is honestly my podcast where we’re interviewing SaaS founders and finding out what automation they brought to the world. We had Zeb Evans on our podcast and those founders are smart dudes. That’s been powerful. If you’re looking for new ideas, go find mentors, interview and talk to people. That’s been my fastest best way to challenge the world and look at it in a new way.
Will, you’ve given us a bit of a glimpse at the answer to this question, but I save it for the last because it’s the biggest. What impact do you want to leave on the world?
I want to put automation in the hands of the common people. When I say the common people, I mean those who are unaware of some of its capabilities. I see so much manual effort wasted on trying to figure out what’s there. I want to create a space where people can find the right automation as quickly as possible and get the most out of creating some of this fantastic value that is stuck. It’s locked with chains of manual effort inside their heads. I want to break those chains with automation.
It has been brilliant having you on, Will. I’m going to continue to follow you and the podcast, Automate, Delegate, Eliminate. Please subscribe to that. Also, for anyone that mentions this episode 260, we’ll give a 30 minutes system discussion if you mentioned this. Thanks for the impact you’re having on the world. You’ve inspired me. I hope you’ve also inspired everyone by doing more automation because it’s something you can never do enough of.
I am glad to be here.
I enjoy my interview with Will. To be honest, I wish I had double the time. I had many questions I wanted to ask him, but I wanted to respect your time and keep it to the 30 to 40-minute mark. I would love to know what your biggest takeaway from Will. Please share on your socials mentioning Will and DataAutomation. To find out more about Will and his great services, go to DataAutomation.com. He will provide a 30-minute free system consult to anyone that mentions this episode. If you believe someone would benefit from the show, please share. They would love you for it. Fill out the assessment to know if you’re going to have a high or low seven-figure business in 2021. Go to PaulHigginsMentoring.com/assessment. Please take action to build, live and give.
- Extend Your Team
- Automate, Delegate, Eliminate
- Satiated Artists
About William Christensen
I have a passion for figuring out what the end user wants and pushing for quicker iterations. I’m out to find new users and new revenue. I love a challenge and am often called a go-getter.
I’m the founder and CEO of DataAutomation.com. At RoundSphere, I am also the business development director for BookScouter.com, GadgetScouter.com, MouseDining.com, and others.
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