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When does automation help or hinder freelance life?

For many freelancers, running their business is a separate ‘’job’’ to their actual work. Meaning, many freelancers have to strive to not only find this time but to maximise it. The administration side of our business and the way we handle daily business functions is very important - more often, it’s information we need to report and submit to various Ämter. While the seemingly most logical thing to do is to automate as much as possible - we need to be aware this can sometimes hinder more than help. Much like the great Whitney Houston, we want to know, how we will we know?

What tends to happen in emerging markets, like AI or automation is similar to what happens in most markets for freelancers. Because the uptake of freelance work or self-employment is not only at its highest but continuing to rise as well, such technologies making life easier for freelancers tend to perform quite well. Even in freelancer banking, Kontist surely has its fair share of competitors. Of course, Kontist has found a way to automate only what is necessary and in an effective way which is why they continue to grow - but some other offerings in the market can complicate life. In what other areas of our business do we need to have awareness around the automation technologies we use.

Sometimes automation does not qualify your records for the authorities

We have spoken at length on our blog about how to keep the Finanzamt happy and what’s important to know is that you are required to have meticulous documentation and correlation of your expenditure for your business. Every item of post, every piece of equipment, it all needs to match up. Yes, it is a very high standard, but this is Germany and it is a by the book country - no place for Seychelle shell companies!

A bank like Kontist is great because in real time you can log your expenses and upload the receipt. However, it is important to keep a separate digital folder of your receipts or logs. Imagine a scenario where you are audited - you have changed bank accounts and it has been around five years. These auto-generated logs may list the transactions but perhaps not the image of the receipt - so if you really want to go and stay paperless, you do need to also upload (at some point) the record of this receipt into a separate corresponding, dated and chronological folder.

Yes, it's a pretty high standard, but without a complex, coded chain of command - there is not automation that is going to make this easier, except staying on top of it - which is something we have also previously on the blog. So yes, the tools of automation are absolutely necessary - it’s just that, so is the next step!

Emails and Communication

Few working folks would argue that there is a better feeling than turning on your auto-reply on your emails, and heading off for a well-earned break. Many ‘’guru’’ types of the self employment world can discuss and dissect the best email practices for essays as long as The Rise and Fall of Rome.

There are zero inbox theories, there are hundreds of mailbox managers, schedulers, trackers as well and of course, automated email sorters. So, while yes there are clear benefits in automatically sorting your mail - there is one key thing to note. And it happens more often than you might think.

A self employed friend was describing, in rich detail, how he had set up his email inbox for maximum efficiency. To be honest, it seemed like he had really figured it out. That is, until one day, a client called him quite stressed and asking why he had not been responding to emails. Turns out, his wonderful email system had been sorting his clients' emails into spam - even if they had previously emailed using the exact same email addresses.

This is just one example - there are similar stories of invoices going into ‘Updates’ or people finding hundreds of business enquiries in various folders. This is not to say, using all email automation is bad, no. This is about maintaining an awareness that automation is designed to take your eyes off things - things you would other see - and that can include communication.

Not all communication for our business is going to be initiated by us. Creating opportunities or even having a business that gets such enquiries is a huge milestone in the freelance or self employed career, and it would be a shame to lose out on any opportunities for this reason.

Another short note, if you are using newsletters, it can also be important to make sure you are not missing key mistakes or changes in audience behaviour by automating this process too much. Broken links, incorrectly sized imagery or a poorly timed release that secures its place in the spam are all pitfalls that can happen to freelance or self employed persons who are keeping up with their clients or customers via email.

Lastly, voicemails. Now, there is a millennial rejection of listening to voicemails or even speaking on the phone. Seems like you either like it or hate it, and either do it or refuse to. It's a superficial problem - but many clients like to leave long voicemails explaining in detail why they are calling and how to reach back to them. This is how it was done in many industries for a very long time and depending on your industry being well established or not, some clients and even customers may do this. Even further, some may consider it poor business to simply text a response. Of course, it depends on the client - but this is an article about the pitfalls of automation. So, don't let your voicemails pile up and miss out on crucial information - in this case, do not ignore the automation.

Scale

Depending on what kind of business you have ,something we discuss here, you will have different demands. What is interesting about automation, is that some solutions are really made to deal with scale and magnitude - huge corporations with existing or similar analog infrastructure. What can happen, surely it is relatable, is often we see an advertisement for a product that is going to make us more productive, more ''visual'' or who knows - and you can see with mountains of projects and your current productivity app not working, how easy it is to want to find a solution. Fair bets - but a lot of programs are meant for businesses of scale - and that is not at all to say you are not capable of having a business of scale by being self employed. It is about understanding if these tools really suit YOU and YOUR BUSINESS. It is like how you can get a bank account with any major bank, but of course, you'd go with an account like what Kontist offers because it really suits YOU. And in line with that, some of these automation tools are incredibly expensive, that is, to a self employed person. Maybe EUR30 is not so much per month for a big company but maybe it is an expense you do not need if it is not truly serving a purpose and returning on that investment.

When productivity apps only hurt productivity

In line with the above regarding scale, is the seduction of apps that will solve problems in your life and business. Data shows, most people abandon most apps they start using. What is interesting from a self-employed world where every second of every day is valuable because your time is the most important resource... this is a leading opening, but what is interesting is the amount of time that can be spent (see: wasted) signing up for these apps. Not even just signing up, but setting it up and then using it enough to see if it is for you. It seems a generally good practice to be very discerning about why you want to automate something. Does it serve a purpose? Can it serve that purpose consistently?

We should always try to think about our business in new ways

This is obviously a topic that can go very deep and also is variable across so many different elements of freelancers of self employed life. What we wanted to do was encourage freelancers and self employed folks to change or challenge their perspective on the role automation plays in their business - there are cases here for it harming and hindering.

So, one does not have to abandon their entire range of apps or automations, but rather bulletproof them in a way. Sometimes it is far too costly to make mistakes in a business where you really rely on doing well at... everything - there is no catch-all. Hopefully, this gives you a few ideas around what is automated and what you would like to automate and what you would like to stop automating, in your business!