Automating Processes

Note: this is one of a series of posts about the creation of the King Design web site.

One of the things I’ve talked about in this series is how I’ve tried to make my life easier with the new systems I’ve put into the the new King Design web site. In this post I’ll talk a little more about which systems I’ve automated and why.

As I mentioned previously, I set up a little system for customers to retrieve their license keys as part of the new site. Previously I’d handled this manually, but I knew that with the new releases I’d have a lot of requests to handle so I wanted to have the system in place for the product launch. I’d say it was a good idea, it’s been used nearly 100 times in almost 5 weeks.

One of the reasons it was important to let people quickly and easily get their license keys (without needing to wait for me) is because all upgrade purchases are done from within the download area. Once a customer logs in, I now show links to all available downloads based on the product(s) they have purchased. For example, a Tasks customer that has not yet upgraded to 2.5 will see a link to upgrade to 2.5 as well as links to upgrade to all versions of Tasks Pro™
. Previously, people had to e-mail me to get these links – now I can just point them to the FAQ.

When I first launched Tasks Pro™ 1.0, I set up the free trials as a hacked install to support multi-tenancy (all trials running off a single installation of Tasks Pro™). This worked fine, but it was a real pain to upgrade each time. When I released version 1.1 I decided to just set up a standard installation for each trial. Then when the trials expired, I could just remove the installation. This was much easier to maintain, so I used this approach when I set up the free trials for Tasks as well. However, I still processed all the free trials sign-ups manually until the .5 releases.

Based on what I’d learned from the experience of offering the previous free trials, I made a few final tweaks and finally felt comfortable fully automating the free trial creation. I still receive e-mails if someone fills out the comments section when they sign up for a free trial, but for the most part I no longer need to participate in the process.

Processing the free trials didn’t take much time – maybe 30-60 seconds per. However in the last 5 weeks I’ve had 150+ Tasks and 210+ Tasks Pro™ free trial sign ups, so the little bits of time (and the interruptions) add up.

Since I’m not manually processing the free trial sign ups, I wanted to make sure I could still monitor everything. If I see someone sign up 3 or 4 times, I can e-mail them to see if there is a problem and see if I can help. I chose to set up RSS feeds to monitor the free trial sign-ups, and that has worked out quite nicely. I can see all the information I need, but not be a bottleneck in the process or have the constantly distractions.

I use custom RSS feeds to monitor a variety of activities on the site; from the free trial sign-ups, to the forum posts to software downloads. It’s quite easy to set up custom RSS feeds (I started using Feed Creator which is about 25% easier than coding the entire thing yourself), and they are definitely the right tool for the job when you want to monitor activity.

So far, I think the time I’ve taken to automate things has definitely paid off. However, I also think that it was wise to only semi-automate them in the beginning, until I had a clear idea of what to expect in each situation.