Last year, The Guardian published an article written entirely by a language generator built by OpenAI. The same research company has also been teaching computers to produce deepfake music that sounds like Katy Perry or Frank Sinatra, and to create images based on text prompts.
If you’re an artist, you can use a generative adversarial network (GAN) like Artbreeder to put together some concept art in a matter of seconds. If you’re a video producer, you can use automated systems to organise clips as Netflix has started doing to produce its trailers.
Like it or not, automation already plays a big part in the creative process, and it looks like it’s here to stay.
But it’s not all eerie robot writing and personalisation algorithms – in fact, the real power of automated systems for creative businesses, just as much as any other business, is the time they save you on mundane, behind-the-scenes tasks.
The problem is, most people don’t set aside the time to make those improvements. Once you’ve got into a habit, breaking it can feel like a chore in itself. It’s easy to find yourself doing the same little hacks and bodges month after month, or putting up with weird manual workarounds to get systems to talk to one another.
I’ll keep this short and sweet: don’t. By spending time fixing things now, you’ll save time and money in the long-run, giving you the freedom to focus on bigger, more exciting projects.
Look for the jobs you can automate
Because automation can be used for so many parts of a business, a good first step is to look at the things you do day-to-day, and ask yourself where things could be more efficient.
Which of your tasks are so repetitive and boring you could do them with your eyes closed? Do you feel like you spend all your time chasing up colleagues on the status of various projects, or emailing your clients to remind them to pay you?
The chances are, whatever it is that’s taking up your time could be handled or at least supported by software.
The most effective automations could be as simple as scheduling your tweets for the week, or setting up emails to be sent at regular intervals.
Or it could be about using a productivity tool that sends you and your team reminders when a task is due, and lets you see the stage your projects are at so you don’t have to go out of your way to check up on it.
Join the dots
This is where things get really interesting – when you can connect your systems together so they don’t need any extra input from you.
If you’re using a project management tool, for example, you could set up an automation that adds a new task to your to-do list when you receive an email from a particular client, or when someone adds a new file to a shared folder.
You might then choose to then sync it with your calendar, so any new tasks are already there when you look at your schedule for the day.
Or, if you’ve got a contact form on your website, you could set it up so the information a potential client enters into it feeds through to your customer relationship management (CRM) software, which will then schedule a personalised email to go to that contact.
Depending on the software you’re using, you should find there are various ways to integrate your systems. But if you can’t find the specific link between systems you need, you might be able to set it up using an integration tool like Zapier, Automate.io or If This, Then That (IFTTT).
Cloud accounting, not spreadsheets
Finally, I would say this as an accountant, but switching to cloud accounting is one of the most important changes you can make to start streamlining your business.
In this day and age, it just doesn’t make sense not to use online software for your accounts. Even if you can make do with a combination of bridging software and spreadsheets to meet the requirements of Making Tax Digital, doing that means more manual input and a higher risk of error.
A good online accounting package will pull in all your most important financial information and categorise it automatically, as well as connecting to HMRC’s systems when you need to file your returns digitally.
It will also allow you to integrate your accounting system with other pieces of software, whether that’s your CRM, payment platform, or essentially anything else you use to manage your business.
If you use time-tracking software to record how long a piece of design work takes, for example, you can connect it with your accounting software and use that information to invoice accurately and keep an eye on your budget.
You can also save a lot of time and cut down on your tax bill by linking your accounts with expense management software. Our top recommendation for this is ReceiptBank, which acts as a digital storage space for all your paperwork.
It uses machine learning to draw out data from any images or PDFs you add to the app, so you can keep a record of your receipts and invoices on the go.
Talk to us about integrating and automating systems in your creative business.