Automation fail

Philip Morgan

I woke up to see that yesterday's email--which was actually supposed to send out on National Teacher's Day in 2019 (May 7, 2019)--became... yesterday's email. On not National Teacher's Day. :)

Ah, the wonders of automation.

I've been experimenting with a new, simplified publishing workflow. And learning the nuances of one of the tools I use to make that workflow happen.

For the email marketing nerds in the room, here's what I'm up to.

I used to write my daily emails in Drip's editor. This was... OK.

Sometimes my login session would expire and Drip wouldn't notify me and also wouldn't save the draft I was working on, and I'd lose the draft. Annoying, but whatever. I guess I should pay closer attention to my Drip login session. Or maybe Drip's developers should do something about this situation, but... I digress.

My goal was always to mirror my daily emails to /daily-emails/, which is mechanically simple, but for some reason I'd forget to do this about half the time, get behind on that task, and then get annoyed with myself.

For years now I've been following other daily publishers (folks like me, with a micro-business, who serve an audience by publishing emails or blog posts daily), and I've noticed some of them use Feedblitz or some other RSS-to-email service to syndicate their blog posts to an email list. This became interesting to me when I went to Spain earlier this year.

I wanted to keep my daily emails going while in Spain without queueing up 2 weeks worth of emails in advance. I like having a very "realtime" feel to the emails I send y'all.

I hadn't been to Europe since before smartphones existed and I was working on a pretty sketchy idea of what internet access would be like there, so I did some worst-case-scenario thinking about how I'd handle my daily emails while on the road. I wanted to simplify as much as possible.

I forget too often that many places in the US are way behind the rest of the world when it comes to Internet access. When I lived at the Oregon coast, the best option I had for internet was to get multiple 1.5 megabit DSL lines provisioned to my house and gang them together with a load balancing device. In Spain, by contrast, the internet was awesome. 50 megabit symmetrical in the hotel room in Barcelona, and rock-solid LTE on the rural end of Formentera. I had an hour-long Zoom video call on my phone on Formentera that went flawlessly with great video (consumes about 350mb of data, if you're curious).

Anyway, I over-prepared for the Spain trip. But... I figured out a new simplified daily publishing workflow that--scheduling snafus notwithstanding--I like quite a bit.

Here's how it works:

  1. I write my emails in Bear Writer. This lets me use Markdown, syncs to all my devices very nicely, and is just a generally nice writing environment without the cruft of Evernote.
  2. When an email is done, I export it in Markdown format to a Dropbox folder
  3. A Wordpress plugin grabs it from the Dropbox folder and turns it into a pending blog post. This is that plugin:
  4. Another Wordpress plugin lets me easily schedule the pending blog post during my "sending window", which is weekdays at 5am to 5:15am Pacific. This is that plugin: I'm not 100% satisfied with how this plugin is working at the moment, but I'll figure that out eventually. There are other alternatives to try.
  5. Finally, a RSS-to-email automation in ConvertKit turns the new blog post into an email to my list within about an hour of it appearing on the RSS feed. Drip and Mailchimp have the same feature, though Drip's has failed me in the past so buyer beware there...

Anyway, I really like this workflow because I never forget to mirror an email to my blog.

Also... if you're interested in trying daily publishing but don't have an email list, this is the workflow I'd recommend for you because you can start establishing the habit of publishing frequently now, even if you lack a list, and then as you build an email list in the future you don't have to change anything in your workflow.

This leads to an interesting point.

Blair Enns has this wonderful phrase: "feet on the desk time".

By that he basically means time spent inventing new ways of creating value for your clients.

In other words: innovation.

This kind of activity can seem to be at odds with operational efficiency or high utilization. It's rarely billable, and if you charge by the unit of time that's problematic.

If, however, you charge for value creation, this kind of "feet on the desk time" is vital.

This is another reason I like this new publishing workflow.

It gives me more feet on the desk time.

Not tons more. Just a few minutes each day. It's barely noticeable in isolation.

But sometimes small, barely noticeable things do matter. Especially when they show up with all their friends and family in tow.

For me, the friends and family of this workflow are a broader theme of simplification in my business. Of doubling down on the areas of strength and head start. Of going narrow and ever deeper.