Automation & Costs

As a small business, one of the most important things we need to do is drive our costs down.  One of the best ways to do that is to automate as much of our business as possible; figuring out the best ways to do the same amount of work in less time.  That often means we then just add more tasks to the pile in an attempt to increase our value add for our customers.

A great example of automation would be our homepage.  We used to edit the Bestsellers list and New Games list manually; pulling the data from our reports to code the HTML directly.  Now, we’ve managed to automate the entire process.  It doesn’t save us a huge amount of time – probably 2 – 3 hours a month; but that’s time we can now use for other projects.

Another example is the tracking number we send out for our Shipment Information.  Again, it doesn’t take too long but a few hours a week saved here and there is worth a lot for a business like ours.

Of course, there’s a cost to all this; and that’s the cost in development time.  Since I’m not a programmer myself, that means we have to hire a developer to work on these projects for us.  If you’ve never hired a programmer / developer yourself, let’s just say that it’s not exactly cheap.  At least not the good one’s.

So it then becomes a matter of balancing costs – would paying $1000 to upgrade X feature be worth the time savings we will see? If we pay $10 an hour (for example’s sake); that means it needs to save us 100 hours of processing time to be worth it (not including the testing and development time we have to dedicate to get the project up and running).  So the question is, how fast should this return happen? 1 month, 1 year, 3 years?

I generally use a rule of thumb of 1 year myself.  With upgrades on the site and server, it’s quite possible that within a year we’d have to junk the change (or have it upgraded as well); so the returns have to happen fast.