I moved to Japan because I wanted to start a business. I didn’t know anyone other than my girlfriend when I moved, and I thought that was the perfect scenario — without a big social network surrounding me, I would have lots of extra time and energy to devote to growing my new business. Then, once everything was up and running, I could go out and starting making friends in Japan and having hobbies and doing all the “normal” things you do in life.
And that’s exactly what I did. I focused my life entirely around work. I didn’t make any effort to meet new people or take care of my social needs. I spent the majority of my days working from home, sitting in front of my computer, alone.
You know what happened next? I got incredibly sick. So sick that I actually left Japan for a short time to rest and recover. After I felt better, I realized that my isolation was the main reason for my physical illness. People aren’t supposed to exist in a vacuum. We need other people around us to stay happy and healthy.
So, when I got back to Japan, I rearranged my priorities. I made sure to get out into the world instead of isolating myself in front of my computer. I took a night class to improve my Japanese, I played hockey and I got out and met people.
I felt SO much better. My life was back in balance.
This might sound like a cautionary tale for people who work too much, but I think there’s an even deeper meaning to my story. The meaning is this: people need people. As much as the Internet, email, cell phones and texting have made it easier to stay virtually connected, there’s just no substitute for real communication, real connection and real relationships — in life OR in business.
Here’s what I mean.
In my line of work, I see more and more entrepreneurs touting the benefits of automation. They want you to automate everything you possibly can: lead generation, email marketing, sales funnels, you name it. Automation is the big buzzword on everyone’s lips, and it’s clear that the pendulum keeps swinging in that direction. It seems like no one will be satisfied until every single aspect of their online business is fully automated and can take place without their involvement.
I have a problem with this automation trend. Here’s why I’m over it: because relationships are valuable. They are the crux of every healthy business. Relationships grow out of one-to-one personal communication, not automated emails. And you absolutely, positively can’t automate a real relationship.
Fortunately, I don’t think the automation trend is going to last. Pretty soon, the pendulum will start swinging away from automation and back toward the other side of the spectrum, towards one-on-one human relationships. I can’t wait for this to happen. In fact, I’m happy to lead the charge.
Even Internet marketing gurus who have been on the automation boat before are changing their tune now. If you know Brennan Dunn, you know he’s a great entrepreneur — a real inspiration — and he’s all about smart automation. I was listening to Brennan’s podcast the other day, and he announced that he’s going back to personalized consulting.
I was really surprised to hear this, but the more he talked about it, the more I understood. He said that everything was going great with his productized consulting business, but he was just bored. I happen to think boredom is a clear outcome of automation. If everything in your business happens without your involvement, where’s the connection? Where’s the room for passion and excitement and problem solving and communication? I don’t know Brennan personally, and I can only speculate about his reasons for wanting to consult again. But it makes perfect sense to me that an outgoing, intelligent entrepreneur would want a more stimulating day-to-day than tweaking his automated funnel to increase sales, or coming up with more ways to generate huge numbers of leads.
As people, we crave conversation, involvement and interaction with others. As entrepreneurs, that need increases tenfold. We’re born to talk to people, not hide behind our automated sequences. We want to nurture customer relationships, not deploy a series of fake-sounding “personalized” emails with the hope that whoever’s on the receiving end will like us. We want something bigger and more meaningful than a series of faceless customers we’ll never meet, who will never meet us.
Okay, I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m anti-automation. I’m anti-anything that gets between you developing a strong, personal connection with your customers and clients.
I’m against automation, but what am I for? I’m pro-people. I’m pro-relationships. I’m pro-conversation. These are the building blocks of a successful business that can grow and expand over the long term. It’s ridiculous that your success should hinge solely on the effectiveness of your automation, instead of the quality of your services. It’s crazy to believe that clients prefer being treated like cattle instead of like people. It’s weird to trick customers by sending out a mass email under the guise that it’s a personal message.
All of that nonsense needs to stop.
What I propose is this: Let’s get back to the basics. Talk to each other. Focus on nurturing individual relationships with clients. Value personal communication over mass communication. Have actual email conversations with people, like we used to do in the old days. Hop on the phone once in a while and say hello.
Now, I want to be clear about one thing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t automate certain aspects of your business. Of course you should. It would be impossible to write every client invoice by hand, for instance. All I’m saying is, the things you choose to automate should not create a barrier between you and your customers. Choose automation tools that help you forge an even stronger connection with your customers.
This is a major reason why I created TouchingBase.io in the first place. I wanted to build an Gmail tool that uses a little bit of behind-the-scenes automation to manage your inbox, but still leaves the personalization part up to you. All you have to do is tag an email for follow up at a later date, and it disappears from your Gmail until it’s time to respond. Then, when it’s time, you write your own follow up message — an authentic message that’s directly from you. No mass email. No fake personalization. Just good old fashioned one-on-one communication.
I hope you’ll join this movement with me. I hope you’ll commit to stronger customer connections. Better personal communication. Being a person and not a robot. Because you can automate a lot of things in business — but the one thing you can’t automate is a relationship.