NO-CODE: The automation sensation for every small business
Published on 06 August 2020
Enter no-code: a development platform that uses a visual development environment to allow anyone to create apps without prior coding knowledge.
SmartHub Business Manager Elize Hattin is joined by resident entrepreneur and Turbo-traction lab facilitator Daniel Johnsen to see just how easy and effective no-code apps can help small businesses and start-ups.
App time for starting business
Despite the constant COVID-inspired bad-news for business, Daniel Johnsen reassures it has never been as cheap and easy to start a business and be supported along the way.
Small businesses, start-ups and sole traders know time is a commodity they can never get more of.
How many of us have mused about how nice it would be to have an app for that…? Something that can make our business lives just that little bit easier, faster or simpler?
No-code makes it possible to design and integrate almost anything, even for the most inexperienced technophobe. Design, develop, and launch powerful web apps without writing code.
Easy to use, no-code allows non-programmers to pump out apps or workflows quickly. Daniel Johnsen explains how no-code is an easy way to build a business.
“If you wanted to build a business 10 years or 15 years ago, it would have been a very costly, very time-consuming process.
“You'd have to have a lot of experience to make something as simple as a login page, which we now take for granted. That would take somebody that knew what they were doing a couple of days to do it.
“To do something advanced you had to get a group of programmers or pay someone to develop a customer app for you.
“Now we've moved into a space where you can draw something out and put some logic behind it to instruct the computer that whenever I click this, do this, if this or do this type of action,” he explains.
Who is no-code for?
Daniel Johnsen explains no-code is for anybody that wants to do something in one system, describing there are two major application contexts.
Firstly, if someone wants to build an app from scratch without outlaying tens of thousands of dollars for it. That means, you want to design it yourself and you are willing to learn a little bit about how that works.
Secondly, someone may want to connect very disconnected systems such as accounting software with a lead generation system or other platform. Again, it is important you automate this but it's not worth paying someone upwards of a thousand dollars to do it.
Luckily for bootstrapping business, Daniel says there are existing tools that have made typically disconnected systems start talking to each other, through no-code integration tools such as Zapier or Integromat.
“It's absolutely amazing where the tools are at. You can point, click and design an app and make it go to the app store where somebody else can pay you for that app.
“It has never been this easy… previously you had to go to college or university or do coding for 15 years before you figured it out,” Daniel exclaims.
A perfect path
Daniel says not only do these tools allow you to build apps, they also allow for testing to achieve what is known in the no-code world as a perfect path.
“For me, this is to deliver that value that I'm telling somebody I can do, and how quickly I can get that piece of knowledge or service or whatever to them.
“It doesn't take somebody that's been schooled up with a PhD in Computer Science to do that. You can create a PDF of an eBook, 50 pages long, and you can sell that in a matter of minutes. That's where we are right now,” Daniel says.
So how do you evaluate whether a task, process or action is worth automating? Is the cost/time saving worthwhile?
Daniel says he questions who cares, who has this problem, are there enough of them and are they willing to pay for an effective solution?
“Whenever I look at opportunities, I like to see there's a big market, they're already paying and trying to solve the problem, but in a really bad way they're not happy with.
“I really love it whenever I build a team of people around it so that we can collectively design and build a solution that meets that market need.
“Who in the world cares enough? Do they care enough to actually engage? Is it really a problem or is it vital? The last one is, does it make financial sense for me to even continue this?” he rationalises.
Time is a finite commodity
Daniel often refers to an XKCD graphic of the automation landscape to assess whether he should invest time in exploring automating tasks.
“It's a cost benefit graph that questions how long should you mainly do the routine tasks before you spend more time on it.
“This graphic demonstrates over five years, if you only do the task once a year and it takes you one second, you should only spend five seconds ever automating that because it's in your interest to just keep on doing it manually.
“However, if you do something 50 times a day and you save five minutes, you should spend up to nine months automating that because at that point of nine months, over five years, you actually start getting your time back,” he illustrates.
Time is a commodity that we cannot ever get more of. Daniel says you can either spend your own time or pay somebody the equivalent.
“If you need 12 hours and a programmer charges a hundred dollars an hour, well, that's saying that you should spend $1,200 on automating them, paying somebody to do it for you. You're buying time,” he says.
Tools of the automation trade
There is a growing multitude of online tools, programs and platforms to help busy business owners reclaim their time.
One of Daniel’s favourites is Zapier, which allows end users to integrate the web applications they use.
He uses Zapier to monitor his Google calendar. Any meeting invite he receives, Zapier takes that meeting request, the subject meeting line and automatically creates a new note into Microsoft OneNote, where Daniel can simply start typing notes during that meeting.
“I don't have to copy and remember, it's all uniform. It tells me who is in the meeting, the start time, the end time and the location and the email address.
“I used to do that manually and I hated it so then I automated to just make things happen,” he reveals.
Daniel explains the next level of software deals with the aesthetics of automation, such as Typeform which specialises in online form building and online surveys in a very elegant way.
Canva, an Australian-based company lets you design social media graphics, presentations and logos like a pro.
Airtable is an all-in-one collaboration platform that makes it simple for people to collect and sort through data.
Daniel says the magic of these tools is where they overlap.
“Bubble is my favourite tool because it lets you create something beautiful at the same time of dealing with data and also lets you automate.
“All it is, is point and click, do this, do that, make this other thing happen, that's it. I have an idea, let me click around, make two systems connect and then my little automation life is potentially a little bit easier,” he says.
Another popular tool in Daniels’ arsenal is Thunkable which lets you create an app just by dragging and dropping.
Daniel says Thunkable is similar to Bubble, but they've taken a different approach of point and click, drag and for $21 a month, Thunkable will help you list in your app the app store for others to purchase.
Watch Daniel use Bubble and Zapier to build a To Do List app from scratch in less than 30 minutes here…
Daniel admits while his 25-year tech background does give him an app-building advantage, no-code beginners can tap into a wealth of online communities for advice and guidance.
He says most programs like Bubble offer tutorials and platforms such as YouTube contain endless volumes of ‘how to’ videos.
There are also expert users of programs on outsourcing platforms such as Upwork.
Daniel himself signed up to an online community called 100 Days of No-code with the intention of building his story-telling and sharing app Read with Lolly in one hundred days.
In addition to getting invited into a Slack community where members demonstrate the different things you can do using no-code, the platform also awards discounts and memberships, including for Bubble.
“They also give you this other website, called Secret which has tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of discounts for you, if you join,” he shares.
Daniel admits he recently reached out to no-code community to solve an issue with his under-construction app.
On hearing someone in the no-code community was stuck, Daniel was bombarded with offers of advice and suggestions to address the issue.
“There's never been as cheap, as easy, as supported time to start a business right now, then there ever has been before,” Daniel claims.
Rip off and duplicate
Knowing there is a range of no-code tools to build powerful apps and other automation tools for new and existing businesses, where do you start?
Daniel recommends R & D.
“What I do is I R&D…I rip off and I duplicate what other people do and make it my own,” he smirks.
All-in-one creative subscription platform elements.envato.com is a good starting point where users can type in the app or a similar app they would like to build.
“There's 7,000 different graphic representations that are an inspiration for what you may be able to build in Bubble,” Daniel demonstrates.
His other go-to website for inspiration is Dribbble, a self-promotion and social networking platform for digital designers and creatives.
“If you want to create a delivery app, you just tap in delivery app and then there's all these examples of amazing designers that might say, "Oh, if I were to redesign Uber or Uber Eats, I would do it like this."
“You take a little bit of one person's, a little bit another and then you make it your own. That's what I would do,” Daniel admits.
As a starting point, Daniel suggests documenting all the actions you want to do at high level, and slowly pick them off one by one.
“Watch the tutorials, join a community, join the 100 Days of No-code challenge, use the inspirational sites, just start something,” he urges.
Daniel Johnsen is the resident entrepreneur at the Smart Hub, Turbo-traction Lab facilitator and creator of Read with Lolly, a simple way for families and friends to record themselves reading books or telling stories via Amazon’s Alexa so story time becomes anytime, anywhere.
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