This article is a guest post from a good friend of ours, James Rose. James has created an AMAZING, in-depth article on how to use Zapier to become more productive with your business.
Have you ever felt like you’re incredibly busy, but somehow your business isn’t growing?
It’s pretty common, and years ago I found myself in that position. Every day was full to the brim with work and there was no chance of being able to fit any more in without burning myself out. And somehow, our business was stagnant. It’s not a nice feeling.
Eventually, I hit a breaking point. Something had to change. I began looking for ways to claw some precious time back.
This led me into the world of workflow automation – a way to have software take over the repetitive processes in your business.
Once something is automated, you often never have to even think about it again! It frees up your time to work on more important things, and get back to growing your business.
One of the most popular tools in this industry is Zapier. Some rough math indicates that I save around 150 hours per month with Zapier.
In this post, you’ll learn how you can get started with Zapier and also eventually save 100s of hours.
What is Zapier?
Zapier (pronounced like “happier”) is one of the most popular workflow automation platforms.
It connects with the tools you’re already using and moves data between them.
The best way to explain is by a simple example that just about every business can relate to.
Imagine you have a contact form on your website.
Also imagine you have a place where you store your customer and lead information. This could be a CRM, or even just a spreadsheet.
A workflow could say:
> Whenever someone fills out my form, add them to my CRM
> Whenever someone fills out my form, add them to my leads spreadsheet
Why bother automating?
Let’s continue with the above example.
Many contact forms send an email when someone fills it out. To get that person into your CRM, you have to manually copy and paste the data in. This automation means you never have to do that again.
At first this can seem trivial – it might only take you a minute to open your CRM and copy in the info. But consider that you have to do this every single time someone contacts you – whether it’s through your contact form or any other place your leads come from.
What started as only a minute adds up quickly. Consider how many other processes there are like this in your business. Sum all of these up, and I guarantee there are at least several hours per month spent on boring, repetitive tasks like this.
But there’s more to it than just saving time.
What if you make a mistake when copying everything over? This happens all the time. Wherever humans are involved, there will be mistakes. Then you have to go back in and correct it. You might only realise after sending a few emails to the wrong address. By then you might have lost the client.
All in all, automation helps you:
- Save time (yours, or your team’s)
- Avoid human error
- Stay focussed on more important work
Even better, when you automate things, it kind of feels like you’re a wizard. Seriously, every time I create a new automation I still get a huge kick out of it.
How to get started with automation
Getting started in automation can be intimidating. There are so many possibilities, so how are you supposed to know where to start?
The easiest way is to start exploring what Zapier can do with the apps you’re already using.
On the Zapier website, navigate to “Popular ways to use Zapier”
Scroll down to the section where you can choose your apps. It looks like the screenshot below. Notice that I have turned on “Google Sheets”, “Gmail” and “Slack”.
Search for a few of the apps you’re using and select them.
Scroll down a little further and Zapier shows you some ideas for workflows using those apps.
Not all of these will be relevant for you, but it’s a great way to build an understanding of what is possible.
Spend some time exploring this area in Zapier.
How to build your first workflow
When you’re ready, it’s time to build your first workflow.
This part could be an entire post in itself. If you’d like to see how to set up a workflow for the first time, from start to finish, watch my Zapier tutorial.
But let’s take a quick look at how to do it.
You can break a simple workflow down into 2 parts.
- Trigger: When to start the workflow
- Action: What the workflow should do
You can think of it as “When this happens (trigger), do this (action)”
Example: When someone fills out my contact form, add them to a spreadsheet.
Here’s how to build this workflow in Zapier. We’ll be using Typeform as the form builder. You’ll need an account, with a contact form already set up.
For testing, I suggest creating a simple form with the questions Name, Email and Message.
Step 1: Create a Zap
In your Zapier account, click the button to create a new Zap.
Step 2: Choose a trigger & event
Feel free to adapt this if you’re using a different tool for your contact form.
First, search for the tool that you’re using, then select it.
Click continue, then choose the event “New entry”
After this, you’ll be asked to connect your Typeform account. Go ahead and do that.
Finally, you’ll be asked to test your trigger. Click the button and Typeform will provide an example as if someone filled out your form.
Step 3: Set up the action
Before you do this, go and create a new Google Sheet with the columns:
Back over at Zapier, set up the action. Start by searching for Google Sheets.
Choose the action event “Create spreadsheet row”, then connect your Google account.
When setting up the action, choose the Spreadsheet you just created. As soon as you do this, Zapier will pull in the columns that you created – name, email and message.
Click into each box (name, email & message) and Zapier will show you the different questions on the form that you can send to each column in the sheet. Choose the respective data from Typeform.
It should look like this:
Click continue and then run the test. Then, Zapier will ask you if you’d like to turn on your Zap.
Click that button, and you’ve completed your first workflow!
Every workflow you’ll create is just a variation of this. For example, if you were using email marketing software like MooSend, you would follow the same steps to add a lead to your account.
Over time, you’ll be able to build more and more complicated workflows.
How to work out what to automate
Knowing how to create a simple workflow is a great place to start, but the thing I see people struggling with the most is working out what to automate in their business.
Bear in mind that as you build more knowledge and try more things, you will naturally start coming up with more ideas. It’s only really difficult in the beginning. So let’s look at how you can start coming up with ideas.
As we spoke about earlier, you can simply explore the Zapier website.
But to come up with ideas specific to your business, create an “automation wish list”. This can be a spreadsheet or document that you add to as you come up with ideas.
As you complete your work each day, consider if a task is something that you’re doing over and over again. If so, write it down. When you’re ready, dedicate some time to go through your list, experiment with Zapier and see if you can find a way to automate the things on your list.
To help you come up with ideas, most automations fall into one of these categories.
1. Repetitive tasks
This is anything you have to do over and over, like moving data from one system to another.
- Keeping contact information accurate. When you get a new lead, or when a person’s details change, there are usually a few places you have to update it. If you’re copying data between systems to keep them in sync, it’s a great opportunity for automation.
- Onboarding new clients. As part of your client onboarding process, you’ll likely repeat some steps with every client. This might include sending invoices, sending emails, getting contracts signed or creating folders in your online storage.
- Social media posts. If you post the same or a similar thing to multiple channels, you can create workflows that do this automatically. E.g. When you post on Instagram, automatically repost it to Twitter
2. Tasks that cause excessive email
Anything that clogs up your inbox is bad news for productivity. You don’t want to be spending all day handling email.
Here are some ideas for reducing your email workload. Note that these automations don’t necessarily use Zapier. Automating your business often requires using a few different apps, and sometimes chaining them together with Zapier.
- Meeting bookings. Instead of going back and forth with people to find a meeting time that works, use a tool like Calendly. With Zapier, you could then update your CRM to say that your client has booked a meeting
- Notifications and alerts. Any notifications that come in via email can be handled with Zapier. For example, you could say that when you get an email that your website is down, post a message in Slack.
- Collecting information or documents from clients. Instead of using email to ask clients to send you information, send them a “request” with Content Snare. You can send out the request using Zapier automatically, and then Content Snare will automatically remind your clients via email.
3. Things you forget to do
When you’re super busy, it’s easy to forget about things that you’re supposed to be doing, like checking in on your team. Automation can help you stay on top of this in a few ways:
- Email follow ups. If you’re expecting a reply to an email, use a tool like Follow Up Then or Boomerang to bounce the email back to if the person doesn’t reply in a certain time.
- Project management activity. It’s easy to lose sight of everything that is happening in your business. With “Digest by Zapier”, you can create mini-reports that roll up lots of events into one. For example, you could get a daily email with all the tasks that got checked off in your project management system.
- Social media monitoring. With Zapier you can monitor Google, Twitter or Reddit for brand mentions, and notify yourself via email or Slack when it happens.
Automation can help you save a ton of time in your business.
Start out just by building an understanding of what is possible, then just be mindful of the tasks you do day to day. As your knowledge grows, you should naturally begin spotting opportunities to automate more and more tasks.
The more you automate, the more time saved and the less you have to think about boring parts of your business. At first, you may only save a few hours per month, but as your knowledge grows, you’ll start measuring time saved in 100’s of hours. Some people even manage to delay the need to hire someone, as their automation does so much work for them. Needless to say, the cost saving there is insanely helpful for scaling your business.