In the last few years the number of tools available for businesses has exploded. The days of “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM” are well and truly gone. Now, rather than paying huge sums for one mediocre general solution, businesses can carefully invest in specialised products and apps that perfectly fit what they’re trying to do. For example, at Tuts+ we use Trello as our project management app. It keeps track of every tutorial that someone is working on. Trello’s feature set is just what we need. Other businesses that have a different workflow, however, could find Trello too limited and instead need something like Basecamp that’s a little more traditional.
The problem with having all these different tools available is that they’re mostly made by different small companies. All Microsoft’s products work together right out of the box but the same can’t be said for a random collection of tools from small developers. You could be using Slack to manage your team, Shopify to sell your product, Zendesk to handle support and a dozen other apps each doing something essential. Connecting all these disparate apps and getting them to play nice together is where Zapier comes in.
In this tutorial, I’m going to look at the how and why of using Zapier in your business for better task automation. I’ll start by exploring what is Zapier and what its used for, then outline how it can benefit you and show you how to get set up.
Most modern web apps have an API (Application Program Interface) which third-party developers can use to interact with it. They can do things like upload information, download stored data and otherwise hook into the app. If it wasn’t for Twitter’s API, we’d all be stuck with just their official clients.
What is Zapier?
What Zapier does is take two services and act as a middle man for their APIs. It’s a tool for connecting all the different apps you use.
Say you want to automatically download any email attachments sent to your Gmail account to a specific Dropbox folder. Well since both Gmail and Dropbox have APIs, with Zapier you can. Every new email attachment you get will trigger Zapier to download the file and upload it to your Dropbox. Zapier calls these trigger-action pairs Zaps.
Zapier has more than 500 apps connected to their service. For each app there are a couple of triggers and actions. You can even have one trigger perform multiple actions. This means there are essentially unlimited unique Zaps to be made, which your business can put to use for better task automation.
Why You Should Automate Your Business With Zapier
The key benefits that Zapier brings to your business workflows are speed, consistency and visibility.
First, Zapier can speed up common business tasks. Imagine it’s policy to upload all client files to a dedicated Dropbox folder. You can make a Zap that downloads all the files a client sends to your Gmail account and upload it to a specific folder. Each client will need their own Zap but it will work in the background and save you or your employees the hassle of doing it manually. There are likely dozens of these little tasks that you do everyday that could be automated. Combined, they can save quite a lot of time.
Continuing the example above, let’s consider consistency. People aren’t perfect. They forget things, make mistakes and generally just mess up occasionally. Computers are a lot better at performing simple business tasks reliably. If you want to ensure that every single file a client sends you ends up in their dedicated Dropbox folder, a Zap is the best way to do it. An important email won’t slip through the cracks just because it was sent at five o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Any time you have a specific protocol or formula that needs to be followed when moving information between different apps, you should consider using Zapier.
Zapier is also a great way to add visibility to your workflows. Whether you’re using Slack or email to manage everything, you can have Zapier ping you whenever an employee (or a Zap) does something important. Again using the email example, you could create a multi-step Zap that would post an announcement that a client’s file has been added to Dropbox in your main Slack channel. This means everyone can see what’s happening.
Using a Zap to add visibility to something is exactly what I’ll show you how to do in the next section.
Creating a Simple Zap
Let’s get started making a simple Zap. I’m going to create one that connects my Twitter account to Slack. View the screencast below or read on for the written version of this quick tutorial.
I want every tweet that mentions me to get sent to a #tweets Slack channel. This is the kind of thing that could be useful for a small company that wants everyone to see the Twitter feedback from their clients.
To follow along, you need a Twitter account and a Slack channel. Both are free so if you haven’t got them already, sign up before continuing.
1. Setting Up the Trigger App
Head to Zapier’s website and sign up for a free account. Once you’ve got an account set up, click on the Make a Zap! button to get started.
First, you need to select the Trigger App. For us, it’s going to be Twitter. Use the search bar to find and then select it.
Twitter has eight different triggers but the one we’re interested in is Search Mention. Select it and click Save + Continue.
Next you need to connect your Twitter account to Zapier. Click Connect a New Account and then log in and give Zapier all the relevant permissions. Once you’re done, click Save + Continue again.
For the Search Term, I want to use my Twitter handle, @harryguinness. This way any tweet that mentions me will trigger Zapier. Depending on what your business does, you might want to use more general terms such as your product name. Enter what you want and click Continue.
To finish setting up the trigger, Zapier will prompt you to test it by fetching the most recent result for the search term. Click Fetch & Continue to make sure everything is running properly. With that done, the trigger is set up and ready to go.
2. Setting Up the Action App
With the trigger ready, it’s time to configure Zapier so the tweet gets sent to Slack. Use the search bar to find Slack and select it.
Slack has plenty of different actions to choose from. For this Zap, select Send Channel Message and then Save + Continue.
Like with Twitter, you need to log in and give Zapier permission to access everything. Do that and then click Save + Continue.
Next, it’s time to configure how the message will appear in Slack. Select the Channel you want to use from the relevant dropdown menu.
The most important section is the Message Text. Click the + icon in the top right corner of the box and Zapier will pull all the information from the test tweet. You can select any of these fill in values and they will be dynamically populated whenever Zapier runs.
I set mine up so that the Slack message includes the sender’s username, the Text of their message and the URL that links back to it. For this Zap, you can leave the rest of Zapier’s defaults as they are, and click Continue.
It’s now time to test the action. Click Create & Continue, wait a few moments, and then check to see that the tweet has been posted to Slack. If it has, you’re all good. Click Finish, name your Zap and then turn it on. Now any time someone tweets at you, it will appear in your Slack channel.
Zapier has a variety of different plans to suit any business. The Free plan which we used in this tutorial is fine if you only need a couple of Zaps that run infrequently: you’re limited to 5 Zaps and they can only run 100 times per month. There are also a small number of Premium apps that you can’t use. You also can’t create Multi-Step Zaps with a free plan, which have more than one action.
If you hit any of those limits, you need to upgrade to one of their paid tiers. For $20 dollars a month, the Basic plan gets you 20 Zaps and 3000 runs. Plans go up in price and Zaps from there. If none of the plans work for you, Zapier are happy to sort you out with a custom solution.
Zapier is a powerful tool for connecting different apps. As small businesses have moved away from monolithic single packages of software to smaller more specific apps, there’s a need for tools to link them together. If you’re going to use three or four different tools, you want them to play nice.
In this tutorial I showed you how to create a simple Zap. You can dive a lot deeper into Zapier and create Zaps that are custom made for your business and the tools you use. I recommend you play around with Zapier’s free plan, see what triggers and actions are available for the apps you use, and work out where they could help your business.
If you only use one or two tools—like we do at Envato Tuts+—you might not find it too useful, but if you manage tasks across a dozen different services it could dramatically improve your business.