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Mockup of a computer screen in an office with the Zapier homepage displayed on the monitor.

 

If you’ve never used Zapier before then getting started can seem daunting.  Although the Zapier website has many examples of automations you can build, the most important thing to do before you even consider automation is to review your processes.

If you’re wondering what difference Zapier can make for your business then we cover this in our blog which lists many of the benefits that automation has for your business.

 

Mapping your processes

The first stage for automation is to review your key processes and make a list of them.  Involve your team and have a brainstorming session to look at each one and categorise them by department, e.g. sales, operations, marketing, finance.

Break each process down into its constituent steps and describe what it achieves, who is involved and which apps you use to complete it.

Identify which steps can be improved, because maybe you find some which are duplicated, or could be done a better or quicker way.  Maybe your software can help with systemizing some aspects which are currently manual.

Try to eliminate anything which is inefficient or unnecessary, and then map each process out. There are a few options for how to do this, from listing the steps in a spreadsheet to using a dedicated process mapping tool.  We cover this in our blog about how to document processes and procedures.

Once your processes are nailed, you can then think about which ones could be automated, to reduce manual tasks and human error.  Connecting your apps will also save time, something which benefits your staff and customers alike.

Here you can learn how to get started with Zapier, our favourite automation tool.

 

Understanding Zapier’s language

Zapier has a number of key terms which you should familiarise yourself with so that you understand how to build your first automation.

 

Apps

An app is a software application, a technology tool or a cloud-based web service.  These are the systems you use in the business and Zapier’s pre-built integrations mean that you can pass data between them and trigger processes automatically.

 

Zaps

A Zap is a connection between two or more apps to trigger a specific workflow and pass data between the different systems.  It is a workflow that you can configure to trigger when something happens in one app, and specify what happens in another.

 

Triggers

A trigger is the first step in a Zap.  It is the event that initiates the automation and is the first step of the workflow you are configuring using Zapier.

 

Actions

An action is an activity that happens as a result of the trigger.  Each app has predefined actions which can be performed, such as adding, updating or searching for data. For example, if you want to add data to a database you may need to check if the entity already exists, which you can do by searching for it.  If it does exist then the entity can be updated, or otherwise, a new entity can be created.

You can include one or many actions as part of a single Zap.

 

Screen print from Zapier showing what the actions and triggers are for the Mailchimp app. Options such as New Customer and Email Opened are in the list.

Tasks

A task is an action that your Zap completes successfully, once it is activated.  Your pricing plan will set out how many tasks can be completed each month and every successfully completed action, search and passed filter will count towards your task limit.

 

Other terms

There are other terms you will need to understand, once you’ve grasped the fundamentals, including:

  • Filter
  • Multi-step Zap
  • Path
  • Formatter
  • Update time/synching interval
  • Autoreplay

These are all covered in detail in a book that our founder Kelly wrote called, Automate It with Zapier, which you can buy here.

 

Choosing a Zapier plan

When you sign up for a Zapier account you can choose a pricing plan.  The free plan is ideal for when you’re first starting out and allows you to build up to 5 Zaps, running up to 100 tasks per month.  This means you can get started and try it out without incurring any cost, and in fact you can build some powerful automations using just the free plan.

If you outgrow the free plan or want to use some of the premium functionality then a range of plans are available:

  • Starter: up to 20 Zaps and 750 tasks (currently from $24.99/month).
  • Professional: unlimited Zaps and 2,000 tasks (currently from $61.25/month).
  • Team: unlimited Zaps and 50,000 tasks (currently from $373.75/month).
  • Company: unlimited Zaps and 100,000 tasks (currently from $748.75/month).

Each plan also has other features, such as supporting premium apps (the free plan doesn’t support these), the update time (the speed at which your workflows are triggered) and support for features such as:

  • Multi-step zaps.
  • Filters.
  • Formatter
  • Webhooks
  • …and others.

 

Navigating the Zapier platform

Zapier makes it really easy to create Zaps.  You can simply choose the apps you use and it will suggest other apps to connect them to, and common automations which others have built.  If you choose one of these then you can use a prebuilt template to get started really quickly.

Screen print from Zapier showing a summary of the Gmail app and some great pairing apps for it which include Google Sheets, Facebook and Dropbox.

The main Zapier dashboard allows you to manage your zaps, build new ones and view your Zap history.  It also provides a snapshot of your current Zap and task usage so that you can check if you are getting close to your monthly limit.

 

Update your Zapier settings

When you first use Zapier there are some account settings which you should update.

Firstly, you should validate your email address by clicking on the link in the email which Zapier will send when you sign up.  This protects your account and ensures that Zapier sends any emails to the right address.

Next, you should add your role.  This tells Zapier the kind of job you perform and means that they can make appropriate suggestions for workflows based on others who do the same kind of thing.

Make sure you select the correct time zone too.  This will make it much easier to debug any errors as you will know what time they triggered.  The default is UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) but it’s better to set your local time so that it’s easier to make sense of any timestamps which are displayed.

You can configure your email notifications so that you receive alerts at a preferred schedule.  These alerts include things like failed triggers, failed actions and a summary of your activity.

Other settings which you can change include two-factor authentication, which apps have been authorised under your account, whether to use Google or your email address to sign in and manage your data for example, how to delete and export it if required.

 

Deciding what to automate

When you reviewed your processes, you should have created a priority list of those which are candidates for automation.  They must include apps that integrate with Zapier and you should make a list of the trigger events, and what actions you need to take as a result.

To strategize the automation, follow these steps:

  • Identify the apps used for the workflow.
  • Identify the trigger step which initiates the workflow (and whether it is an instant event or scheduled).
  • List the actions which the Zap needs to perform.
  • Map the data, where it will come from, how it will be used, whether it needs to be manipulated and what will be updated.

 

Connecting your apps

Zapier takes you through the process of connecting your apps in a step-by-step manner.

You simply choose the first app and will be asked to authorise it by logging into it using your usual username and password. Some apps may require an API key or token, but this only needs to be done once as every subsequent time you connect that app Zapier will use the existing authorisation.

So, the main thing you need when connecting your apps is the login details, usually an email and password, and then you’re ready to go!

 

Building your first Zap

Although we won’t go into great detail here, it might help to understand a few of the key points for building your first Zap.  But we would highly recommend just rolling your sleeves up and having a go yourself – we think you’ll be surprised just how easy it is!

 

Set up your trigger step

Your trigger will either be an event in an app, or you can schedule the Zap to run at a specific time or schedule, or you can use an RSS feed to initiate the workflow.

Users paying for a subscription on the Starter plan or higher can also use webhooks to kick off an automation but we’re guessing that this isn’t something you want to do at this stage.

You will most likely choose an app as a trigger, or schedule the Zap, and once you’ve done this you need to pick which event will cause the trigger to fire.

For a schedule, it will ask whether it’s every month, week, day or hour, or for an app, there will be specific events to choose from.

You’ll then connect to the app, and then maybe ask for extra information related to what you want to achieve, for example, to choose the type of record, or enter some search text.  Zapier will then test the trigger to pull through some data which you can use while you’re building and testing the Zap.

When you’ve done that, you’ll be able to click Continue to carry on to the next stage.

 

Set up your first action step

The next step is to choose the action, which you should already have planned from your process strategizing activities.

For a simple Zap, you can choose the app you’d like to connect to.  For multi-step Zaps, you can choose a Path, Filter, Formatter or Delay, which are inbuilt Zapier functions.

Assuming you’re picking the app, then you’ll be prompted to authorise it (if you haven’t done so already) and then pick the action step.  Each app has specific actions it can perform, such as adding, updating and deleting data.  You should know from your process modelling what you need to do here.

Zapier walks you through each step of selecting the information it needs to perform the action, as well as mapping the data you’d like to see manipulated.

 

Screen print from Zapier showing an action step of a Zap to send an SMS when an event is about to start.

 

You can use the Continue button at each stage to take you to the next step.

You’ll be prompted to test each stage too, so should check that the data is being pulled through as expected. Once you’re happy you can then turn on the Zap and it’s ready to go!

 

More information about Zapier

Zapier now connects over 3000 apps and new ones are being added all the time.

If you’d like to see videos of Zapier in action then the Solvaa YouTube channel has plenty of examples, with Kelly explaining how each step works.

If you’d like to be guided through every stage of getting started with Zapier then Kelly’s book, Automate It with Zapier, is available on Amazon and through the publisher Packt.  It explains a range of automations and you can download her templates to get started really quickly. Here are links to Amazon (.co.uk) and Amazon (.com) to get yours now.

The book is perfect for seasoned pros as well as brand new Zapier users.

 

And finally, if you’re really keen to transform your business using automation then we will be launching the Solvaa Automation Academy in early 2022, providing you with a bunch of training courses to help you run your business on autopilot.  You can join the waitlist below to keep up to date with the latest news.

 

Read more about how our certified experts use Zapier workflow automations to simplify processes and increase efficiency.

Solvaa is a process and automation consultancy specialising in improving sales, operations and financial administration workflows. We help you to simplify and streamline existing processes, integrate your business tools to make data transfer more efficient and automate manual tasks to increase productivity. We are Zapier Certified Experts, Pipedrive Certified Experts and Xero Certified Advisors. 

Contact us today to discuss how Solvaa can help you simplify, improve and automate all aspects of your business with Zapier to save you time, reduce costs and keep you agile as you grow.

 

 

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