“Work smarter, not harder.”
It's an expression we hear all the time. But applying this philosophy to running your business requires you to step back occasionally and take an honest look at the way you're doing things.
What should you let go of and where in your processes can you trim the fat to make things move faster?
It’s often the small-but-necessary tasks that eat up your time—chances are you can find these areas of inefficiency anywhere from marketing to customer support. And while outsourcing is one solution, automation is another that today's entrepreneurs are looking at adopting.
Enter Zapier: A versatile service that bridges the gap between the apps you rely on every day. With over 500 possible apps to integrate, you can hack together recipes called “Zaps” that can pass along information and trigger actions between apps that don't natively integrate.
Zapier can help you come up with clever ways to streamline elements of your business by:
- Automating routines likes manual data entry to take them off your plate (and eliminate human error).
- Consolidating data from multiple sources into one place for you to sift through and make use of.
- Integrating apps that don't normally "speak" to each other, letting you bypass the costs of hiring a developer to build integrations and develop innovative processes.
But before we explore some Zaps, there are a few disclaimers:
- There are examples of Zaps embedded below that you can easily implement, but since every business uses different apps, processes and tactics, I encourage experimenting to find your own.
- The free version of Zapier is nice for light use, and the 14-day trial gives you an unrestricted chance to experiment, but a paid subscription will open up the real opportunities (via a larger volume of tasks per month and more frequent firing).
- If your business is powered by Shopify and you're looking to integrate your store with another app, be sure to check out the App Store to see if there isn't already a solution that fits your needs.
With that out of the way, get ready to feel both smart and powerful as you get a taste of all the cool things you can automate.
Monitor the internet for conversations about your brand/product
The internet’s a big place, one that’s rife with conversations.
But it’s hard to hear the ones that are relevant to your business through all the noise, especially when these conversations are happening in so many different places.
One way to effectively—and efficiently—monitor the internet for these opportunities is to let Zapier do it for you and let you know when they happen via email or text.
Better yet, you can automatically add these mentions to a Google spreadsheet so you can browse conversations from different sources all in one place.
With the potential to use Twitter's Advanced Search filters, and select specific data fields you want to use to populate each column, you can choose what and how information is displayed to you.
Here’s a spreadsheet built by a Zap I ran for about 2 days to monitor general conversations about “Shopify” on Twitter and Reddit. I didn’t use any filters here, but I recommend you make your query specific in order to ensure you’re excluding things you don’t want to show here like Retweets.
Try it out:
Add new orders and support tickets to your to do list
Maintaining a To Do List can sometimes seems like you're creating more work for yourself, especially since most of your core business tools probably don't natively integrate with your productivity tools.
But with Zapier you can automate task creation, populating the items in your To Do list based on Triggers from other apps with the exact information that you need to execute them.
For example, if you have a team working on fulfillment or customer support, it might be better to consolidate your tasks using a single project management/team collaboration tool like Trello or Asana, to centralize your workflow and keep everyone on the same page.
Try it out:
Collect user-generated content from Instagram
User-generated content is a great way to give your customers a chance to show off your products and lend some social proof to your brand by posting pictures to Instagram under your hashtag.
With Zapier, you can make it easier to collect all that great content.
Save these photos to Dropbox or a spreadsheet, or even receive an SMS text or email depending on when they get posted if you want to know about them in real-time.
This can save you tons of time if you're running an Instagram contest or hashtag campaign, especially if you turn it into a feed that you can then pull into another app.
Try it out:
Build yourself a smarter inbox
For a lot of people, email can easily become a source of stress and a sinkhole for productivity.
Some emails feel like ticking time bombs that get scarier the longer you put off replying. Other emails contain important information that needs to be shared fast with the right people before it gets buried.
Zapier lets you harness your inbox's hidden potential to trigger automatic responses and forward emails based on their contents. You can imagine the wide range of use cases here:
- Auto-reply to inquiries containing a specific subject line.
- Notify your supplier when you're low on inventory.
- Send a weekly email to yourself or someone else, containing specific data from one of your apps.
Take a look at the Zaps for Gmail or Email Parser by Zapier and see what you can come up with.
Try it out:
Sync your email list across multiple platforms
When it comes to building your email list, there's no shortage of tactics you can use. But collecting emails in a single database usually involves funnelling in contact information captured from several sources.
That's where Zapier comes in handy. Build your email list from customers, event attendees, survey takers, contest participants and more.You can even go so far as to connect a CRM that wouldn't natively integrate with your email marketing solution.
Try it out:
Automate parts of your social media strategy
While I wouldn't recommend a “set it and forget it” approach to your entire social media presence, there are some parts of it you can easily take off your plate, like sharing new products or your latest blog post.
You can set up Zapier to automatically queue up your posts in Buffer to publish to the channel of your choice.
Edit the template according to how you want it to read and what data you want it to pull in.
You can go further and incorporate Pocket or another content curation tool and save hours on your social media efforts by automating the way you go about collecting content to share.
Try it out:
Pull data from your store into a spreadsheet
Despite all the cool apps in this post, nothing beats a spreadsheet sometimes.
Given that you can set up a spreadsheet to execute formulas and apply conditional formatting, it can be helpful to automatically add new orders to a spreadsheet on an ongoing basis instead of manually exporting this data when you need it.
Browse your orders more easily, perform calculations, or even use the data in this spreadsheet to execute an action in another app.
Try it out:
What have you hacked together?
The above Zaps are just ideas, not prescriptions. You can always take them further, in another direction, or customize them to suit your unique ecosystem of interconnected apps.
And while some things just require a human touch no matter what, incorporating automation into your processes creates more time for you, and more time creates more opportunities to build upon the bigger picture of your business instead of getting lost in the tedium of routine tasks.
Still, I haven't even scratched the surface here. If you've come across any Zaps that have changed your business for the better, share them in the comments to build out this list.
Let's see some of the cool things you've managed to hack together.
About The Author
Braveen Kumar is a Content Crafter at Shopify where he develops resources to empower entrepreneurs to start and succeed in business.