Your business likely uses various apps and tech tools to help you run smarter, more efficient operations. But you can take your technology use to the next level by connecting those tools together—so they automatically feed each other information and streamline your processes.
Austin Gray, who runs a Denver co-working space called Green Spaces, uses the workflow automation tool Zapier to improve his company’s lead generation process. When a website visitor requests a tour, Zapier automatically sends their contact information to a customer database and a messaging app, which texts the visitor’s phone number to a Green Spaces staffer, who arranges the tour. The tool also notifies a “social proof” application that posts a tour request notification on Green Spaces’ website so site visitors see it—and hopefully decide to book a tour themselves.
Essentially, what Zapier does is create links (“Zaps”) between several of the company’s tools—its website platform, customer relationship management (CRM) software, messaging app and social proof tool—all provided by different vendors. Like other such tools, Zapier allows businesses to create these workflows using little or no code.
“No-code tools allow me to quickly build all kinds of automations that save me time and money,” Gray says.
The benefits of workflow automation
Business owners often choose tools and apps based on how well they perform their specific task. But the ability to integrate these apps—sharing data and automating processes—can greatly enhance their benefits. For example, if your apps don’t integrate, then someone at your business may have to manually re-enter the same data in multiple tools, costing your business time and money and increasing the odds of errors.
Here are a few examples of how automating workflows can work:
- Linking your email account to your project management software so that every time you tag an email with something like “to do,” it creates a new task.
- Linking your payment processor to your accounting database, so that every time a new charge is processed, the customer is located in the database (or a new customer record is created) and a sales receipt issued in their name.
- Linking your lead collection app with your messaging to automatically send the leads a personalized message.
- Automatically saving important email attachments to cloud storage.
Small businesses can make good use of workflow automation because they typically don’t have a lot of managers on hand to ensure that routine processes get done, says Olivia Montgomery, content analyst with software review and advice site Capterra. They also lack the IT staff to build out integrations or automated workflows.
“With low-code automation, you don’t need to hire a person to integrate applications or write out these rules,” Montgomery says. Workflow automation is also useful for complicated processes such as onboarding new employees or targeted marketing campaigns.
Many tools already have built-in integrations with certain other tools, making it easy to link those together. But when your tools don’t have integrations already available, you can turn to workflow automation tools like Zapier, Automate.io and IFTTT to help create those connections. These tools use application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow various applications to talk to each other and share information.
Using automation to grow—and succeed
Gray has also used workflow automation in his other venture as co-owner of The Perk, a craft coffee café in Winter Park, Colorado. When the pandemic temporarily closed the café, he used Zapier to quickly build out an online ordering system. When customers filled out a form on the cafe’s webpage, hosted by Squarespace, Zapier sent the information to a customer database on Google Sheets and to an employee’s phone as a text to fulfill the order.
He also used it to build out the café’s coffee delivery subscription service. Zapier sends customer information from the website to an email subscriber list, a Google Sheet customer database, a Slack channel, a text messaging app and a social proof tool. As a result, multiple teams instantly get to work on fulfilling the subscription and marketing to the new customer.
Gray says that automating tasks has allowed him to focus on developing the strategies required to sustain two vulnerable businesses during the pandemic. “I had two options as an entrepreneur: To give up or to get creative,” he says. “I took the second option.”
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