Using Zapier and Other Apps to Differentiate Your Firm
Imagine building a custom workflow that sends a welcome email each time you add a new customer to QuickBooks® Online (QBO), or a workflow that sends a welcome email with a blank W-9 attached each time you add a new Vendor and mark them for 1099 tracking. No-code developer tools such as Zapier, Automate.io, Integromat and Microsoft Flow enable non-developers like you and me to do just that.
These cloud-based tools allow users to create DIY integrations to automate frequent repetitive tasks that were previously done manually, or add additional functionality to an app you already use. Zapier, one of the most popular no-code development tools, includes more than 1,000 apps on its platform, which allows users to connect and share data between them. This can save firms hours and even days of manual data entry. In the past, these types of integrations were expensive to build because they required hiring outside developers. But, Zapier and tools like it offer non-developers a way to build integrations themselves through predefined templates and a simple dashboard that makes it easy to connect the dots between your apps.
Think about a repetitive task that takes a big chunk of your time each week and imagine automating that task so you can focus on your clients, building your firm or maybe even taking some much needed time off! Maybe, it’s automatically responding to Find-a-ProAdvisor® leads in your email account, or adding tasks to a workflow app such as Trello, Asana, or Aero Workflow when a proposal is accepted by a prospective client in Practice Ignition. Zaps (a workflow created in Zapier is called a Zap) can be simple, one-step automations, or they can be complex multi-step workflows that share and push data between many apps used in a workflow.
One of my favorite Zaps used in my firm solved a major time suck I was experiencing each week and freed me from doing a job I really didn’t enjoy. I spent hours and hours each week curating and publishing content using tools such as Hootsuite and MeetEdgar. I used Zapier to create an automated workflow that automatically creates content as I read articles by simply clicking a button. This one automation has not only saved me time, but also helped me to build my social media audience!
Brian Clare, one of the founders of Blueprint Accounting, a cloud-based bookkeeping and accounting firm located in Ottawa, Canada, uses Zapier to automate many of the repetitive tasks in his firm. I asked him about the most impactful automation he has built to manage workflows in his practice and this is what he told me.
“Hands down, the most impactful zap I’ve created for my business is an onboarding one that automates the entire process up to the point of the client onboarding meeting,” Clare said. “I originally shared this 18-step zap back in April or May 2018 that uses five different apps and pushes information between them. For the most impactful client-facing zap, it’s mostly being able to set up various smaller Zaps to send information directly into Slack so that we don’t have to go searching for it when we need to complete bookkeeping and month-end tasks.”
Jan Haugo, founder of Jan Haugo Accounting & Associates, a tech-savvy cloud-based bookkeeping firm out of Scottsdale, Ariz., shares how she got started using Zapier and how she has a completely different way that she uses it in her firm.
“I started using IFTTT (another no-code development platform) back in 2011, looking for more business uses rather than personal,” Haugo said. “Then, I saw zapier on a Twitter feed and follow up, and I wanted to see what the automation was about … about 5 years ago.
“The best use for me has been in a customer service capacity,” she continued. “I wanted to keep my customers out of the books as much as possible, so I developed two Google forms for one of my customers. The first was to create a new customer in QBO. They bring on new customers and need to have the information in a timely manner so that the staff can use Tsheets by QuickBooks for billing. The next zap is for 1099 help that they use at the company. The help is seasonal and needs to be added quickly, so the Google form is for set up of a new vendor.”
Let’s face it, we are living in an age where the efficiency of a firm’s internal and service processes can greatly affect their competitive advantage in the market, not to mention their quality of life. The availability of information and technology has allowed us to expand our skills way beyond the scope of traditional accounting services. Just take a look at large firms like KPMG and BDO, who offer services such as cyber security, IT services and “intelligent automation” services that are way outside the traditional realm of accounting services. This trend isn’t limited to the big firms, either. Smaller firms and sole practitioners are also providing their clients a more holistic approach to business services by incorporating their expertise with technology into their service offerings. Learning to use a tool like Zapier can help you level the playing field, increase your competitive advantage in the marketplace and even provide a new service offering to your clients.
So, how do you get started using a tool like Zapier? Brian Clare offers two pieces of advice to those just getting started with Zapier.
“Write-down your processes,” Clare said. “Knowing what your inputs, processes and outputs are will go a long way to giving you ideas of how you can use Zapier to zap information between your app stack.
“You need to tinker,” he continued. “Tinkering will help you learn and become better at building more robust zaps. Try putting together a zap based on your above inputs, processes and outputs, and see what happens. Zapier has an amazing help section if you get stuck, or you can email their support team to ask them questions.”
Zapier offers free online training videos to help you learn how to use Zapier on its learning platform, Zapier University, or if you prefer live training options, sign up for one of my Zapier Workshops offered throughout the year, and this year at the Scaling New Heights conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, in June!