Zapier and business process automation

Tyler's annual review retreat


[00:00:00] Tyler: Steve, I am doing something at the end of this month that I've wanted to do for a long time, and I'm very, very excited about, and that is I am going on an end of the year, annual review retreat, if you will.

[00:00:16] Steve: Just you?

[00:00:17] Tyler: just me. Yes.

[00:00:19] Steve: Oh, okay. This sounds exciting. Tell me about this.

[00:00:22] Tyler: yeah, so basically what I did is, uh, recently I've started being much more dedicated about reflecting in a journal, you know, and so I've been doing that daily and then I have a different template for weekly, a different template for monthly.

Even quarterly, and then also an annual review. And this will be my first time doing an annual review. And so I thought to make it special, I would get an Airbnb somewhat locally. I'm not like traveling far away or anything, but it's like in a different town, two hours away, it's a small little cabin. I don't know how corny this sounds, but I'm very excited.

So I'm basically planning on reviewing all of my reflective, you [00:01:00] know, my quarterly reviews, my monthly reviews and things, and kind of just doing some thinking about how I'm progressing in my life and what are my goals and what do I want my goals to be? And it's very New Year's type of thing to do, but I'm, I'm excited to, to disconnect a little bit and just go, I'm not even taking my dog.

I'm taking Him with, I'm leaving him with a dog sitter. So it's just going to be me and myself. In this little cabin, thinking about my life. I hope it goes well.

[00:01:30] Steve: That, that sounds amazing. Uh, like we, we talked recently, uh, about how I'm not very good yet at doing weekly reviews in Getting Things Done. And I would like to have more time to do, cause like one of my hangups with them so far is like, uh, it, this early in the process, it tends to take a long time to do a review every time.

And so it's hard to like block out that much time. So the, the idea of having like days to do [00:02:00] this review, that sounds amazing.

[00:02:01] Tyler: yeah, well, and to be clear, this is not that type of review. I'm not really going to be looking at my tasks and to do lists, but it's more like my areas and my goals and just kind of aligning myself with myself as woo-woo as that sounds, but you know what I mean? It's more, it's more reflective review.

Yeah. Yeah. Which is part of GTD. You know, he talks about areas and things and, and, and, and connecting with those, but this is, this is a little less regimented and I do have a template. I'll be filling out just kind of guide my thinking. And so, yeah, I'll let you know how it goes.

[00:02:31] Steve: Exciting. Good luck. Hello there, dear listener. I am Steve.

[00:02:41] Tyler: And I'm Tyler. Welcome to another episode of It's Not About The Money, where we discuss a wide range of topics related to creating and running small businesses.

[00:02:51] Steve: Tyler and I both run small businesses, uh, like you perhaps. And this podcast is our attempt to make sense of the world of life and [00:03:00] business and annual reviews one episode at a time.

What is Zapier?

[00:03:05] Steve: So Tyler, I. I want to talk about Zapier today and like automation more generally and how it can apply to running a business.

Uh, because my career, up to this point and, and going forward, because I still have a day job, is as a software engineer, and so I love automating things and getting computers to do stuff for me so I don't have to do it myself. Uh, and Zapier is. Uh, if you're not familiar with it, it's kind of a way of ingesting, uh, signals from lots of different apps that you might use and piping the data between them and getting them to do things in response to that. So it's a, it's a nice little automation platform. I'll give you some examples in a second, but I've really enjoyed using it [00:04:00] so far. And I thought it might be fun to talk about some of the things that I have

[00:04:05] Tyler: You're absolutely right. It will be extremely fun. And I'm very excited to hear about what you've built. Um, I have, have you heard of the, I'm curious if it's similar Zapier to the thing that was called If This Then That, or maybe it still exists. I don't know. Have you heard of that one?

[00:04:20] Steve: I have, yeah. I assume it still exists. I haven't used it for a long

[00:04:25] Tyler: Yeah, neither have I, but I guess the idea is, is similar where you can integrate various services and apps and have them trigger actions in other services and apps. Is that kind of similar to what does?

[00:04:37] Steve: Yes, that's right. And you can also do a lot of, like, processing in between. It's not just a single trigger and a single action. You can do, like, multiple steps and branching and, like, all that kind of stuff.

[00:04:50] Tyler: Well, I'm really excited to hear what you came up with, because back when I was messing around with if this, then that, I think as advanced as I got was like, if a certain person sends me a text [00:05:00] message, flash my light bulbs three times or something like that.

[00:05:05] Steve: huh.

[00:05:06] Tyler: So something tells me you have, uh, much more cool things going on.

[00:05:11] Steve: Okay, yeah, Zapier is, uh, geared more toward business use cases. Um, well, I should say, I don't know, maybe it can do those things too. I don't have, like, a whole lot of smart home things, so I have never really gotten into that. Maybe you can do that too.

LLC consent form automation

[00:05:28] Steve: Uh, the way I've been using Zapier, at least, is, uh, for example, I have an LLC.

And one of the things that I do in order to maintain that LLC, this is not legal advice, by the way, don't take legal advice from a podcast. Uh, but one of the things that I do is I have consent forms. Anytime I make a big decision about what the business should do, whether that's entering into a big contract or taking on a big project or. Uh, you know, switching banks, any of those kinds of [00:06:00] things where it's like, uh, have going to have a material impact on the operation of the business, even though it's just me, the person, you know, in order to maintain the corporate entity as a separate thing from me. I have this process for documenting those things that, and that that's done through consent forms.

And it's a template that has just some standard boilerplate at the top with a date and then a section for me to fill in what was the decision that I made. And then I sign it at the bottom. And, uh, yeah, I had one of these come up recently and I thought it would be nice if I could just, uh, you know, send it the little blurb that I want and it fills in the date for me and then sends, generates the PDF so I can sign it.

iPad electronically or print it out or whatever, you know, but being able to do all of that busy work that, you know, it would nice if I could automate that. And it turns out that you can.

[00:06:59] Tyler: [00:07:00] Oh my goodness.

[00:07:00] Steve: And so, so, so here's what I did. I have in Todoist a separate project called Consent Forms. And when I add a task to that project, Zapier will take the, the, what is it?

The title?

[00:07:16] Tyler: The name of, yeah.

[00:07:18] Steve: The name of the task and use that as the, the description block for the template. So it goes and pulls the Google doc as a template and drops into the placeholders, the current date, and then the block of text that it got from Todoist that I typed in and converts that to a PDF and then logs a new task in my inbox for today, go sign this consent form.

So then I go onto my iPad, tap that link. There's the, there's the PDF. I sign it with my Apple pencil or whatever. And, uh, and then save it back to the right folder in Google docs.[00:08:00]

[00:08:00] Tyler: Wow. I have the strongest nerd chills right now. That's amazing. So you just type something into Todoist and it creates a consent form for you. Sign it and it's done. I mean, I will say this is one of the more, more annoying things about running an LLC as a single member LLC is making sure to remember to do this.

And a part of that for me is the friction that I have to like open this cumbersome Google doc, like type in my decisions. Yeah. Save it as a PDF. Like all the things you just mentioned, I have to do manually. And you're like, Oh, that is so cool.

[00:08:31] Steve: Right, exactly. Like that was my, my thinking too. Like if I can, if I can take the friction out of this, I will do it more more regularly.

[00:08:40] Tyler: So, uh, no one will ever be able to sue you individually because your LLC is going to be so watertight, just separate. Yes, yes, exactly. No, that's really cool. So I'm curious, have you found yourself using this much yet? Or is it so new that you, you know, haven't really experienced the benefits yet?[00:09:00]

[00:09:00] Steve: Uh, I, I had the one when I was first setting up the thing, and so I was still doing a lot of it manually, like making sure all the, uh, working out the bugs, basically. So that one was all still kind of by hand, I'm still walking through each step. Uh, but the, I did another one a few weeks later, uh, and that one was all automatic, and it worked flawlessly.

was very exciting. Yeah.

[00:09:28] Tyler: your decision to do this. It may not be relevant, but it's pretty hardcore. I love

[00:09:35] Steve: At some point I may write this all down in a blog post, just so you can see, like, the, the code for it. Actually, this, that one didn't have a lot of code. There's, there's another one I'll talk about in a second that, uh, did have some code, which was kind of interesting.

Podcast production automations: breaking it down into manageable pieces

[00:09:50] Tyler: Well, let's hear about some other ones. I I'm excited now. I mean, I was excited. Now I'm like awe. So excited to hear more. [00:10:00] Yeah,

[00:10:02] Steve: uh, slash It's Not About The Money, is the podcast post production. So after we record, I edit the podcast, make sure it gets up onto Transistor and YouTube, with the correct show notes and the transcript is correct and it's going to go out on the right date and all that stuff. And then also before we record, um, scheduling, setting up Squadcast, the, the recording software we use. Setting that up and making sure that all the files get downloaded into the right places so that I have them if we ever needed to come back, all that stuff. So I thought, what if I could get, uh, Zapier to automate all of these things for me? And, and I spent a couple of days like thinking of all of the pieces it would need, and that got a little overwhelming. And so instead of that, I broke it down into like, what if I could just get it to do this one step and I got that one working [00:11:00] and then, okay, what if it also did this step? And that one's working.

So I haven't automated all of, all of the stuff that I want to yet, but I've started. And I think this is a good, um, way of developing software generally, but especially this kind of thing where you're trying to automate a process. You kind of write it down as what are the steps that you as a human are taking.

And then which ones of those can you break off and have a computer do and gradually you'll

[00:11:29] Tyler: it's. It's also kind of nice that it's modular, I imagine. So if you needed to update something, you wouldn't necessarily have to update the entire chain. Maybe just the part that is broken or something. Look at me trying to talk about software. I like programming. I have no idea, but it's, that made sense in my head.

It's nice that

[00:11:47] Steve: no, you're exactly right. And, and I can give you an example here for the first one. So we use Notion for a, a Notion database to keep track of our Uh, episodes, ideas, as well [00:12:00] as when we're going to record them and what step in post production they are, all that kind of stuff. So I have a zap that when a record, when a row in that database gets updated and the status is scheduled and it has a date that's, uh, today or later. And it has an episode number, then create a recording session in SquadCast. And then it also, uh, creates a folder in my Google drive to hold all of the artifacts once we're done. That's one Zap. And then the second one that is related, but I decided to keep them separate for this exact reason that you said, where it's modular and they can be a little bit independent is when SquadCast creates a new session, then it sends out a Google calendar invite to you and me. With the link to recording studio.

[00:12:54] Tyler: And I've received a couple of these.

So working.

[00:12:59] Steve: I had, we had some [00:13:00] bugs until today, but they're, they're, they're all fixed now, I think. So that way, if we ever wanted to go just create a recording session directly in Squadcast, it would still do the sending the invite part.

[00:13:14] Tyler: cool. It's just an ad hoc one, not necessarily one that was spawned from a Notion row.

[00:13:21] Steve: Exactly. So whether it got created through the Notion automation or whether we did it by hand or something else, it would still send out the invite with the proper time.

Using AI to write JavaScript (it got pretty close)

[00:13:32] Steve: So that's that. Uh, let's see, the other one I have is when I'm done editing in Descript, I can drop the publishing links from there into Notion. And then it will go parse the, oh, this is the one that had some JavaScript in it. So, uh, there's a, the share link from Descript will have the [00:14:00] actual audio or video file in it somewhere in a, in a meta tag.

In the head of the HTML and to be able to pull it out, I needed a regular expression and yeah, I can write these myself and I have done many times, but Zapier has a little AI feature where you can like describe what you need this JavaScript code to do. So the prompt that I gave to Zapier was fetch the HTML contents of the URL at (the name of the variable). And then I had to parse out the content attribute of the meta tag inside the head that matches property equals descript colon audio. That's what I told it. And it gave me back one, two, three, four, five lines of JavaScript and comments explaining what each line did. And it was almost exactly correct. There was one error in the regex that I had to fix. Myself, I try, it, it has a little thing where you can like tell it to [00:15:00] make modifications and I tried that and it never quite got it right. But anyway, so I knew what the problem was because I have just enough programming experience to be able to read the code and say, yes, this is doing what it's supposed to, but there's an error right here.

[00:15:15] Tyler: Yeah.

[00:15:16] Steve: Uh, but that was

[00:15:17] Tyler: That is cool. So do you think, sorry, sidebar here for a second. So using AI to generate kind of simple JavaScript or maybe even a regular expression. Like, do you think that? legitimately could make stuff like what you're describing, like these apps, like more accessible to someone like me, who, who's not like a pro, like, there's no chance of me writing a little JavaScript offhand because I never learned how to code or do JavaScript.

But if I understood that there needed to be some JavaScript in this automation and I had a understanding of like what I needed to do, do you think the AI that you use is like good enough to kind of like get someone like me there for just little snippets like that, or? [00:16:00] Okay.

[00:16:00] Steve: it's there right now, I'm not entirely sure, but. It's definitely getting that direction, um, and at any rate, it's, it's a big time saver because I didn't have to go, you know, look up all the syntax that, you know, I knew once, five years ago, now forgotten, but if you show me a Stack Overflow page, I can, I can remember and figure it out, but I didn't have to go do any of that, it's just like, give me, give me the boilerplate that I need, and then I'll read through it and figure out what,

[00:16:29] Tyler: Yeah. That's cool. That's exciting. Either way. So very nice.

[00:16:33] Steve: Yeah. So let's see, what does it do? So it does that and then it, uh, downloads that file to Google Drive in the folder that got created by the other one, and then drops the link for that into the record in the Notion database.

[00:16:51] Tyler: So basically output of that is a link to the publishable [00:17:00] file.

[00:17:01] Steve: the idea here, and this is the part that I haven't finished yet, is that I eventually want, uh, it to notice, hey, there's a audio file here that's ready to go and the show notes are there and the links that we need for that episode. Go ahead and push that up to Transistor and schedule it for date that is also on that record and also push it up to YouTube if the video file is there.

I haven't got that piece done yet, but having automated this takes out just enough of the friction that it's not so annoying to me when I have, when I need to go publish to YouTube. and publish a Transistor, uh, you know, enough of the friction is gone that it's, it's, uh, now easier for me to do the rest of it by hand figure out how to automate that part.

[00:17:49] Tyler: that's cool. So that in theory will take away some of the tedium or the tedious tasks associated with running a podcast. And in theory, free you [00:18:00] up to, for more creative pursuits, although creating this automation, I would say is very creative

and it's.

[00:18:05] Steve: true. Yeah. This was fun in own right.

[00:18:07] Tyler: Yes, but it's kind of, once it's done, then you've just freed up a ton of time.

Cause I mean, how long does it take manually to click through all these things, add the link, download the file, upload, you know? Yeah. That's, that's, that's amazing.

[00:18:20] Steve: the, the problem there really is not Uh, that I can't do it, or that it's too difficult. It's, it's on the other end of the spectrum, where it's so mundane, that it's just a checklist I'm following, and I'm gonna mess something up every time. And so, if I can just get a computer to do it right every time, then I don't have to think about it anymore, and we don't have errors.

[00:18:40] Tyler: I mean, it's one of those things that is a prime candidate for, you know, something that a computer could do better than a human for sure. And I think, you know, a lot of people probably, Further down the creator path than we are would have a personal assistant, a virtual personal assistant or something to, to help out with something like this.

I've heard of people doing that, [00:19:00] so, but you're, creating one even better.

Other automation ideas

[00:19:06] Steve: So those are some examples of what I'm using Zapier for at the moment. I have some other things like, uh, syncing the contacts between Ignition and, uh, and QuickBooks or the, you know, those, those things. Where some, some other like backend thing where I have, I have these two systems and they both need access to client contact information, but sometimes they get out of sync.

And can solve that kind of stuff with.

[00:19:32] Tyler: That's interesting. You've kind of inspired me. I think the, uh, the software that I use to manage my coaching business, uh, recently announced. Integration with Zapier. And I didn't really look into it because they're, you know, the software itself automates most of the things already that I need, like the onboarding workflow and signing contracts and stuff like that.

But now you've got my, you've got me thinking, like, I wonder is like, I should, I should be paying attention to, is there anything I'm [00:20:00] doing? And I think there are, particularly when it comes to like sending follow up emails after like a discovery call or something like that. Like, I wonder if I could look into automating some of those things where.

It's mostly a template plus whatever notes I might add for that end of it. I don't know. That's intriguing. So I'm going to be on the lookout for things, repeatable, like mundane things in my business as well. And then maybe I'll run it by you and see if you think it's a good candidate for automation.

[00:20:27] Steve: like a new client scheduled a meeting. So go create the page for them in Notion and fill it with the template. That kind of

[00:20:37] Tyler: Yeah, if I were that advanced,

[00:20:39] Steve: know if you, I don't know.

[00:20:40] Tyler: no, the, uh, practice, uh, the software use it, it includes like client records and stuff in there already that are

when, yeah, so it's, it's pretty well

[00:20:48] Steve: yeah. Well, that's nice.

[00:20:49] Tyler: my type of work that I do. But, uh, most of the stuff that I could imagine this, uh, impacting me with has to do with, Client [00:21:00] communications, where I'm actually, you know, based on how a session goes, there are certain things that I want to communicate to a client, particularly after a discovery call, like sending them the links to purchase or something like that, which is not currently automated.

I don't know. Uh, I'll have to think about it.

[00:21:17] Steve: Very cool.

[00:21:18] Tyler: But if you're a potential client, you never heard this. It's always me, myself typing a handwritten note. I'm just kidding. Yeah.

[00:21:28] Steve: Yeah. I like talking about this stuff, uh, just cause it, it sparks ideas,

[00:21:35] Tyler: no, it does.

Choosing tools for their automation potential

[00:21:35] Tyler: Uh, you guys can't, Steve can't see Steve right now, but he's very pleased with himself as he should be about, about automating these things. So that's awesome. Do you have any other ideas? Like once you figure out this podcast, um, publishing automation and contact syncing, um, are there any, I'm just curious if there are any other, other areas that [00:22:00] you've identified as potential targets?

[00:22:04] Steve: Um, uh, yeah. Oh, well, let's see. So one, uh, I recently went on the look for, on the, on the hunt, on the search, went looking for, what's the, the

[00:22:17] Tyler: when looking for sounds good to me.

[00:22:20] Steve: I recently, I recently went looking for. A, a software platform that would let me create requests for clients. Like I need you to answer these questions, or I need you to tell me what these transactions are.

Or I need your bank statement from October, or, uh, I need your tax return from this year and I need your driver's license and I need your, you know, all of it, depending on what it is. Like I often need to request a whole bunch of stuff from clients. And, uh, I want to be able to just plug that in. Uh, send it to them and then have the system remind them [00:23:00] periodically so that I don't have to think about it.

And then eventually they'll just fill it out and the information will magically come back to me. That would be ideal.

[00:23:08] Tyler: Yeah.

[00:23:10] Steve: Uh, so the TaxDome is the software I currently use. It has some of that stuff, uh, but it's not quite targeted enough. And so I went looking and one of the criteria that I was looking for was that it would integrate well with Zapier, that have enough triggers of the kinds that I want, that I can plug it into other things so that when something happens in there, I can have it trigger something else or, you know, whatever it might be.

[00:23:39] Tyler: Yep.

[00:23:40] Steve: So I haven't done anything with that one yet, but the fact that it has those capabilities was part of my selection process.

[00:23:48] Tyler: Yeah. That's very cool. I think it's hard to overstate how beneficial these types of activities and these types of skills can be for a small business owner. [00:24:00] And, uh, it reminds me of a really good friend of mine. We were roommates in college. He's a professional musician and does a lot of gig work. And I remember we were talking one time about how stereotypically, you know, this is an overgeneralization perhaps, but the musicians are maybe not the most organized people in the world.

Like they're very good at right brain, creativity, music, whatever. But a lot of them need managers.

[00:24:28] Steve: Yeah.

[00:24:28] Tyler: I mean, this is kind of what he's telling you, right? Because there aren't, you know, it's, you know, finding a gig, booking the gig, putting it in your calendar, showing up on time, like all, all the things that go into like, The music business that anything that's not like actually playing the music, right?

And a lot of musicians that he knew at the time, I guess, struggle with that or whatever. Again, I don't want to like overgeneralize, but anyway, what was interesting about him is even though he was a professional musician, he also, uh, taught like technology classes at the, at the school or any, you know, worked at the IT department and then thing, you know, student, student job kind of stuff.

But [00:25:00] So he was like very proficient in just basic stuff like, you know, calendars, Google docs, you know, software, Adobe creative suite, like all these things. And so he, I told him, you're going to go far, I think, in your career as a musician, not just because you're an excellent musician, but you are able to run a business like

[00:25:19] Steve: hmm.

[00:25:20] Tyler: And a lot of people in your niche, like, aren't as good at that part of it.

Right. And so they leave money on the table or they forget things or they, you know, are disorganized in some way. And so I, and I think the same applies to any business, right? So I don't know if you've heard of the phrase, like working in your business versus working on your business.

[00:25:40] Steve: Yeah.

[00:25:40] Tyler: And this seems like that, like, like spent taking some time to step back from working In your business, like basically as the employee, as the owner.

Right. And saying, how can I sharpen the ax? How can I make things more efficient for me? How can I take this to the next level and make it easier for me [00:26:00] to earn those dollars basically? And so, yeah, I just think, again, I don't think you can overstate the importance of this kind of work in terms of the impact that it can have on, on any business, but especially like a one person business.

[00:26:13] Steve: Oh, yeah. I was just going to say, especially as a solo operator, like I only so many hours in the day, and so if I, if I've got to spend an extra one of those, making sure the podcast gets published properly, like that's, that's not, I'm not adding value with that It's, I can find a way to automate that so that I can spend that hour doing something else that's more useful.

[00:26:34] Tyler: Yep. Love that.

[00:26:36] Steve: So that's when this, this kind of stuff really shines.

[00:26:39] Tyler: Absolutely. Well, I'm looking forward to hear more about additional cool automations that you come up with down the road. This is awesome. And I, and I may have to talk to you about stealing the consent form one at some point, because that is

[00:26:54] Steve: Oh yeah, totally. I love that one.

Thanks for tuning in. Uh, we'll see you again on another episode of It's Not About The Money.

Creators and Guests

Steve Nay
Steve Nay
Strategic tax advisor for solopreneurs. Enrolled Agent; Owner of Daybreak Tax LLC
Tyler Smith
Tyler Smith
Financial coach for working professionals
Zapier and business process automation
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