I manage a team of five writers. We work with dozens of clients. Sending content by email is tiresome. Messages get lost, clients get confused, and sometimes we can’t find what we’ve created to bill for it. Thankfully, Zapier lets us deliver content without sending a single email.
It’s probably my favorite tool as a freelancer, and it works especially well for alerting tasks. We’ve created our own method for sending out content that works perfectly, and this article will explain how to set it up.
What is Zapier?
Zapier glues together services that you already use and lets them exchange data.
For example, if you currently copy and paste data from order emails into a Google Drive spreadsheet, Zapier could automatically scan Gmail for those emails, extract the sender, subject line, and URL, and build up a spreadsheet of orders automatically.
You could also use Zapier to process data from Webhooks. Or email your client when they pay an invoice. Or send Spotify playlists to your Facebook timeline. Or recommend a random restaurant for dinner every Friday night.
Zapier integrates with lots of third-party apps. To announce new content, we use three: Gmail, Slack, and Google Drive. You will need a paid Zapier account to create multi-step Zaps; with a free account, you’ll only be able to perform one action.
How to Automatically Alert Clients to New Content Using Zapier
This is the process that we use in our own writing team. You could adapt this to suit your own workflow.
Step 1: Set Up Google Drive Folders For Every Client
You need to do a little prep work before you can start building a Zap in Zapier. We’re going to create:
- a client folder that holds all of our clients’ files
- an individual folder for each specific client.
Here’s the first one:
Share the client folder with the client that’s going to access it. You may need to ask them for their Google email address if they don’t use Drive with their business email address.
In order to set up the Zap, we need to put a dummy file into the folder for Zapier to “see”. Otherwise, you won’t be able to test your Zap. You can create a simple document, give it a title, and type a few words in the body.
Check that the document has been saved in the client folder you’re working on, like this:
Now we can go to Zapier and start building the Zap.
Step 2: Set Up Folder Monitoring in Zapier
Now we have a folder and a file, we’re going to tell Zapier to watch it. The Zap will fire when a new file is detected. Google Drive is the trigger for the Zap.
Connect your Google Drive first. Then use the drop-down to select the client-specific folder you just created. Mine is called My Fantasy Client 1:
Zapier will test the connection and attempt to retrieve a file. If it works, you should expand the alert using the view your file link, and scroll down to check that the filename matches the test document you created in Step 1:
Click the Continue button.
Step 3: Set Up the Client Email Alert
When Zapier sees a new file (which takes between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on your plan), we’re going to send an email to the client. Let’s also attach the Google Drive file as a .docx document, in case the client has trouble logging in to pick it up.
This is the most important step, which is why we’re doing it first. Zapier will always process the Zap in order, so we are reducing the chances of the Zap failing before it performs the most crucial action.
In your Zap, you can use either Zapier’s email service to send the email (if you have a plan that enables it), or its Gmail or other webmail app. We’re using Gmail, just because the Zapier emails allow the client to unsubscribe. (If the emails are bothering them, I want them to ask me to change the Zap, not stop getting emails about what we’re working on. That will end in tears.)
You can use the data retrieved from Google Drive in Step 2 to build your email template. This is where Zapier really comes into its own. For example, you might want to insert the title of the file into the subject line of your message.
This is a long form, so I’m just going to show part of it here:
Remember to set up a valid reply-to address, particularly if you don’t monitor the mailbox you’re sending from.
Step 4: Announce the File in Slack
We’re going to alert our Slack team that content has been done so they can cross it off their to-do list. This lets everyone know what’s going on without a single email being sent.
Add a step to your Zap, and select the Slack app. Connect it to your account.
I’m using the legacy Slack integration. I recommend using the regular app unless you have a particular reason to choose the legacy one.
Once you’ve pulled in the test data, you can design your Slack message. You can customize the bot name, icon, message text, and more. You can also pull in the name of the last person that modified the file if you want them to get an alert:
There are lots of other options on this screen. You could alert the author privately, broadcast the message, or trigger @mention alerts in the channel. The Slack integration in Zapier is my favorite. It has options for pretty much every outcome you need.
Tip: In busy teams, Slack alerts can be annoying, and can interrupt conversations. Get around this by creating a Slack channel solely for your content alerts. That way, individual Slack users can choose to mute the notifications on the channel, but still have access to the alerts when they need them.
Step 5: Confirm Submission With the Writer
Finally, we’re going to email the writer to confirm that everything worked. The steps are exactly the same as the content alert we created earlier. But it’s going to be sent to the last person that modified the file, not the client:
By putting this email at the end of the chain, we know that the steps before it must have fired correctly, so it’s a good way to avoid any uncertainty about notifications having gone out. Also, note that I’m using the Zapier email app for this step because I don’t mind if the writer turns these alerts off.
Things to Remember About Zapier
- Zapier needs a file to be able to test the Zap. It will not allow you to test without one.
- To avoid bombarding the client with test emails, I recommend that you initially set up the email alerts to go to your own email address. Once you have everything working, you can change the email address to your client’s email or writers’ email address instead.
- Once you have a Zap working for one client, you can copy it in Zapier and set it up for another one. I recommend that you clear your cookies first to avoid pulling in the wrong test data from Google Drive.
- If your client doesn’t use email much, you can send an SMS instead if your plan supports it.
- Don’t go overboard with announcements and emails, or you risk alienating clients and irritating your team. Stick with the minimum you need to get the job done.
- Zapier won’t fire if you edit a file after the Zap has run. So if you have to re-draft something, and you want to tell the client about it, you’ll need to make a copy of the document and move it into the folder so that Zapier sees the new file and triggers the Zap.
- Some integrations require you to have a paid Zapier account, a paid account for the third-party service, or both.
12+ More Uses For Zapier in Writing Teams
Since we adopted Zapier, we’ve found that it’s the most useful tool that we have. We use it to:
- Add new content to a Google Sheet for invoicing
- Send WordPress posts to Scoop.it
- Track clients’ RSS feeds so you can see when your content goes live
- Monitor sites that you get bylines on, then auto-post that content your social networks using Buffer
- Get email alerts when co-writers add vacations to a calendar
- Celebrate a new HelloSign signature with a HipChat message
- Get notified when clients pay their PayPal and Stripe invoices
- See when invoices are sent out using Wave or FreeAgent
- Send new blog title ideas from Evernote to Trello
- Receive a private Slack message when you’re mentioned on Twitter.
- Log Olark chats to a spreadsheet
- Correspond with your Olark visitors in Slack.
And I haven’t even touched on the email marketing, lead tracking, social media, or location-based apps. The list barely scratches the surface. Can you think of more?
Every writer has tools they use that are separate; Zapier gives you the tools you need to integrate them in time-saving ways. Give it a try. It’s not specifically designed for writers, but it does a lot of things that freelancers will find useful. And while you’re working on content, anything you can do to automate and remove distractions is worth its weight in gold.