Introduction:

Founder, coach, author, and podcast creator Ari Meisel was often asked if automations could be triggered without something prompting it. He always replied "no".

Until he found a solution.

"I’ve always had to answer with “no” because all of the standard automation platforms out there - IFTTT and Zapier - are very clearly structured around a trigger and an action. [...]

That was until someone asked me a few weeks ago and I couldn’t say no." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

That "someone" was one of Meisel's Less Doing clients. They owned a small restaurant chain and needed restaurant managers to check-in and report back every week regarding the restaurant's up-keep.

This is the use case Meisel presents, and the one that forms the basis for this guide.

By following this guide, you will learn how to automate a process in the absence of a trigger. This is done by integrating a web-form and Google Sheets together, and building Zapier automations and rules so that certain actions take place depending on the circumstances.

You only need to follow this guide once to set up the entire automation.

Here's to solving the hardest automation problem around.

Setting up a web-based form:

The first step is to set up a web-based form. 

The next two tasks will guide you through its creation.

The tasks have stops applied to them, turning them into stop tasks. This means you cannot continue to the next task without completing the one at hand.

Choose a web-based form creator

Choose a web-based form creator.

To set this up correctly, you'll need to use a web-based form creator, as Ari Meisel does in this use case for the restaurant industry.

Meisel recommends using JotForm.

Edit the form to include appropriate information fields

Edit the form to include the appropriate information fields, including a "Location" field.

Now that the form creator has been chosen, fill out the form with the information you want users to report.

For this use case, this includes fields such as "Name", "Email", "Kitchen Cleanliness", "Staff Preparedness", and "Friendliness".

Make sure there's a "Location" field that is a drop-down menu with the appropriate locations. The "Location" field is the most important field in this use case.

"Put in all the info we want to the manager to report including a simple Likert scale to allow for some standardization across locations.

As I’m always looking at ways of reducing errors I made the locations a drop-down menu so we don’t rely on a new manager or even a current one manually entering the location incorrectly." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

Setting up a Google Sheet:

The next document you need to create is a Google Sheet spreadsheet.

When the web-based form has been submitted, it will scan information in the Google Sheet you're about to set up.

"Once the form is submitted [and once the Zap has been created] it kicks off the next step which is to locate a row in a Google Sheet that matches the info submitted in the form." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

Create a Google Sheet

Create a Google Sheet for the restaurant group's weekly check-in.

By creating the Google Sheet, it will house information regarding the weekly check-in of the restaurants.

Use Meisel's text and screenshot below as reference points.

"The first time we set up this sheet you only need to enter the location and the expected date of check-in.

Once it [the Zap] finds the row that matches the location in the form submitted, it will look across the row and find the date of the check-in.
" - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

Setting up a Zap:

Now that the web-based form and the Google Sheet - the two integral starting blocks - have been created, it's time to build the automation and improve your business efficiency with Zapier.

Automating work has been a key factor in Meisel's success.

Set the trigger in the Zap editor

Set the trigger of the Zap, which is a new submission of the web-based form.

To kick-off the automation, you'll need a Zapier trigger. The trigger, in this use case, is when the web-based form is submitted.

If you're new to Zapier and/or automations, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help get you on your way to automating successfully.

Once completed, you should have the first step of the Zap set up, similar to the screenshot below.

Add the search in the Zap editor

Add a "Search" step to the Zap, which in this case is looking up a spreadsheet row on Google Sheets.

The trigger has been set in task 8. The next task is to add a search step in the Zapier editor.

The purpose of the "Search" step is so that it finds the row that matches the location in the submitted form.

If you haven't used Zapier before, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help get you on your way to automating successfully.

After adding the step, you should have the trigger and search steps set up, similar to the screenshot underneath this text.

Include the "Date formatter" function

Include the "Date formatter" function in the Zap editor as the third step.

By adding the "Date formatter", the Zap can take the spreadsheet's current date and then add 7 days, which, as this is a weekly check-in, is necessary. 

Read Meisel's advice for more information.

"At this point we need to slip in a Date Formatter function, native to Zapier, to take the current date in the spreadsheet (not the date of submittal) and then add seven days to it because this is a weekly check-in. We don’t want to trigger it based on the submittal because if they submit early it would mess things up." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

If you're new to automations, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help get you on your way to automating successfully.

Add an action to update spreadsheet row

Add an action - and the fourth step in the Zap - to update the spreadsheet row in the Google Sheet.

The next step is to update the Google Sheet's spreadsheet row with the new date (which is 7 days later).

Follow Meisel's advice below.

"Now we update the spreadsheet with that new date. So effectively the person has “bought” themselves another week by submitting the form [once the Zap has been fully set up and is in motion]." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

If you're new to Zapier and/or automations, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help get you on your way to automating successfully.

Include a delay to the automation

Include a delay to the automation so that it coincides with new time (7 days later).

The next step is to include a delay to the automation which coincides with the new time that's been entered, which is 7 days later.

This is so that, in exactly one week's time, the Zap can check to see if the restaurant manager(s) have submitted the check-in form.

Read Meisel's explanation for more information.

"Now comes the tricky part. We want the automation to delay until that new time that was entered (so a week from now) but since there isn’t a way to stop a delay in Zapier once it has begun, instead of setting the delay to trigger the rest of the automation we delay and then have it find the row again." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

If you haven't used Zapier before, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help get you on your way to automating successfully.

Once you've added the delay, the left-hand panel of the Zapier editor should look like the screenshot below, up to the fifth step.

Add another search step in the Zap editor

Add another search step to the Zap, which is the same search as you created earlier.

Now that the delay has been added, the step to search the Google Sheet must be added again. This is so the Google Sheet can be checked after 7 days, in which time the restaurant manager(s) should've submitted a form.

Create exactly the same search step as you did in task 9.

If you're new to automations, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help get you on your way to automating successfully.

Afterward, the left panel on your Zap editor should look like the screenshot below.

Setting up paths in Zapier:

The next section focuses on setting up paths in Zapier.

Paths are different routes the Zap will take, depending on the circumstances.

"At this point, we need to create a fork in the road for this automation that looks at whether the current date is before the due date (good job, manager) or the current date is after the date of expected check-in (bad job, manager) and act accordingly." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

Here, we will create a path for when a restaurant manager has successfully done what they were supposed to (submitting the check-in form), and another for path for when a restaurant manager has not submitted the form.

Setting up path A:

The first path is path A.

Path A is for, in this use case, when the restaurant manager has submitted their form before the next check-in due date.

Create a step which sends an email thanking the manager

Create a step in path A which sends an email thanking the manager for not submitting their form late.

If the manager has successfully submitted their report before the due date, add a step in the path which pushes out a "thank you" email.

Before adding the email step, you will need to set up a name and rule for this path. The rule should be that if the current date is less than or before the date of the next check-in date, it counts the report as being received.

As Meisel says:

"Let’s take the first case where the manager DID submit. In that scenario, the current date, when compared with the date of expected next check-in will be before and thus we simply send an email to the manager thanking them for submitting." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

If you haven't set up automations before, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help you automate properly.

Setting up path B:

The second path is path B.

Path B is for, in this use case, when the restaurant manager has not submitted their form, and it's past the due date.

Create a step which sends an email prompting the manager

Create a step in path B which sends an email prompting the manager to submit their check-in form.

If the report is late - and the check-in is overdue - it's a best practice to politely prompt the manager to submit their check-in form.

Before adding the email prompt step, you will need to set up a name and rule for this path. The rule should be that if the current date is after the next check-in date, it counts the report as not being received.

Use Ari Meisel's text below as guidance for prompting the manager.

"Now let’s look at the other scenario, where the current date is after the expected date of check-in meaning they did not submit on time. In that case, we can do whatever we want but I chose to send a polite nudge by email to the manager with a cc to the owner. You could choose to do whatever you want, from a text message to Slack notification or even a Trello card." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

If you haven't set up automations with Zapier before, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help you automate properly.

Set up a delayed check in a nested path

Set up a delayed Google Sheet check in a nested path.

After the email prompt has been sent out, you'll want to create a step in a nested path which checks the Sheet again after two days, as the manager may have needed an extra day or two to submit the form.

This step can be repeated, so that the Google Sheet is checked every couple of days.

"[After prompting the manager] we simply delay a day or two and check again, this time with a nested path that checks again and if they finally submit it does one thing and if they still haven’t submitted it does something else. You repeat this for as many days as you want until you get your result." - Ari Meisel, Here's The Solution To The Hardest Automation Problem

If you're new to automating processes, read this business process automation guide by Process Street to help you automate properly.

Add a step which prompts you if a form hasn't been submitted

Add a step in the nested path which prompts you if the form hasn't been submitted after a prolonged period.

If the manager still hasn't checked in after a prolonged period - 5 to 7 days - you'll want to personally follow up with them to figure out what's gone wrong, and get them to submit the form.

Set up this step in the nested path which notifies and prompts you to take action. The prompt could come in the form of an email, for example.

To help you automate processes successfully, read this business process automation guide.

Once you've followed up with the manager and rectified any issues, the manager should have then successfully submitted the form.


You have now successfully automated a process in the absence of a trigger.

Although this use case has been regarding a small restaurant chain, the automation works for a range of scenarios, as long as recurring tasks are involved.

All you need to do is edit the information in the web-form, the Google Sheet, the Zap rules and the emails, and apply it to a situation relevant to you.

Sources:

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