Automating just a few tasks in your business can save you tens of hours and thousands of dollars. Still, most businesses don’t invest in an automation tech stack. Why?
It’s simple – many don’t even know that most of the repetitive tasks can be automated! Others think that automation is expensive, time-consuming, and probably not worth the hassle.
And while the above was true just a few years ago, it all changed with the rise of no-code.
In this article, we’ll look at five must-have tools every business can use to build a no-code automation tech stack.
But first, let’s look at why you should choose no-code.
Why a No-Code Tech Stack?
Just several years back, if you wanted to build an automation workflow, you needed:
- A good software engineer
- Dozens of lines of code (and hours of work)
- Custom-built integrations.
Back then, tools like Zapier or (Make) lacked most integrations they have today.
Plus, most businesses were stuck with software that lacked any integrations or customizations. And the reason is simple – most of the popular, user-friendly tools we love today were still in their infancy too!
Thanks to no-code tools, you can build entire business systems without writing a single line of code.
If you’ve ever added new fields to your CRM or tinkered with an email workflow, you can call yourself a no-code developer!
So, let’s find out which no-code tools will help you create the most effective automation setup.
Key Tools in Your No-Code Automation Tech Stack
In this article, I’ll focus exclusively on what I like to call “core” automation tools.
This means I’ll skip popular no-code solutions like Webflow (for building websites) or Bravo (for no-code apps).
That’s because, while many businesses have a website, most still don’t have a proper database. That’s not to mention good workflow management or a marketing automation system.
On top of that, I believe that you shouldn’t automate “the front end” without building a solid “back end” for your business operations. And it all starts with a solid database.
Speaking of which – let’s jump right into our first tools category.
1. Database Management – Airtable
Airtable is one of the most robust no-code business tools out there. Founded back in 2012, at its core, it serves as an excellent database management system. As a result, I often recommend using it as a centralized data hub for your business.
However, it can do a lot more than that.
Today, you can use Airtable to share data between teams, manage tasks, track sales, or even develop entire applications.
It can also be used to build interactive dashboards or streamline just about any workflow you can think of. And, you can do all that without writing a single line of code.
But, what makes it even more useful is the built-in automation and the wealth of available integrations. As of writing, there are over 1000 available integrations. That’s not counting what’s possible if you add tools like Zapier or Make!
The former allows you to build even multi-step automation workflows. These can be used to send emails or communicate changes (or demand input or approval) from your team or stakeholders.
And, thanks to dozens of integrations, you can automatically send notifications and move data in or out of Airtable. You could even use Zapier automation to take your setup to a whole new level.
If you decide to add both Airtable and Zapier into your automation setup, likely, it’ll soon become an important part of many Zaps that you build!
The biggest drawback? High learning curve. It takes time to “get” the tool. And, even then, certain setups might seem tricky.
Popular Airtable Alternative: Google
When comparing Google Sheets to Airtable, we focus exclusively on its capability to serve as a database.
Of course, Google Sheets is not Airtable. On its own, it’s just a cloud-based spreadsheet that offers straightforward data storage.
However, that simplicity is one of the reasons why so many businesses decide to use it as their database. And, thanks to its many integrations (Zapier included), it’s easy to feed in the data and make it a part of many automation setups.
But, is it really an alternative?
While it’s a very popular solution, I believe that it lacks the flexibility offered by Airtable. Sure, you might not need all of what Airtable has to offer (you likely never will – there’s just too much of it).
However, unlike an Airtable database, a spreadsheet is just easier to accidentally break. As your database grows, it also becomes less intuitive. And, with fewer customizations and integrations, there’s less that you can do with that data.
That’s why, I recommend that, if you have a chance, start with Airtable right away. Especially since it’s completely free for simple databases!
2. Knowledge Management – Notion
Notion brands itself as a “One Workplace” app. Just like Airtable, it has plenty of features, including tasks, projects, and notes.
And while you could use it to manage your entire workflow, where it really shines is its note-taking capability. This, coupled with its super user-friendly editor is what made the app so popular.
Notion enables you to create both simple and complex notes, collaborate with others, and comment on the work of others. You can then easily structure them using an intuitive drag-and-drop editor. Create lists, link notes, and turn them into a business wiki with all your business key processes.
Of course, it’s also possible to create tasks and projects. However, the tool can’t compete with dedicated project management tools such as ClickUp.
On the upside, Notion boasts over 250 integrations that help you automate knowledge sharing. And, of course, there’s a Zapier integration, which allows you to:
- Find Notion database items
- Create or update an existing item
- Find and create Notion pages
The above allows you to pull data from other apps and automatically update your SOPs, documents, and knowledge database.
Now, you may be wondering why you need a knowledge management system in your automation stack in the first place.
One of the things that many people forget about automation it’s that it isn’t just about using tools.
Sure, it’s the tools that do all the work. But you first need to map out the processes and create frameworks that those tools can utilize.
Not to mention that clear SOPs and guidelines increase team efficiency and reduce the time it takes to onboard or educate new employees.
Which, just like Zapier automation, can bring massive time and money savings.
Popular Notion Alternative: Nuclino
If you like simplicity, you might be tempted to try tools like Nuclino. It’s an amazing knowledge management tool (with an even simpler interface than Notion). Unfortunately, as of now (2022), it offers only a handful of direct integrations.
On top of that, due to the lack of a Zapier integration, you can’t easily connect third-party apps. As a result, while it’s a very handy note-taking tool, it’s not the best pick if you care about automating and optimizing your workflow.
3. Project Management Tool – ClickUp
ClickUp calls itself the one app to replace them all. And yes, you could use ClickUp as a CRM. You could also use it to create and store SOPs and guidelines. You can even use it to send automated emails (although very simple ones).
But, at its core, ClickUp is a project management tool – and an excellent one if you’re building an automation stack. Why?
First, it has all the project management features that you might wish for. It has tasks, subtasks, and checklists. You can organize your work into spaces, folders, and lists. You can also create sprints, use Gantt Charts, or Kanban task view.
But, one of the most powerful ClickUp features is automation.
ClickUp offers dozens of highly customizable automation options. They even include email notifications and third-party integrations. Many of them are available even in the free plan! And, if you’re on the business plan, you get 10,000 ops per month!
With ClickUp, you can automatically:
- Add or remove assignees or watchers
- Create, and delete tasks
- Add or remove tags
- Change task priorities or statuses
- Change due dates or start dates
- Track time
- Archive or delete task
- Change custom field values
- Call webhook
- Send email notifications (which can be personalized by pulling task data)
The above list is not exhaustive. Moreover, most of the above can also be used to trigger the automation itself. And, let’s not forget about built-in automation integrations with Github, Twilio, Calendly, and Bugsnag.
Of course, the tool has plenty more integrations (outside of automation). And, that list can easily be expanded thanks to a robust Zapier integration!
All of that makes ClickUp currently the #1 choice for businesses that want to automate their workflows.
Popular ClickUp Alternative: Asana
Asana is another very popular project management tool. And it’s an excellent choice if you’re building an automation stack for your business. In this case, it’s hard to pick a winner – and, if you’re already using Asana, I can’t say you should switch to ClickUp.
Sure, there are a couple of advantages to using ClickUp:
- It offers automation right in the free plan
- You can add more customizations to available automation
- You get plenty of intuitive pre-built templates
- Asana requires you to get its highest pricing plan (business) to access all its automation features
On the other hand, Asana’s custom rules builder (that’s what they call automation) allows you to build excellent automation workflows. Plus, there are no limits to the number of rules you use. And, you can easily merge Rules with Asana Zapier automation workflows!
4. Email Automation – ActiveCampaign
ActiveCampaign is an excellent middle ground between robust tools such as Eloqua or Infusionsoft and simple ones like Mailchimp or Aweber.
Sure, there are easier-to-use tools that send emails. The problem is, they probably lack many ActiveCampaign automation features.
Likewise, there are more advanced automation tools.
But, they’re so expensive and complicated that, unless you’re an enterprise client, you simply don’t need half of what they offer. Not to mention the headache and cost that comes with them.
On the other hand, ActiveCampgin lets you automate every aspect of your email marketing.
You can build automation workflows, send automated email campaigns, and score and segment your leads. The tool even allows you to serve your audience with dynamic content!
All that is topped by its excellent sales automation capabilities.
Plus, with 1000 automation templates, you can set virtually any workflow in minutes. And, thanks to dozens of native integrations (an excellent Zapier one), integrating it with other tools in your stack is a breeze.
Popular ActiveCampaign Alternative: Encharge
Encharge is a lesser-known email marketing automation tool. However, that doesn’t mean it’s worse than its more popular competitors. Where it excels are behavior emails and marketing automation.
As a matter of fact, it was built with SaaS automation in mind!
One of the things I love about Encharge is the way it handles event properties. Unlike many automation tools, Encharge allows you to record multiple data points each time someone does something in your app.
You can then use those data points to build highly precise segments and achieve even better results with automation.
So, why did I put it as an alternative to ActiveCampaign, and not the other way around?
Unfortunately, compared to ActiveCampaign, it offers much fewer integrations. Also, its Zapier integration is not as advanced as that of ActiveCampaign. As a younger tool, it just lacks certain features offered by its more mature competitor.
Still, if you’re not a fan of ActiveCampaign, or are looking for a tool built specifically for you (and, you’re a SaaS business) – Encharge is the way to go.
5. Integrating It All Together – Zapier
Finally, we get to the app that connects them all – Zapier.
Zapier allows you to build automated workflows involving multiple different apps. And you can do all that without code! Simply pick the apps that you need and connect them using an intuitive, no-code Zap builder.
All that allows you to build automation workflows even between apps that lack native integrations. And, considering that, as of now, Zapier boasts over 5000 app integrations, there’s a whole lot you can automate with Zapier.
On top of connecting third-party apps, you can also take advantage of built-in Zapier tools. These include formatter (for processing data), scheduling, emails, and filters. You can also create different paths in the Zap itself and use webhooks to connect apps that lack direct Zapier integrations.
The latter allows you to include thousands of other apps. All you need for an app is to be sending and receiving webhooks.
With Zapier, you can automate hundreds of everyday, time-consuming and repetitive tasks. These include moving data between apps, tracking events, publishing posts, or managing your leads.
And how does it work?
Any time you trigger a Zap, Zapier uses “tasks” to go through each of the steps in the workflow. Those steps act like credits – each month you get a limit on how many tasks you can run. Each plan has a different number of allocated tasks. Additionally, you can pay extra to increase your task limit.
Popular Zapier Alternative: Make (Integromat)
Make (formerly Integromat) is a popular Zapier alternative and its main competitor. The main difference between the two is in the level of complexity. This comes down to both user experience, as well as the tasks that each can handle.
Unlike Zapier, Integromat offers much more flexibility and more advanced functionalities. However, it has a steep learning curve and may be overkill for most small businesses. That said, it allows you to build even more complex workflows, especially thanks to its:
- Advanced data manipulation features
- Visual routing allows you to see the flow of data. Once you get a hang of it, it’s much more intuitive than Zapier’s Zap setup. In fact, it’s very similar to the workflow setup which you can find in popular marketing automation tools such as ActiveCampaign.
- Branching. You can branch the steps in the integration itself, creating asynchronous delays or data storage to save the outcome for future manipulation.
- Plenty of out-of-the-box scenarios to take advantage of.
At the end of the day, the choice between Zapier and Integromat comes down to your automation needs. But, unless you already have an advanced automation scenario in mind, Zapier might be the way to go.
Choosing the Right Tool – Other Options
Of course, the above tools are just the core of what you could include in your automation stack. For example, I didn’t even touch on the subject of collecting customer input, processing data or getting paid.
Whichever tools you pick, keep in mind that, without a solid foundation, you most likely won’t get much out of your automation workflow. A good Zapier automation setup helps you lay such a foundation.
If you’d like to start automating mundane tasks, let’s talk. Whether you’ve never automated a single thing or already have a setup in mind – schedule a discovery call. Let’s have a quick chat and find out how (and if) Zapier can benefit your business.
Hey, I’m Jacek. I’m the founder and Chief Automator at Clickleo.com
I’m on a mission to help you use automation to reclaim your time and achieve more in your business.
You can find out more about me – and why I started Clickleo – over on this page