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The request I was approached with was:

“I want to be able to send Autoresponders from Gmail. I want to have less pieces of software to log into to get the work done.”

Ok. I can fully comprehend this lady’s desire to have a business process simplified and streamlined. Having to log in to a multitude of tools to get just one task done can be a little nerve-wrecking. And being able to send autoresponder mails to email contacts without having to use a set of external tools does indeed reduce the time spent on such a task. Autoresponder emails are a favorite marketing instrument for many entrepreneurs. However, nobody likes to receive an automated response to their email that is easily recognized as having been automatically sent. But automated emails do have their place in Email Marketing – particularly for promotion or educational campaigns.

The Basic Outline

I was thinking how this question could be properly responded to, and here’s the answer I came up with:

  1. Using Gmail/GoogleApps’ label function, manually select and label a contact.
  2. Create a new mailing list in your email marketing application. (For this example, I will use MailChimp).
  3. Set up a connection between Gmail’s inbox and your email marketing tool.
  4. Write the autoresponder mails and schedule them within the Email Marketing tool.

Setting up an Automation Workflow

The first part is fairly easy. All you need to do is to create a new label in Gmail. Click into Settings/Labels, create a new label and give it a unique name. I’ll call it ‘Setup Autoresponder’.

Now, the third part in this automation setup is the most interesting one. It is here that you connect the two applications and create an automation routine that will allow for more ease and efficiency in your business.

I’ll be using Zapier as the ‘mediator’ here, but please be aware that there are a few other candidates that can do this job too.

So, what exactly is Zapier? It’s an integration platform that enables the automation of tasks between web applications.

If you are a first time user of Zapier and would like to learn what it can do for you, it’s probably best you sign up for a free account. With a free account you can setup up to 3 zaps (a zap is a link between two apps) that are checked every 15 minutes.

For illustrative purposes I have chosen MailChimp because it is the tool that many businesses start out with.

But Zapier provides connecters for many email marketing tools; MailChimp is just one of them. If you want to see if your preferred email marketing tool is supported by Zapier, hop over here and check the listing.

Using Zapier to set up a connection between two applications

Zapier is an event-based automation tool. To setup a connection, you first need to verify the available triggers that could spark a certain action.

Here’s an overview of Gmail’s triggers and actions in Zapier:

send autoresponders from Gmail

For the purposes of this task I’ll choose the trigger ‘New Label’.
Whenever an email is labelled with this new label, an ‘event’ is triggered and an automated process gets initiated.

The second part of this equation is about finding an appropriate action. – A look at the screenshot below indicates the available actions for MailChimp: ‘Add Subscriber’ & ‘Unsubscribe Email’.

The event to be triggered is an email that is labelled as ‘Setup Autoresponder’. The action to be taken is sending the addressee’s email’s to a certain list within MailChimp.

In the next steps I’d have to specify the trigger and actions so that the automation routine is biunique.

At the end of this setup process there is an opportunity to test the connection that was just created.

When we receive a positive test result, we know that the setup of the scaffolding for this business automation has been successfully done.

It’s now time for the fourth and last step in this process: writing the set of mails that the autoresponder sequence consists of. Need some ideas how to do that? Get inspired by Nathalie Lussier who describes how to write an effective Autoresponder Series.

Availability of Autoresponders in Email Marketing

MailChimp is the most popular email marketing tool, because it offers its service for free as long as the subscriber list has no more than 2,000 entries. However, the above described Autoresponder function is unfortunately not included in the free plan.

Should you really need this functionality and are on a low budget, your best option is a Pay-As-You-Go plan: you can purchase email credits (300 email credits for $9, 1,000 email credits for $30). You can buy them as you need them and don’t have to worry about squeezing value out of a monthly pricing plan that wouldn’t fit your needs.

One more thing to mention:
MailChimp uses different terminology, which can be a little confusing when you search their support site: Autoresponders are called Automations in the MailChimp-universe.

Possible Problems

It’s also important that you are aware of possible legal implications. The outlined procedure in this article may not be legal in every country. I know that Canada, for instance, legally requires a double opt-in for email marketing, and if this is enabled in your MailChimp’s account, you won’t see any subscribers added by your zap until the new subscriber has confirmed the double opt-in mail. Alternatively, you can just create a new account with MailChimp.

If you don’t live in Canada and want to use this approach, it’s best to configure your MailChimp account without double opt-in.

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