Automating with Gmail, Receipt Bank, IFTTT, and Dropbox

I’m sure there are many ways to automate the flow of invoices – this is the process I’m currently using for several clients using Receipt Bank.

I’ve experimented using a number of different ways in IFTTT to get invoices from my email (Gmail) to Receipt Bank. This process relies on having effective mail filters that process in realtime, as they do in Gmail.

An attempt to use Outlook for a client failed, because for the rules to work the computer had to be left switched on and Outlook open for the rules to be processed. Any change to the rules could mean the rules were run again over the inbox, resulting in hundreds of duplicate invoices being sent to Receipt Bank (which will bring a financial cost!).

Gmail filters do give an elegant solution. The key is to find a clear way to identify emails that contain invoices, create a filter to add a custom label to those emails, and then use IFTTT to get the invoices to Receipt Bank.

Services used:

Receipt Bank

Gmail

IFTTT

Dropbox

Label the emailed invoices in Gmail

For a client with high number of invoices, the best way was to create a specific email address for all invoices:

e.g. invoices@client.co.nz

and forward that address to a Gmail account. Then contact all suppliers to request they email invoices to that address.

(For the percentage of suppliers that can’t/won’t email their invoices, scanning the paper copies remains the only option.)

When the emails arrive in the Gmail inbox, use the “Filter messages like these” option to start creating filters. You will end up with many different filters, to accommodate all the different format of emails that suppliers send.

But you will only want to have 4-6 labels.

Labels in Gmail

Examples of Gmail labels could include:

  • Receipt Bank invoices (invoices that can go straight to Receipt Bank)
  • Receipt Bank multipage invoices (attachments with single files containing multiple invoices – will need to be uploaded manually to Receipt Bank using the Multipage invoice option)
  • Statements

These label names are going to be used in IFTTT, so don’t make them too long. Shortening Receipt Bank to RB is also a good idea.

You probably won’t want Statements to go to Receipt Bank, but filtering them means you can find them easily, or have them autoforwarded to an actual accounts person to be dealt with.

An important part of the filter is to ensure you have ticked “mark as read” for any invoices that get sent to Receipt Bank – this is so you know at a glance that read mail has been dealt with, while unread mail has not. There will always be a number of emails that may be impossible to filter automatically, and for those you need a real person to look at them. The inbox still needs to be monitored by a real person!

IFTTT.com

Then, create an IFTTT account. IFTTT (If this, then that) uses simple rules to create actions, between various channels that you activate in IFTTT (eg Gmail, Dropbox, etc)

For example:

If new email in inbox labelled Receipt Bank invoice, then send an email from clientinvoices@gmail.com to receiptbank@receiptbank.me

or;

If new email in inbox labelled /Client A/Dropbox to Receipt Bank, then add file from URL to Client’s Dropbox.

I started out using the first option – forwarding emails. At first I couldn’t see a way to use Dropbox, mainly because I use my own Dropbox for several client files – and Receipt Bank used User names to link to Dropbox. Because I had my own user name the same for each client, it would have meant I had four folders all with my own name, and I couldn’t tell at a glance which client each folder was for.

This was solved simply by creating a new “user” in Receipt Bank using the client name – e.g. “Clientname Receipt Bank”, so that unique folder names would be created in Dropbox, and I could clearly identify separate dropbox folders for each client.

So the format of the file location in your Dropbox will be:

/Dropbox/Apps/Receipt Bank/User name – Unique Receipt Bank Number/

And then several subfolders

/Invoices

/Receipts

You can enable the Dropbox option in Receipt Bank in the “Add Items’ section.

As an aside, using Dropbox in this way also made it easier for the paper invoices that had to be scanned – I customised my scanner software to automatically save scanned invoices to the correct Dropbox folder for each client, which removed the need for me to manually choose the files and upload them to Receipt Bank.

After creating your IFTTT account, you need to activate the relevant channels – Gmail, and Dropbox if you want to use that option.

When they are successfully activated, the next step is to create a recipe – the rule that will move the invoices from Gmail to Dropbox, or forward them from Gmail to Receipt Bank.

Create an IFTTT recipe

This:

  1. Choose the Gmail channel.
  2. New email in box labelled…
  3. Type the label – start with a forward slash /, and type the label exactly as you have created it in Gmail. If you have nested labels, separate them with a forward slash. e.g. /Clients/Client A/RB invoices
  4. Create Trigger

That:

If you want to forward emails to Receipt Bank:

  1. Choose the Gmail channel.
  2. Send an email…
  3. Enter the email address – this is the custom email address in the Add Items section of Receipt Bank.
  4. The important part here is the Attachment URL. Leave that in, but it is a good idea to delete all the preset text from the Body section – this will prevent any graphics in the signature line from getting to Receipt Bank. All you want is the attachment.
  5. Create Action.
  6. You can choose to receive notifications when this recipe runs (notifications can be switched off later if you don’t need them).
  7. Create Recipe

or,

If you want to send invoices to Dropbox for Receipt Bank to automatically upload:

That

  1. Choose the Dropbox channel.
  2. Add file from URL
  3. Leave the File URL and File name. Enter the Dropbox folder path according to the URL in Add Items > Dropbox section of Receipt Bank. It will look something like /Apps/Receipt Bank/User name – User number/. Make sure you’ve enabled this in Receipt Bank!
  4. Create Action.
  5. You can choose to receive notifications when this recipe runs (notifications can be switched off later if you don’t need them).
  6. Create Recipe.

Next you will want to test the recipe. In the “My Recipes” section of IFTTT, you can manually run a recipe, see when it was last run (if ever), and view a log of the actions taken.

If it doesn’t work, doublecheck the label you have created in Gmail – it must be exactly the same case, spaces, everything.

For all the automation, I still recommend someone monitors all parts of this process – I keep an eye on the “Not ready for Export” section of the Receipt Bank inbox, to identify errors. And if you identify invoices that are not getting to Receipt Bank, go back to Gmail and check how it is being identified with the filters and labels.

But it cuts out the really backbreaking work of getting a large number of invoices from email to Receipt Bank.

Adobe FormsCentral shutting down

Having signed up to Adobe and discovered FormsCentral in December 2014, I had only just started creating fillable PDF’s for clients – only to find out today that the service is shutting down in July 2015.

Disappointing, but several other users of FormsCentral are suggesting alternatives. Jotform is one, which looks to be excellent for online forms, but doesn’t yet offer the ability to create stand alone PDF forms that can be filled out online, nor can it import such forms.

However Seamless Docs looks like a pretty sophisticated service, which includes the ability to scan in a paper form, and convert it quickly to an online form.

Xtracta: Automating your invoices

With several streams of invoices arriving by email for different clients, I’m always looking for ways to reduce tedious data entry.

Enter Xtracta.

I first encountered OCR data matching for invoices at a previous job in a government agency – and already knew this was what I wanted for my own clients, so as soon as I saw Xtracta listed as a Xero add-on I jumped on it and signed up.

After testing and trials I have a fairly good automated system to get invoices from my email, into Xero.

First, get your invoices arriving by email. Not all suppliers can manage this yet – surprisingly it’s the very large organisations that often seem to be stuck with invoices posted by snail mail. But a concerted effort of contacting suppliers has resulted in at least 75% of suppliers sending invoices and statements by email.

Second, using Gmail, I set up filters to automatically tag specific emails with categories. The filters can pick up on the senders email address, specific words in the subject or email body, and whether it has an attachment or not. The filter process needs to be robust, to ensure

Third – in Xtracta create a workflow to process the invoices. I am using a separate workflow for each supplier – and because some clients use the same supplier, I also have to differentiate the client. At the final stage of creating the workflow, a unique email address is created. Sending emails to this email address brings the attached invoice into Xtracta for processing. However it can be automated even more using one more step.

IFTTT.com – otherwise known as “If This, Then That” is the final step. Registering with IFTTT allows you to then register various web accounts (e.g. Gmail), and you can authorise IFTTT to automatically send any new emails arriving in your inbox, with a specific category, to the email address for the workflow you’ve previously created in Xtracta.

You can still manually forward emails with invoices within Gmail, but for one supplier I receive close to 100 invoices each month. For that one I also set the Gmail filter to mark the emails as read, so they don’t sit as unread in my inbox.

There is still the processing of invoices within Xtracta – but most fields are datamatched from the invoice, so it’s mainly a matter of checking, adding a few fields, and then saving. The invoice is then created in your Xero account as a draft, for final checking and approving, with the attachment in place.

Automating this process saves hours of data entry, and also saves the client money.

AlertManager

AlertManager

If you’re looking for an affordable way to text your customers or staff from a browser rather than a cellphone, you can’t go past AlertManager. This New Zealand based company is helpful and responsive to queries, and the text system itself is pretty easy to use, with a range of plans, including free and paid. 

I have set up a retail and service client with AlertManager, and it has made the process of advising customers of finished jobs far easier than voice calls. Text based alerts reach customers more quickly – most people have their mobile phone with them all the time, and can read the message discreetly – great for students in class, or people in meetings. Replies from the customer can be set to go to a specific email address, so all replies can be easily monitored and responded to.