Part 3: Using Trello to Maintain Authentic Relationships — Finishing the set up with automation

Welcome to part three of setting up the ultimate Trello board for networking. If you’re new here, you should start with the overview of the system and the article on how to import your contacts as cards into Trello.


If you haven’t signed up for Trello yet, please consider using my recommendation link. If you sign up, I get a month of Trello Gold for free.


If you’re all caught up, now you’re ready to organize your board with a little help from automation! If you’re following along with this tutorial, your board may look something like this:

Now we are going to add details to each person’s card, and we’ll use automation to make it a little easier. The final product of this tutorial might look something like this:

Introduction to Automation: Butler For Trello

Butler For Trello is a powerful tool for automating your Trello workflow and it doesn’t require any coding knowledge. It uses simple language commands to perform actions based on triggers. Examples of some commands that Butler can perform:

  • On a card’s due date, move it to the top of the list
  • every two weeks starting next monday, copy all cards from “Even week” to “To Do”
  • every saturday at 5pm, move a random card from “Fun Things To Do” to the top of the list
  • when a card ending with “urgent” is added to “List”, move it to the top of the list and replace the matched text with “URGENT {datenumber}”

You can keep it as simple or make it as advanced as you feel comfortable. A more complicated command, with markdown syntax and variables, would look something like this:

  • when the name or description of a card is changed, post comment “[{datenumber} {time}] **{username}** updated *{changedfield}*\n\n — — — — \n\n*Before:*\n\n{textbefore}\n\n — — — — \n\n*After:*\n\n{textafter}”

If you want a more comprehensive understanding of Butler, you can visit the Documentation Trello Board the team created. This is also a really great video walk through for beginners.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath. The folks at Butler built a handy Command Builder that helps you create the actions you need!

One thing to know before you start — the free version of Butler only allows 25 commands per week, which may be enough for future regular use on this board (once it’s all set up) but not enough for this initial set up since you will be sorting through all of the cards on the board multiple times. To upgrade to 250 commands per week, it will cost $10 to have for a month, and then you can cancel it for the next month if you find you don’t need it.

The Butler Bot vs The Butler Power-Up

You have two options for installing Butler: The Butler Bot or The Butler Power-Up. The Butler team wrote up an explanation of the difference here if you prefer to read that.

TL;DR of this section: install the Butler Bot by following the instructions here!

If you want more detail about why I tell you to use the bot instead of the power-up, keep reading.

The Butler Bot is an automated Trello “user” that you invite to interact with your individual Trello boards. The bot creates a list on your Trello board that chills all the way to the right side of your board (unless you move it) and populates all of the commands you write into cards. If you want to erase a command, simply delete or archive a card.

Power-ups are a built in Trello feature that give your boards more functionality beyond the default features. With the free version of Trello, you are only allowed to install one power up on each board. If you want more, you must upgrade to Trello Gold ($5/mo or $45/yr) to be able to install 3 power-ups on a board or Business Trello for $10/month which allows unlimited power-ups.

A temporary work-around if you want to try out Trello Gold is to recommend folks to Trello using a custom URL. When they sign up, you get a free month of Gold. (Here’s my recommendation link if you haven’t signed up yet!)

The Butler Power-up has two advantages over the bot:

  1. You can build automation actions using another Trello power-up called custom fields which would be perfect for this board
  2. You can have command chaining, which means you can have Butler perform an action based on another action that Butler just performed.

As far as I’m concerned, this board would be perfect with three power-ups: Planyway Calendar, Butler and Custom Fields, which you could make happen with Trello Gold.

I personally want my board to be functional without having to pay for anything, so I made it work with only one power-up. If you’re not sure this system is going to work for you or if you may not be in a position to pay for Trello down the line, I would use the bot for now and then re-assess later.

Using Butler to set up your board!

Now it’s time to write some Butler actions to organize the board!

The first thing I want to do is add relationship tags based on the lists folks are in.

The commands I use to do this:

  • for each card in list “Acquainted”, and add the “Acquainted” label to the card
  • for each card in list “Friendly”, and add the “Friendly” label to the card
  • for each card in list “Friends/Family”, and add the “Friends/Family” label to the card

Since these commands are instant, they don’t need to be dependent on an action. These commands will only fire once (upon adding them to the Butler list) and then they will not fire again. This is what it looks likr:

This GIF is time-elapsed. This automation usually takes about 30–60 seconds to fire.

If your the folks in your life are uniform enough, you can also automate tags for how frequently you want to keep in touch with someone. For example, you may want to keep in touch with your friends and family monthly, your friendly contacts every 3 months and your acquainted contacts every 6 months. The following commands will achieve that:

  • for each card in list “Friends/Family”, and add the “Monthly” label to the card
  • for each card in list “Friendly”, and add the “Every 3 Months” label to the card
  • for each card in list “Acquainted”, and add the “Every 6 Months” label to the card

Once you’re done with these cards, you can archive or delete them from the Butler list. You can leave them if you like, but I like to keep my Butler list clean of one-time cards. If you think you will need the command in the future, you can archive the card and then send it back to the board when you want it to fire.

Other helpful batch commands to prep your cards:

Create templates

To help keep your cards uniform, you can use Butler to add add the same description to all the cards on the board that has an empty description (so you don’t override any notes in there already from the import).

for each card with an empty description, and set the card’s description to **Birthday: ****Job Title:****Company:****Met at/thru:**”**Birthday: **\n\n**Job Title:**\n\n**Company:**\n\n**Met at/thru:**”

The description will look like this:

Birthday:
Job Title:
Company:
Met at/thru:

Then when you are going through your cards and adding details, most of your cards will have the same information. A completed card might look something like this:

Add Helpful Checklists

Butler also has a feature where you can copy a checklist from one card to another. Create a checklist on a card that you will just use a reference. A good choice is the “instruction” card at the top of the Butler list.

I use this feature to create a “Card Prep” checklist so I don’t miss anything when I’m going through each card.

This is the checklist I created:

  • Add a description
  • Add relevant tags
  • Add a due date to next reach out
  • Link relevant contacts
  • Fill in the last contact as a comment (if you know it)
  • Add a photo

This is the butler command to copy it to all the cards in a certain list:

  • for each card in list “Friends/Family”, and add the “Card Prep” checklist from card “Instructions” to the card

If you want, you can also create a command that deletes the checklist once it is complete:

  • when checklist “Card Prep” is made complete, remove the “Card Prep” checklist from the card

Manually fill in details on the remaining cards

Now it’s time to manually fill in details for the people who made the cut!

What details you put in there is totally up to you. Personally, I put the following in the description:

  • How I know this person
  • Any dates of significance that would make for an effortless reason to reach out to them such as their birthday or an anniversary
  • Their title and company if they are a business contact

I also added a photo for each person because it makes the board nice to look at and it helps to jog your memory about who someone is. You can usually get a photo of everyone from either LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or even a Google+ profile (if you’re desperate).

As you’re going through, don’t forget to assign relevant tags that you may want to filter folks by. It’s also a good idea to add a date to next contact them, even if you end up changing it later. It’s just easier to do everything at once.

You can add attachments to the cards other than photos, such as pdfs and links. You can even link Trello cards together, which comes in handy if you want to show that Alyssa introduced you to Allison, for example.


In the next installment, we will use the calendar power-up and automation to make sure you always know who you need to reach out to next!


The full list of essays:

  1. The Trello Board Overview
  2. The Initial Set-Up
  3. Finishing the set up with automation
  4. Keeping track of your dates
  5. Getting Advanced: Using Custom Fields & Butler Power-Ups (COMING SOON)