You may or may not have come across the term "no-code" before, so let's start with the basics. If you're up to speed already, feel free to skip this intro.
What is "no-code"?
In short, no-code is a way of both building on the internet and automating processes, without writing lines of code.
Where once, doing anything like making a website or building an app would have required the (timely and expensive) help of one or many experienced developers, you can now do those things yourself, regardless of your lack of coding knowledge or technical wizardry. This is done using what is commonly referred to as no-code "tools" — apps and platforms that let you build things visually instead of writing them with code.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of no-code tools out there. Some of these tools are easy to pick up; some have a steeper learning curve.
You can also automate tasks without code — we'll cover more on this below but in essence, this means taking repetitive, internet-based tasks and making them happen automatically.
Product building vs. automation — what's the difference?
For the purposes of this cheat sheet, we'll refer to everything that doesn't fall under the umbrella of "automation", as "product building".
Product building refers to making, specifically things like:
- Simple websites, e.g. a personal portfolio site
- More complex websites, e.g. a job board or custom marketplace
- Social network apps
- Directory apps
- Booking apps
- Internal management tools
- E-commerce websites and apps, e.g. an online shop that sells goods or services
Why do people use no-code?
People do things without code for a whole host of reasons — often because they can't code! — here are some common reasons:
- They want to make work operations easier and less repetitive
- They have an idea for an app, tool or website and want to test that idea quickly and affordably before using developers
- They can run their business online easily, quickly, and affordably without outsourcing help
- They want control over their business and processes, without relying on developers to make changes or manage systems
- It can be a superb springboard into learning to code
Common no-code related terminology
You may come across these terms as you're navigating the no-code landscape.
Stands for Application Programming Interface. It's an alpha-numerical key that allows two apps to 'talk' to one another, through the sharing of data. If you're using Zapier, you'll often have to go into an app or tool and get its API so that it can be hooked up to other apps in your automation workflow.
Stands for content management system. It's a type of application that is used to manage and publish web content, like blog posts, images, videos, and various other types of collections. The most common CMSs allow multiple users to contribute, create, edit and publish without needing to use code.
Drag and drop
Lots of no-code tools help you build want you want using drag-and-drop functionality. It's a way of building something visually. You can take the content blocks you need (for example, a list of items or an image) and 'drag' them from the menu to your project. Universe (an app builder for mobile) is a great example of this.
To embed something is to add it so it appears with the rest of your content, rather than linking to it externally. For example, instead of using a screen grab or a linked URL to an Instagram post you want to refer to in your blog post, you can take the embed code from the Instagram post and have the entire post appear within in the blog post instead.
Stands for email marketing service. Some of the most popular EMSs include Mailchimp, ConvertKit, MailerLite, and Sendinblue.
The process of making one or more apps or tools work together. This is done using an API (either applied manually by you, or done using the option provided by tools).
The slightly grey area between zero code and code. Sometimes, no-code doesn't quite cut it and you might need to use lines of code here and there to get something done.
Stands for 'minimum viable product', or the most basic version of something you're building to prove its ability to work successfully. A lot of people use no-code tools (which are easy and quick to use) to build out an MVP before moving on to code to build a bespoke version of their project or product.
You might see this term being used to refer to products or tools that you just sign up for and can start using right away. It's a development of the term that's been around for years to describe hardware that you can plug into a computer and use immediately, without needing to install software to make it work.
Stack (or tech stack)
A stack is a sequence of tools or apps connected together (often using Zapier or native integrations). A typical stack will often include;
- A front-end element for people to visualize your product, e.g. a website;
- A back-end element to manage your data e.g. a CMS (often the front and back ends are combined in one tool);
- A comms element to market to and communicate with your users, e.g. an email marketing service.
Short for visual development, which is the functional setup of most no-code tools. A visual development environment allows users without coding knowledge to create what they need through visually applied methods such as drag-and-drop.
Stepped sequences in Zapier are called 'zaps'.
No-code tools overview
Here's a list of a few of the most popular no-code tools. We've included them in this list based on their popularity, ease of use, and all-round helpfulness. This list is far from exhaustive, and is really just to give you an idea of the different types of tools there are out there.
Also bear in mind that there is some crossover between some of these tools — some of them might be great for documents AND productivity (hello, Notion) or memberships AND email (Outseta, for example).
Mobile app building
A drag-and-drop tool that lets you easily create visually stunning apps, using their expert-designed components or by making your own. With one click you can launch a truly native version of your app on the app stores for both iOS and Android. Read more →
A drag-and-drop web and mobile web app builder that gives you total freedom so you can build pixel-perfect designs. You can also bring your site to life with responsive layouts and animations, and configure control of your site with rules. Read more →
Create mobile apps from a Google Sheet quickly and easily, for free. Use their pre-built templates or start from scratch, using your Google Sheet data to visually build an app that you can publish to the app store. Read more →
Databases & Productivity
Part spreadsheet, part database. You can organize anything however you like, using unique field types, configured views, linked content, and powerful in-app integrations. Read more →
House your documents in Notion, then supercharge them using powerful features like in-built and relational tables, embeddable forms, videos, Miro boards, Google Maps and loads more. Read more →
Simple, free, fully responsive one-page sites for pretty much anything. You can get started using one of dozens of templates, or a blank canvas to make your own. Pro accounts get access to features like custom domains, forms, widgets, embeds, and no branding. Read more →
A beautiful website builder and web host all rolled into one. They offer a fully-managed cloud hosting service, ideal if you want your website and domain to stay safe and online at all times without worrying about handling security yourself. Other features include a full template library, event scheduling, and member-only areas. Read more →
Design websites visually, and power them with custom blogs, portfolios, ecommerce stores, and more, using Webflow's flexible CMS. Launch your site when you're ready with world-class hosting. Read more →
Documents & Forms
Coda is an all-in-one doc that brings words, data, and teams together. It comes with building blocks like tables and buttons, templates, customizable views, and lots of integrations. Read more →
Custom forms that integrate seamlessly with other tools and apps. Use the simple form builder to create engaing, people-friendly forms, then analyze the data once you start collecting results. Read more →
Emails & Marketing
Email marketing software designed specifically for creators. You can collect subscribers using an embeddable form on your site, or build a landing page with ConvertKit if you don't have a site. Other functions include funnels, tags, segments and integrations. Read more →
An all-in-one integrated marketing platform for small businesses. It's core feature is emails, but through Mailchimp you can also design assets, manage audiences, automate communications, run surveys, collect data using analytics, and more. Read more →
Memberships & Ecommerce
Easy-to-use e-commerce software for creators. Take advantage of the simple setup, a heavily optimized purchasing experience, tiered memberships and content delivery, in-depth analytics, and customer communication tools. Read more →
An all-in-one subscription and membership billing tool, Outseta allows you to sell subscriptions, set up protected content only accessible to users based on their subscription, track prospects and customers with Outseta CRM, and grow a subscriber base with in-built email marketing, help desk, and live chat tools. Read more →
Memberstack lets you add memberships and gated content to your website. A few key features include the ability to control who sees what, create forms and member areas, offer free trials, and create member profiles so that users can control their own billing, data and account. Read more →
A white-labeled platform that allows you to tack a forum onto your own website or existing online space. Circle integrates with lots of other tools and can be styled with your own branding to give your community members a seamless experience between website and forum. Read more →
The #1 tool for connecting apps together and automating repetitive tasks and workflows. Pick a trigger that sets your workflow (a.k.a. 'zap') into motion, then select the tools and rules to customize the workflow. Read more →
Real life use cases
Many people work smarter, not harder, by taking advantage of automation. There's a great example here on the Zapier blog, written by Jakob Staudal, about automating blog content production.
Jakob uses automation to:
- Generate and organize ideas
- Coordinate freelance writers to write up his content ideas
- Format and schedule blog posts that automatically publish to WordPress
"It's been one month since I started automating my work, and here's what happened: I get everything done within two to three hours every day. I don't lose track of things anymore. I've successfully stuck to my schedule of posting one blog post every other day [and] I came up with 45 organized content ideas and published 15 blog posts." – Jakob Staudal
There are so many things you can automate to save yourself time. If it's something you typically do more than once — automate it!
👉 Build a product, turn it into a business, get funded
Tessa Thomas is a Makerpad Creator in Residence and founder of Pipeline Solutions, an automations and analytics toolkit for fitness studios. She built the MVP version of her app without code after joining the Makerpad community.
In January 2021, Tessa announced that Pipeline Solutions was one of the newest additions to Earnest Capital's portfolio.
👉 Use no-code to build a business that gets acquired
Makerpad is built entirely using no-code tools — mainly Webflow, Zapier, Circle, Memberstack, Stripe, ConvertKit, Notion and Slack.
Here's an overview of how we use these tools:
Webflow — This acts as our website front-end and CRM back-end. Everything you see at makerpad.co is hosted on Webflow.
Zapier — If Webflow is our engine, then Zapier is the fuel that powers it. There are literally thousands of automated tasks that keep Makerpad functioning each week! We use Zapier to connect the tools in our stack and make them 'talk' to one another.
Circle — We host our community forum through Circle. Circle integrates beautifully with other tools and is white-labeled, meaning we can customize and automate how we onboard new members, and make the forum look and feel like part of the main site.
Memberstack — We use Memberstack to handle our memberships tiers and member profiles.
Stripe — Used for payment handling for paid memberships and course fees.
ConvertKit — We use ConvertKit to communicate with our members through email blasts.
Notion — Used for internal documentation, team organization, our content production pipeline, and some public documents (like this cheat sheet).
Slack — Used for all team comms and course cohort comms.
In March 2021, off the back of this tweet, Makerpad was acquired by Zapier 🙌 The acquisition is a really great example of how a business built on no-code tools can grow and scale so much, that it captures the attention of a multi-billion dollar company.
Want to learn more?
If you've read this and want to take your no-code education further, here are some recommended next steps:
- If you haven't already, join Makerpad! We have a community of no-coders learning from and inspiring each other.
- Get on Twitter. The no-code community is buzzing there, and there are lots of people building, teaching, and learning about no-code.
- Watch video tutorials. This a great way to learn and start building your own projects. Besides our own tutorial library, YouTube is full of other no-coders sharing what they know.
- One of the best ways to learn is just by doing. Choose tools based on what you're trying to get done, and start playing around with them. Most of the popular no-code tools have their own tutorials, help centers, webinars and even courses to you can learn how to use the tools from those who know the tools best.
- Build in public. Are you embarking on a no-code build? Do it in public! Share what you're building and learning with the #buildinpublic Twitter community to get help, advice and support from others in the no-code space.
- If you like the accountability and peer support that comes with a classroom environment, consider taking a course. There are many out there to choose from, but we really recommend our No-Code Fundamentals cohort-based course to give you a broad education in no-code from the ground up.