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Choosing the right tools for your small business is crucial for both cost and efficiency. As with many areas in life, it’s important to choose the right tool for the right job. When it comes to storing and organising data, many people default to using a spreadsheet app like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. While these are useful tools, they have their limitations, which is where databases come in. 


While both spreadsheets and databases serve as powerful tools for organising and analysing data, understanding their differences and knowing when to use each is crucial for optimising your workflow. Let’s delve into the comparison and explore when to choose one over the other. 

Understanding the Difference 



Spreadsheets, such as Excel and Google Sheets, are widely used for their simplicity and versatility.

They organise data in rows and columns, allowing users to input, calculate, and visualise information with ease. A good way to think of spreadsheets is a digital ledger, a list of information. Spreadsheets are excellent in managing small to medium-sized datasets, but their scalability and relational capabilities are limited. 



A database is an organised collection of data, designed so that the information can be used in different ways. Databases are a way to track and organise information in a flexible structure.

A key feature of databases is that they are relational, they link records together. You will have come across databases if you use a CRM. CRMs connect the information from a contact to the information about the business that contact is from, and any opportunities or products that contact is interested in buying. For the purposes of this post, we’re talking about database apps that allow you to build your own collections of data, apps like Airtable, SmartSuite and Notion.


These apps provide customisable templates and relational features, enabling users to create complex data models tailored to their specific needs. This makes databases particularly effective for managing projects, customer relationships, and inventory tracking.

Pros and Cons

Whether you’re looking for tools for a small business, or a larger-scale operation, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each data management tool.




  • User-friendly interface: Spreadsheets are easy to navigate, making them accessible to users of all skill levels.
  • Easy set-up: It’s relatively simple to create a spreadsheet, adding rows for your items and columns for the data about each item.
  • Quick data analysis: With built-in functions and charts, spreadsheets allow for rapid insights into your data.
  • Familiarity: Many professionals are already proficient in using spreadsheet software, reducing the learning curve.


  • Limited scalability: Large datasets can lead to performance issues and cumbersome file sizes.
  • Prone to errors: Manual input increases the risk of data entry mistakes and formula errors.
  • Lack of collaboration features: Real-time collaboration is often challenging, leading to version control issues.



  • Scalability: Databases can handle vast amounts of data without compromising performance.
  • Data integrity: With structured schemas and validation rules, databases ensure the accuracy and consistency of your information.
  • Additional tools: Apps like Airtable and SmartSuite have built-in features like automations, forms, data interfaces, and project management tools.
  • Integrations and add-ons: Database tools generally integrate well with other apps and connect with other no-code tools, like Zapier.
  • More field types: While spreadsheets allow you to store text, dates and numbers, databases allow you to store other file types, like images and documents.
  • Security and access: It’s easier to customise who has access to specific parts of your datasets with database apps.


  • Learning curve: Databases require a deeper understanding of data types and relationships between fields. Less people have experience working with apps like Airtable, SmartSuite and Notion.
  • Complexity: It often takes more time to set up databases, in order to set them up in a way that correctly links data and allows you to take full advantage of features like analysis and dashboards.
  • Cost: While some database solutions offer free tiers, advanced features and increased storage may incur additional expenses.


Choosing the right tool for your business

If you’re deciding between using a spreadsheet or database, start by asking yourself a few questions:
What type of data do I want to store?
If you only have text and numbers, a spreadsheet might be the right choice, but if you’d like to store files and images, a database could be better.
Is this data part of a bigger project?
If you find yourself creating multiple spreadsheets for a project (e.g. one for volunteers, one for venues, one for events), there’s a good chance that a database would suit you better. A database allows you to consolidate all of that information in one place, as well as linking the information across tables.
How much time do you have?
As more people are familiar with spreadsheets, and they are generally quick to set up, they can be a good choice if you need a fast and easy way to store data and perform calculations on it.
How important is data integrity?
By default, spreadsheets allow you to type anything into a field. This gives you a lot of flexibility but can lead to errors if something is entered in the wrong format.
How many people need access?
If you need teammates and/or external stakeholders to be able to view the data, then a database is likely going to be a better option. Databases offer more flexibility in permissions and who can view which parts of your dataset.
If you’re still unsure which tool is right, here are some tips…

When to Use Spreadsheets:

  • Small datasets: For simple calculations or basic data tracking, spreadsheets offer a straightforward solution.
  • Individual tasks: When working independently or with a small team on isolated projects, spreadsheets provide flexibility and ease of use.
  • Quick analysis: When time is of the essence and immediate insights are required, spreadsheets facilitate rapid data manipulation and visualisation.
Examples: Budget tracking, storing lists.

When to Use Databases:

  • Large datasets: For managing extensive datasets with numerous relationships and dependencies, databases offer scalability and efficiency.
  • Collaborative projects: When multiple users need to access and update data simultaneously, databases provide centralised control and real-time collaboration.
  • Complex workflows: When dealing with intricate business processes or customised data structures, databases enable robust data modelling and automation.
Examples: Managing volunteers and events, inventory (including internal resource management).



In conclusion, while spreadsheets remain a staple for simple data management tasks, databases emerge as the preferred choice for businesses seeking scalability, data integrity, and advanced analytics capabilities. By understanding the strengths and limitations of each tool, you can make informed decisions that streamline your workflow and drive business success.
At Solvaa, we have extensive experience working with Airtable and we are a SmartSuite certified partner. We can guide you on the best way to structure and store your data, and we’re experts at wrangling multiple spreadsheets into one source of truth for your company. Whether you want to supercharge your spreadsheets with automation or dive into databases, we’re here to help.

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we may earn a commission if you decide to purchase after clicking through the link.

Solvaa is a systems, process and automation consultancy specialising in increasing productivity in your business by improving marketing, sales, operations and financial administration workflows. We help you to simplify and streamline existing processes, integrate your business tools to make data transfer more efficient and automate manual tasks to increase productivity. We are Zapier Certified Experts, Pipedrive Certified Partners, SmartSuite Certified Partners and Xero Certified Advisors. 

Contact us today to discuss how Solvaa can help you simplify, improve and automate all aspects of your business with Zapier to save you time, reduce costs and keep you agile as you grow.

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