+44 203 287 0899 info@solvaa.co.uk
Decorative image - The featured image for the Solvaa blog post "AI-tomation: How Zapier is using AI to make automation easy Part 5 - Wrapping up and looking forward"

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

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. 

 

Databases

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.

 

Spreadsheets

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.
  •  

Databases

Pros:

  • 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.
  •  

Cons:

  • 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).

 

Summary

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.

Related Posts

An image showing spring cleaning for your technology stack.

Spring clean your tech stack: how to review your apps to save money and boost efficiency

As the flowers bloom and the birds chirp, it's time for that annual ritual: spring cleaning. While you're tidying up your physical space, don't forget about your digital domain. Yes, we're talking about your tech stack. The term 'tech stack' refers to the suite of...
Decorative feature image for Solvaa blog post " Boost Your LinkedIn Sales: Streamline your sales process with Surfe and Pipedrive"

Boost Your LinkedIn Sales: Streamline your sales process with Surfe and Pipedrive

LinkedIn sales thrive on effective communication and relationship management. LinkedIn serves as a powerful tool for sales pros to engage with leads and nurture valuable connections, however, it's challenging to get your LinkedIn leads into your CRM in an automated...
Image of the Pipedrive mobile app for Solvaa blog post "Optimise Your Sales Journey On-the-Go with Pipedrive’s CRM Mobile App"

Optimise Your Sales Journey On-the-Go with Pipedrive’s CRM Mobile App

In the dynamic world of sales, maintaining connectivity and organisation is paramount for success. Pipedrive's CRM mobile app presents a comprehensive solution, acting as a versatile sales pipeline and lead tracker that empowers businesses of all sizes to effortlessly...
Decorative image - a header for the Solvaa blog post "Mastering Meeting Efficiency: How Automation Can Make Meetings Better"

Mastering Meeting Efficiency: How Automation Can Make Meetings Better

Meetings. A vital yet often frustrating feature in the landscape of business. Not many people look forward to meetings (there's a reason that "This could have been an email" is now a phrase so viral you can find it on mugs, t-shirts and more), and even fewer enjoy...
Blog featured image for Solvaa blog post Using business automation software and excited to automate something new? Do these things first!

Using business automation software and excited to automate something new? Do these things first!

In the ever-evolving landscape of business processes, automation has become the cornerstone of efficiency and productivity. In this post, we'll delve into the art of enhancing your existing automation infrastructure by seamlessly integrating new automations into the...
Blog featured image: How to seamlessly weave automations into your process mapping

How to seamlessly weave automations into your process mapping

A process map is a visual representation of a workflow; they're useful for helping you identify issues and areas of improvement in your procedures. Process mapping also allows you to share and teach procedures across an organisation. Our previous post goes into more...
Solvaa blog post title image for post "New low-code features from Zapier bring automaton power to the people."

New low-code features from Zapier bring automation power to the people

Have you ever been frustrated when a Zapier app integration doesn't have the action you need? Or perhaps you have Zaps filled with webhook steps, and only the most technical people in your team know how to update or edit them? Zapier has built low-code features App...
Solvaa blog header image: Automate sales and marketing to make your holidays more jolly

Marketing and Sales Automations to Make Your Holidays More Jolly

Between Black Friday, Thanksgiving, and the holidays, November and December are busy times for businesses. Your busiest days may be yet to come, but if you want to get ahead, you need to start preparing as soon as possible. This post offers tips for automating and...
Blog title image "There's an app for that, but do you need it?"

There’s an app for that, but do you need it?

From lead management to turning on the office coffee machine, there's an app for everything these days. When a task or process is time-consuming or difficult, it can be easy to jump straight to looking for something to do it for you. It's worth taking time to pause...
The head image for the blog post showing a photo of a calendar on a yellow background. Next to the calendar is the Solvaa Automation academy & consultancy logo. Under that are the logos for the Calendly and Zapier apps.

Create a Zap for rescheduled Calendly events by adding one simple step

When you're using Zapier, it can be frustrating if the trigger or action you need doesn't exist. If you're technically minded, you may be able to build your own, but sometimes there's a simpler solution. If you're using Calendly with Zapier, you'll know that there...
A laptop with screen showing software app icons which are flying out of the screen.

How to review your apps and choose the best software for your business

These days, businesses use a wide range of software tools to perform their everyday tasks. Some of them may be very old, desktop or local network legacy systems which are creaking at the seams. Businesses may also use spreadsheets and word processing software to do...
Everyday man dressed as a superhero with the text Citizen Developer on his chest.

What is a citizen developer and how can they help deliver automation success?

You may have heard the expression "citizen developer" being thrown around a lot recently so we wanted to get some more insight into what one is and whether they should be an integral part of every business. At Solvaa we talk about the concept of "systems and...
Diary open on a page with hourly sections and a pen poised over the 9am slot.

Why planning your day in advance will help you be more productive

If your to-do list is overflowing and work seems chaotic, then it might be time to take a more organised approach. We strongly believe that planning your day (and week!) in advance will help you be more productive. You'll get more done, with fewer interruptions, if...
Close-up of a woman using a portable credit card reader, holding a receipt which is being printed.

How to automate your sales funnel and win more business

Your sales cycle is one of the most important functions in your business so it's vital that it is efficient so that you can convert more sales and win more business. We have already covered how to automate your marketing tasks so this article concentrates on pushing...
Businesswoman relaxing at her desk with her eyes closed and fingers in a meditation pose

How to be productive without overwhelm to protect your mental health

With such a focus these days on productivity, and pressure to get as much done as possible, trying to cram everything in can sometimes lead to feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. True productivity should actually do the opposite and create more pockets of time to do...
Confused businessman standing at a crossroads with options to go left for Robotic Process Automation or right for Business Process Automation.

Which type of automation tools suit a small to medium sized business?

Automation is nothing new, with the first robot invented over 100 years ago (credited to Leonardo Torres y Quevedo for inventing a machine for playing chess if you're interested!), and manufacturing businesses first adopting the use of robots in their physical...
A group of young business people raising their hands in a business meeting.

Who would benefit from the Solvaa Automation Academy training programmes?

If you'd love to jump on the automation bandwagon but struggle to navigate the myriad of information you find online, then we can help. Even if you have dabbled with Zapier you might be worried that you're doing it wrong or are not 100% sure that you're using the...
A man's hand hovering over a laptop keyboard with the screen showing available appointment slots for a meeting.

How calendar apps can help you be more productive when booking meetings

 One of the biggest time sucks in business can be all the to-ing and fro-ing that you get when you're trying to organise a meeting with someone. You start by saying you're available on Mondays and Tuesdays, they then suggest a Tuesday, but you have a dentist...
Jigsaw pieces which have text for the benefits of automation and a separate piece which says Automation Blueprint, as a concept of the blueprint being the missing piece of the jigsaw.

Our automation blueprint : the perfect way to learn how to use Zapier

  We often talk about the benefits of business process automation but do you find the idea of automation a bit daunting? You may be keen to improve business performance, reduce human error and get rid of all the boring mundane tasks but wonder where on earth to...
Closeup of a man's hand over a laptop keyboard with a blank blue screen and folder and document icons floating over the screen.

How to boost productivity using Zapier to automate Google Docs

Creating documents is something that most businesses do every day, and it can be a time-consuming, manual task which is prone to error when the text or data is input incorrectly. Copying data from one app to another is so inefficient and the time wasted could be...
Automate ebook

Get our free ebook

Learn about how business process automation with Zapier can help you to run your business on autopilot. The ebook is packed with real-life examples, use cases, and success stories. Whatever kind of business you have, you can use automation to help you work smarter, not harder.

Thanks! Your ebook is on the way.

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares