As a small business, your data is valuable, so you probably need a good system for storing, organizing, processing, and analyzing it. But choosing the right data solution for your small business can be a daunting task. There are so many software choices out there; Excel, Google Sheets, Airtable, MySQL, and HubSpot are just a few of the many great options that are available. With all of these products, how do you know which one is right for you?

Database products are perhaps the most robust and powerful of these options. Luckily, there are database software options that align with the needs of small businesses. In this article, we’ll address the importance of databases and features that small businesses should be on the lookout for!

What is a database and why do I need one?

A database is a store of data which is optimally structured for accuracy, reliability, and ease of use. Databases allow for the smooth functioning of everything from scientific research to your favorite websites.

How do they do this? They make accessing information easier. In a database, data is arranged with a consistent, logical structure, making the process of storing and retrieving information more efficient. In other words, a database simplifies your data which makes it more readily accessible.

Here’s a simple example: A dog breeder wants to keep track of her dogs. She could just make a note of every dog, like this:

“Bulldog, white; German shepherd, white; Poodle, white; Poodle, white; German shepherd, brown; Golden retriever, brown; Bulldog, brown; Husky, gray; Poodle, gray…”

Now the breeder wants information about her dogs. How many bulldogs does she have? How many gray dogs? How many white poodles? As you can see, getting this information from her note is difficult, especially if she has hundreds of dogs! So, she decides to use a database, which might store her data like this:

Bulldog German Shepherd Poodle Golden Retriever Husky Total Color:
White 9 17 3 4 21 54
Brown 11 10 0 15 2 38
Gray 32 14 14 0 11 71
Total Breed: 54 41 17 19 34

Using the database, the breeder can easily retrieve the information: 52 bulldogs, 71 gray dogs, and 3 white poodles!

But the breeder wants to know much more. What about the dogs’ weights, sizes, personalities, and levels of activity? How do these traits correlate with their price? Complex, data-based questions like these require the use of databases.

Since your data is complex in nature, it’s important to consider how you want to store it. Typically, businesses store their data by making use of a database management system (DBMS), which is a software that facilitates interaction with databases. This interaction goes beyond just storing: a DBMS lets a business create, access, read, manage, modify, and update their databases, often by using a programming language such as SQL.

It is also important to know that storing data in a DBMS is much more secure than other methods due to control measures such as authentication, access control, and encryption. What you don’t want is for your data to get into the wrong hands.

So, DBMSs are important for every company because they store valuable information in an organized, accessible, and secure way. What are some other advantages to using a DBMS that you should keep in mind?

  • Management of large amounts of data – Databases can handle large volumes of data that spreadsheets simply will not be able to.
  • Easy to update data – It’s easy to update data in a database using data manipulation languages, such as SQL.
  • Improved data sharing – Data is a company resource that many employees need to access. Databases allow many different groups to view the same data.
  • Greater data security – Only authorized users have access to the database.
  • Data integrity – Databases have various data constraints that help maintain accuracy and consistency.

What do we need to analyze data?

One of the most important reasons you have a database is so you can analyze your data. Chances are, your business collects data from many sources, such as data from Google Analytics, Shopify, Stripe, or other applications.

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Often, various tools have to be used together just to perform simple analysis. To conduct analysis on and to visualize your data, it’s often standard practice to store all of your data in a data warehouse and then use a BI tool to visualize it.

A data warehouse is a system that pulls together data from many different sources for reporting and analysis.

But how do you get your data into the database? One common way is to use an ETL (extract, transform, load) tool to load, clean, and store data into your database system. Your BI tool can then load your cleaned data straight from the database for you to build dashboards and conduct analysis.

Unfortunately, as you can see, this process involves using several tools to manage your data flow, which can become quite complicated. Using these tools also requires technical knowledge on database management and data engineering.

What about small businesses?

For small businesses, it’s important to get the best bang for your buck. Many database tools that exist today require an understanding of coding, database management, and database engineering. These tasks can be challenging and costly for small businesses who do not already have this expertise or the existing IT infrastructure to implement it.

You’ll want to choose a software that will take care of the technical backend for you. Efficiency and ease are key, so that you can focus on making impactful analyses that will drive your business.

Earlier, we mentioned data warehousing. One important feature of some data warehouses is  OLAP (online analytical processing). OLAP functionality allows database analysts to perform different types of analysis on data from multiple sources by allowing users to easily and selectively extract and query data. Small businesses should look for OLAP features to get fast, consistent insights from their data.

Teams should also look for easy data sharing for increased transparency and collaboration within the company. Collaboration and transparency cultivate trust between management and employees as well as business benefits. Internal transparency lays a foundation for making informed, thoughtful decisions; context and key details are less likely to be buried as information travels. Teams are also more likely to understand their work and their impact, share knowledge across teams, and increase productivity.

Storage is also expensive. Large companies may have hardware to store data locally that small businesses do not. Therefore, a cloud-based solution is best for small businesses.

Based on what we’ve talked about so far, these are the criteria for we are looking for:

  • Manage large amounts of data
  • Implement data pipeline easily
  • Easy to update data
  • Share data easily

Top 5 Solutions

Notice that the recurring theme here is “ease.” The software should help elevate your business, rather than bogging you down with complexity. With that in mind, here are 5 solutions you can consider.

Excel MySQL MS SQL Server HubSpot Acho
Development Environment Proprietary Open-source Proprietary Proprietary Proprietary
Distribution Local or cloud Local Windows only Cloud Cloud
Pricing Subscription Free Subscription Free or subscription Subscription
Data Connector Microsoft-related databases or ODBC no no yes yes
Analytics Built-in formulas or charts no Microsoft analysis tools available, but not built-in yes yes

1. Spreadsheets as a database (Excel)

You’re probably already familiar with spreadsheets. Although it’s not quite a database, it’s quick and easy to work with when you have smaller sets of data. You can enter data directly into the cells and perform calculations. However, you will encounter scalability issues. When you have larger quantities of data, extracting information becomes much slower and will consume a lot of your computer’s resources. Although it has its limitations, its ease of use still makes it a good option for small businesses. It’s also possible to pivot from using spreadsheets to a database easily.

2. Using a SQL database (MySQL, MSSQL)

MySQL is an open-source, free RDBMS and MSSQL is a Microsoft-developed RDBMS. Both platforms are scalable as your company grows and gathers more data. The downside of these platforms is that they still require ETL tools to migrate data and do not have easy analytics capabilities. And while MySQL is free, you will have to pay for support and hosting if you require it. You’ll also need to pay for MSSQL licenses for the server running the software.

3. Using a SaaS app as a database (HubSpot)

HubSpot is a CRM platform that’s both powerful and easy to use. A CRM is a database for storing contact information, tracking sales, and managing relationships with your customers. HubSpot offers Data sync by HubSpot to help integrate other apps. The basic version of HubSpot is free, with paid versions available (per user) if you want access to more features. While SaaS apps such as HubSpot can be a great tool, it’s often limited in its use cases. For data and dashboards beyond customer relationships, other tools will have to be used.

4. Using an integrated OLAP (Acho)

Acho is a cloud-based, modern data platform that can connect, transform, and visualize data all in one place. It has customized data connectors, data warehousing, built-in data transformation, and BI dashboards to streamline your data flow. It requires no code and has an accessible, user-friendly interface for those looking for something straightforward to use.

With this single platform, you’ll be able to connect data from all of your applications and conduct impactful analysis that you would otherwise need several tools for.

Let’s check out what an integrated OLAP looks like. Here’s how you can implement software like Acho.

Connect to any data source

Acho supports connection to a variety of databases, applications, and REST APIs. They also streamline the data onboarding process from offline files. All you need to do is connect or upload your source to add a resource.

When you connect a resource, Acho instantly creates a searchable database on the cloud for you. No need to design or manage the database yourself.

Use the Excel-like data cleaning and manipulation features

You can then clean, transform, and combine your data – all with no code. You just need to upload your resource to a project and use the many non-technical tools that can help you edit your data.

Build BI dashboards

Acho offers native cloud-based Business Apps to visualize and analyze your data to help achieve your goals. There are a variety of tables, charts, and graphs that you can build – also with no code.

You can also share your resources, projects, and dashboards with others in your organization to encourage collaboration and transparency.

Small businesses are faced with resource challenges that make choosing the right database software a crucial decision. Platforms like Acho can help you unify and tackle these tasks with ease, from creating your database all the way to drawing data-driven insight. Having all of these features on one platform removes the complexity of having to use multiple tools to use and interact with a database.