Airtable Turns Any List into a Useful Database
Everyone makes lists.
Your personal lists could include a honey-do list, or a list of restaurants with notes, or a list of wines in your wine cellar, or a list of books that you have read or movies you have seen (how many times have you read the same book twice?).
Your lists at work might include a simple CRM or sales tracking process, or a simple project management list (renewing a personal or small commercial account), or an employee directory.
When you start to think about it, you realize you make lists all the time.
I do, too. Two examples are a list of agency management system platforms and their vendors, and a list of comparative rating platforms. I reference them ceaselessly when I get questions from agents about which platforms they should consider.
These lists (and many others) are currently in an Excel spreadsheet. Using an Excel spreadsheet has worked just fine so far. However, might it make more sense to put those lists in a relational database? The answer is probably yes, yet few have access to this type of software platform. If you have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, Microsoft Access is available to you. Unfortunately, this is a very robust but hard to use database program.
An alternative that I’ve been exploring is Airtable.
Airtable is an online database that looks and acts like a spreadsheet. It allows you to create, use, and share small relational databases. It is designed to be used by smaller, non-enterprise organizations.
There is nothing to download and install on your computer as the platform is completely web-based. Simply go to Airtable.com and sign up. There is a free version to get you started that is quite capable. I am currently using the free version.
Airtable includes all the standard elements of the database such as:
- Bases: A base is a single database containing the information you need for a project.
- Tables: Each base can have one or more tables, like individual worksheets in a spreadsheet. Like any relational database, you can reference field data in another table so you only have to update information in one place.
- Views: Views are different ways to look at the data in a table.
- Fields: Fields are the database equivalent of a spreadsheet column. Unlike in spreadsheets, each Airtable field can have a particular field type for different kinds of rich content. Field types include file attachment, checkbox, phone number, long text, and select drop-down.
You can design and create a base from scratch, or use a predefined template to get started quickly. The site has a selection of templates for both personal and business use.
Here are a few examples of how you might be able to use an Airtable base in your agency:
- Sales CRM: This is a very simple customer relationship management program. One of the most common questions I get from producers is how to track their prospects effectively. There are certainly other programs that are more capable, but if you’re using an Excel spreadsheet (or 3 x 5 cards!) to track your sales activity, this likely will be better and easier to use.
- Project Tracker: There are many projects done in an agency. For example, your renewal process for personal lines is a project that is repeated for every personal lines account. It might be interesting to experiment using an Airtable base to track the status of monthly renewals instead of the Excel spreadsheet that you might be using currently. Or, what about the process of tracking new business activity?
- Employee Directory: Using a database to maintain employee information could also be an option. Remember, if you include any sensitive employee information make sure you are comfortable with the security provided in an Airtable base.
- Blog Editorial Calendar: You should be adding new content to your website frequently. This base could be a great tool for internal use as you plan who is going to write what articles for your site and when they are due.
A potential advantage of using Airtable is its collaboration capabilities. You can add individuals to your base simply by clicking the “Share” button. There are three collaborator permission levels for each base:
- Creator level allows full access to the base.
- Edit Only level allows the ability to add, delete, and modify rows and add, delete, and change views but not modify field types.
- Read Only level allows collaborators to view records but not edit them.
Collaboration allows simultaneous changes to a base. Individuals will see other people’s changes as they happen. The collaborator’s profile picture will appear in a record when they are actively editing it.
I have only highlighted a few of the capabilities of using an Airtable base in your organization. The use of Excel spreadsheets for database tracking is widespread within agencies (especially in the benefits department). Using an easy relational database like Airtable to replace an Excel spreadsheet could provide additional benefits to the agency.
What tools besides an Excel spreadsheet are you using to track information? Let me know in the Comments Section.
(Affiliate links used in this article.)
I’ve been looking at Airtable as well and am impressed with what I see. I’m also looking at Zoho Creator. They are very much alike, but I’m leaning towards Zoho simple because of the current number of users vs. Airtable. Do you have any thoughts on Zoho Creator?
Also, check out Zapier if you haven’t already. It’s sort of like IFTTT. Using either Airtable or Creator along with one of these two (or both) could lead to a very productive platform.
I had not looked at Zoho Creator before, but it looks like it could be a great option. It does seem, however, that they don’t have a free version. Airtable is free up to 1,200 records in a database. For what I am envisioning using it for 1,200 records would cover 90+ percent of what I need. I also use a peer. I wrote a TechTips about it last year. It definitely is a great tool. I wish the agency management system vendors would get their act together.
Great information Steve! Looks like a very helpful tool – thanks.