Imagine you and another chef are preparing a steak dinner for 50 guests. You enter the kitchen with nothing but a butter knife. But your partner's wielding an extra-sharp, top-of-the-line piece of cutlery. They carve up the meat with quick, precise strokes—while you're stuck sawing away.
Some jobs need sharper tools. Just like a great chef's knife, a database can save you time and trouble when it comes to slicing and dicing (in this case, data). The only problem is they're typically difficult to use and often require SQL scripting skills. That's where Airtable steps in and improves things.
Airtable is a drop-dead, easy online platform for creating and sharing relational databases. While databases can get a bad rap among non-programmers for being daunting and hard to work with, Airtable's simple interface is colorful, friendly, and allows anyone to spin up a database in minutes to store, organize, and collaborate on information about anything—like employee directories, product inventories, and even apartment hunting—no SQL required.
At first glance, databases look much like spreadsheets, with pages of grid lines and tabs. You organize the data in rows and columns just like in a spreadsheet.
Only that's where the similarities end. In a spreadsheet, you'll use functions like
=sum(a1:a5) to calculate values and crunch numbers. In a database, you'll typically use SQL queries like
SELECT * FROM Customers; to find and compare data. You could compare data in a spreadsheet, but databases are much more powerful and far less easy to mess up.
A relational database doesn't just store data, it stores relationships between that data—linking, for example, all of the songs in your music collection with categories such as artist, title, and era. You can then use those relationships to answer questions you have. Storing related data together in a single spreadsheet can be unwieldy and invite errors when you try to sort and compare it, but with a database, for example, you could easily filter by '90s hits with "baby" in the title without modifying your database itself.
A basic rule of thumb is a database is more suited to organize a large amount of information. Spreadsheets are the best fit for running calculations. Airtable gives you the best of both worlds: a relational database that's as easy to work with as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel.
If you're new to Airtable or just want a refresher, start here for an overview of the features within the tool. Or, if you've got the basics down pat, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.
There are 5 basic building blocks to an Airtable database.
Bases are single databases with all the information you need for your project or interest. Your base might be called "Employee Directory" or "New Car Shopping." A base contains all the data you need for one project. You could start out with a blank base and build it out from scratch, but starting with a template is a good way to take a peek under the hood and get familiar with what's possible. Airtable offers a robust library of templates that are pre-populated with relevant sample data that you can modify with your own. For example, there are templates for a personal CRM, project tracker, and an employee directory.
To use a template, select “+ New Base” from the homepage, choose a template, and then click “Use” at the top of the page. The employee directory template is customized to help keep track of your entire team's roles, start dates, birthdays, food allergies, and more.
Tables are used to hold a list of data about one particular type of item. Each base can have one or more tables, similar to worksheets in a spreadsheet. In the Employee Directory base, there are tables for the directory and company department, which each hold a list of a particular type of information, like name, birthdate, and social security number.
Each column in a table is called a field. Fields are the equivalent of spreadsheet columns, though fields are designed to bring consistency to your data. Each field has a name and can be customized to hold a wide variety of content, like photos, attachments, phone numbers, checkboxes, and more.
Records are the database equivalent of spreadsheet rows and cells. Each record is an item in your list. In a table of employees, each record is a different employee, with data in each field to detail their name, department, address, social security number, and more.
The power of a relational database relies on its, well, relationships. Your records in one table can have a relationship with your records in another table by adding a link. After creating an association between tables, you can use that to get information from the other table. For example, while we're in the employee directory table, we can link each employee to their department. This would display the name of the department on the same card as the employee and make it easy to pull up information about that department at any time. You can expand a record to see all of its information in one place.
While it can be helpful to view all of your records at once, you can also create multiple views for each table in a base. Think of a view in Airtable like a different lens through which you can see the same underlying table data. These customized views can be useful when you only want to see records fitting certain criteria—perhaps to see all employees in the engineering department.
Think outside the grid with visual views. You can create a calendar view, for example, to see employees' birthdays visually.
A gallery view represents your records as large cards. This view is particularly useful for highlighting attachments to your records like employee headshots and performance reports.
With the Kanban view, you can visualize your records in a board of stacked cards. You can click and drag to move cards between different stacks, or reorder them within a stack—a great way to make a workflow for your projects or show what stage each item you're working on is in.
Feeling confident enough to build an Airtable database without a template? Use the import feature to upload your existing spreadsheet data and transform it into a customizable base.
As you can see, Airtable's magic is in its flexibility to adapt to whatever you need to organize, however you want to see it.
Your information is most helpful when it's up to date. But the copy-and-paste gymnastics can have you bending over backward. By connecting Airtable to app automation tool Zapier, you can fill up your digital filing cabinet automatically by setting rules that pass data between Airtable and your other apps when certain events occur. For example, you can setup a Zap–our term for a workflow–so that you get an email notification when a new record such as a new order is added to an Airtable base. Similarly, you can set up a Zap that creates a new record in Airtable when an event occurs in another app, for example, when a lead is captured via a Facebook Lead Ad.
Airtable is free for unlimited bases with up to 1.2k rows and 2GB attachments per base. Check out our Airtable review for more details on pricing and plans.
Airtable topped the charts as the fastest growing app on Zapier in 2016, with companies of all types and sizes creating Zaps to manage their data. Whether you're running the show or running for coffee, you can connect Airtable to Zapier to create custom workflows that cut out manual data entry. Connect Airtable to the data from the other apps and services that run your business, such as Asana, Evernote, and Slack.
We know getting started is the hardest part, so we rounded up the workflows of 14 professionals who use Airtable and Zapier to eliminate busy work and reclaim their days.
"Zapier enables us to automate the nitty gritty while unveiling the big picture."- Maria Zamri, creative director of the Joffrey Ballet School
Never underestimate the power of a happy customer. By checking in with customers who've made recent purchases or requesting feedback on a support interaction, you can make customers feel like superstars. But with all the tasks to tackle during your 9-5, finding the time to manage those timely followups can be hard to come by. One way to save time is to use Zapier to connect the data in your Airtable base with the other apps you use to message your customers. Then, sit back and watch as your satisfied customers transform into your best salespeople.
As creative director of the Joffrey Ballet School, Maria Zamri awards scholarships to prospective students. During dance auditions, her team uses the Airtable app to score the auditions. With all the scores stored in a base, Zamri can easily run reports, filter views, and see a breakdown of how the different dancers stack up. Then Zapier sends out a customized email to each dancer using the data in the base to update them on the status of their audition.
"We love it. Zapier enables us to automate the nitty gritty while unveiling the big picture," says Zamri.
If you want to carry Pali Hawaii's line of footwear, you first have to go through Ryan Meehan. As the sole distributor of their sandals, Meehan invites new retailers to apply for distribution via an embedded Typeform on his website. A Zap automatically posts the form responses to an Airtable base for review. Upon approval, a second Zap automatically adds that retailer to a list in MailChimp, an email marketing app, and kicks off an onboarding email sequence. Retailers who don't get the stamp of approval get moved to a separate MailChimp list inviting them to submit more information and finalize their application.
"It's hard to put a value on a service that has probably saved me hundreds of man hours and provides me peace of mind," says Meehan. "I know that if my Zaps are all switched on, all the important data I need to run my business will be routed to where it needs to go."
Automatically welcoming new customers is also a key strategy for coffee subscription company Mistobox. Founder Connor Riley says the company uses a Zap to log new subscriptions to Airtable and subscribe those customers to a list in MailChimp. Riley acknowledges this workflow helps them accomplish more in less time, and give their customers a top-notch onboarding experience.
Running an online store? Try starting out with Airtable's Product catalog and orders template to track orders, products, cost, and more.
Getting a handle on how customers view your product, support, and company is invaluable, giving you a cheat sheet to creating the experience they crave.
For example, Sam Matthews, operations manager for gap year volunteering charity Time For God manages new volunteers in an Airtable base. By connecting the base to the organization's other apps, he put on auto-pilot a constant feedback loop between volunteers and their managers. When a volunteer completes the placement survey, it kicks off a series of Zaps to alert the team. Zapier searches Airtable for that volunteer's record and pulls the corresponding manager's email address. Then the manager is alerted via email that feedback is ready for review with the survey attached to the email. That way, staff can keep track of how the volunteers settle into and perform in their stations around the UK.
"Zapier and Airtable help us create the best possible experience for our volunteers and placements," says Matthews. "It really does help us to change lives."
If you're collecting data through a form, too, you don't have to build that form from scratch. Airtable forms let you collect information from anyone and save it automatically to an Airtable base. Airtable forms are automatically generated from your existing table, and you then can customize the form by rearranging, adding, and removing fields.
College counseling nonprofit ScholarMatch helps low-income and first-generation students work toward a successful future. The team uses an Airtable form to distribute surveys so students and volunteers can raise any questions or concerns. A Zap relays those responses via Gmail messages for staff members. That way, student, staff, and volunteer interactions can be tracked over time.
"Zaps help us connect with most of our apps to eliminate tedium and to alert us in any case when something regular or even unexpected arises," operations manager Courtney Lee says. "Without Airtable and this Zap, we would not be able to be on top of the individual concerns from students and volunteers."
No matter which form tool your company uses to collect information, make sure that data gets added to your base, too. John Schwarzlose, social impact analyst for the nonprofit business incubator SEED SPOT uses a JotForm form to collect feedback from program participants, mentors, content experts, and job applicants. His team long used multiple spreadsheets to log stakeholder data. While this worked well to store line item details, it left the team in the dark when it came to seeing the big picture. Schwarzlose now has Zapier turn new form entries into Airtable records so that their surveys and forms are less static.
"This has created huge value for our operations," Schwarzlose says. "The right team members are able to respond to relevant information and manage our key stakeholders."
If you're spending too much time organizing a stream of applications for your business, Airtable can save the day. Paired with Zapier, you can move application data in and out of your base with ease.
Roomeze, a roommate matchmaking and room rental service, uses Airtable to store all their roommate and apartment information. When a new roommate applies through an Airtable form, a series of Zaps spring into action. A welcome note and a deposit agreement is sent out via email. From there, a Slack notification prompts the team to celebrate the deal and a folder is created in Google Drive to store all the related documentation.
"Zapier automates our entire back-end," says cofounder Sam Boyer, "We were able to streamline our staff thanks to these Zaps."
Whether your customers are booking a table for two or the trip of a lifetime, make sure you have the right measures in places to greet them with open arms.
As a young company with limited bandwidth, Seashine Adventures uses automation to do the heavy lifting and ensure they don't miss out on closing a deal—or worse—leave someone stranded in another country. They use Zapier to automatically send details of booked yacht charters to vendors and guests and build out an Airtable base as an all-knowing CRM.
"Taking care of our clients is extremely important," says Michael, owner of Seashine Adventures. "Imagine forgetting to email charter details to the boat crew—a month later that guest shows up at the dock, and no one has ever heard of them. Now we automate all of that, so everyone knows what's going on. That means peace of mind and huge time savings."
Meal delivery service Eat Offbeat also uses Airtable to store order information, triggering notifications to the team with Zapier. When new catering orders are approved by the kitchen, a Zap searches for the order in Airtable and updates the record. An additional step added to the Zap alerts the team via an SMS message of the new order so they have the green light to cook up a storm.
"Before we started using Airtable and Zapier, things were crazy," says CEO and co-founder Manal Kahi. "This workflow has significantly reduced the amount of time spent on processing per order."
No matter how you prefer to alert your team and patrons of new reservations, you can use the data in your base to ping your contacts with Zaps like these:
"Using Zapier is faster. It has greatly reduced the number of errors made in our outreach process"- Vinay Patankar, CEO of Process Street
Trying to bring order to your ideas often only ends in an even messier system. Ideas evolve, deadlines shift, and direction changes. But when your content is neatly categorized in Airtable, it can help make the rest of your to-do list a whole lot easier. Plus, you can pair Airtable with CRM software and other powerful outreach tools to spread those ideas far and wide.
A good editorial calendar can make your publication-related tasks a breeze. But while a static calendar can help you plot out when a new piece of content is launching, it falls short of storing the many other milestones that go into content creation—like managing art assets, requesting edits, and lining up promotion. Organizing your article ideas in Airtable can help you create a tidy but flexible pipeline of your next big thing.
Workflow software company Process Street uses Airtable as a master content marketing database. Their base uses different field types to hold different types of information related to a piece of content. Date fields identify the deadlines, while single select fields track the current status of each story, mark the section of the blog where it will be shared, and assign a responsible editor.
When connected to Zapier, the content calendar is transformed into much more than just a point of reference. For content curation, a Zap adds new posts from RSS to the base automatically. Launch checklists are executed in Process Street to maintain accountability and order, and contacts in CRM app Close.io are alerted of the new material.
"We used to manually copy and paste all new posts into a spreadsheet, trigger checklists in Process Street, and mess around with exporting and importing contacts to our CRM," says CEO Vinay Patankar. "Using Zapier is faster. It has greatly reduced the number of errors made in our outreach process."
Artist Johanna Flato uses Airtable to automate and organize the research archives for an ongoing stream of visual research shared publicly via Tumblr. Whenever she adds a new note to Evernote, the details are passed to Airtable to create a new record. Then, after sharing on her blog, the post is funneled back to Airtable with all the details like images, title, caption, and URL mapped to their designated fields. That way she has a complete view of the stories she's told.
"Zapier allows me to simultaneously maintain a more robust and detailed personal database in Airtable," Flato says.
Whether you're curating articles or art, it's easy to create your own content database by using Airtable's Blog Editorial Calendar template as a starting point. From there, you can add new fields to suit your own company's process. For example, add an attachment field to store each article's art assets.
With Airtable's handy calendar view, you can still get an overview of when content was published or when it's scheduled for. Switch to a calendar view to display your records as cards on a monthly calendar.
The calendar view is a simple way to easily rearrange publication dates. Need to reschedule an article? Just drag and drop the record to its new date.
Your time is valuable and sifting through invoices and struggling with reporting isn't the best use of it. From bank transactions to key metrics, the flexible framework of Airtable can handle any content you throw at it. Here's how you can fine tune your business by streamlining and simplifying your operations.
For The Brake Room, a bike cafe in Ontario, Canada, simplifying operations means automating the bookkeeping. Electronic funds transfer (EFT) transaction records are maintained in an Airtable base, and owner Adam Tilley created a Zap to make sure bank transactions are associated with the correct vendor. The Zap parses new transaction emails for the name, recipient, and transaction value. Then Zapier searches Airtable for a record that matches the transaction value. When a match is found, Zapier adds the name of the recipient alongside the rest of the transaction data to the Airtable base.
Tilley added his bookkeeper as a collaborator to the base, so he can post any more questions about that transaction once the record is updated.
"A Zap like this is a perfect utility to have on my tool belt," Tilley says. "I can rely on this Zap to help me save at least one hour per month. That single hour earns me 10x the income that Zapier costs per month."
Insights emerge when you share data with a team. That's why Airtable was built with collaboration in mind. Worried about overwriting your teammate's work? Don't sweat it. Airtable supports real-time editing and sync so that changes made on the fly are available to anyone—and Airtable keeps a revision history so you can roll back any unintended changes. When people make changes to the same base simultaneously, their profile photos will appear in a record while they are actively editing it. You can also comment with @ mentions to get someone's attention.
When new information arrives from seemingly every angle, it can feel overwhelming to wrap your mind around the big picture. That's when reporting can feel unmanageable.
Amber Sehnke, an administrative assistant at Sam Carbis Solution Group, is familiar with feeling overwhelmed. Before overhauling their process, getting a report out the door was time consuming and inefficient. Now her team uses Zapier to funnel leads from multiple sources into Airtable. From there, she can filter and pull reporting with ease. The result? Less time spent crunching numbers and more time to follow up on leads.
"Airtable is our one-stop-data-shop," says Sehnke. "Instead of spending time sorting through and exporting data from various sources, we spend our time using the data in valuable ways that create results for our business."
Real estate and property management lead generation company Geek Real Estate Marketing sees great value in speedy reporting too. They use Airtable as a way to store all of their customer and lead information. Using Zapier, they've eliminated the headache of reporting for customers who require near-immediate access to data.
"Zapier and Airtable are the glue of our business," says owner Dylan O'Neil. "For us, it's more powerful than a spreadsheet but much simpler than setting up a true database. This combo is in the top three essential things that keep our business running."
For a starting point when building your own real estate database, check out Airtable's Real Estate template.
If you're not ready to give up your CRM entirely, you can still reap the benefits of Airtable's easy reporting. As the director of digital strategy at Insurance Forums, Justin Blase passes new leads from form capture tools like Facebook Lead Ads to Airtable, before sending them along to the company's CRM. That way, he and his team can take advantage of the relational database capabilities that allow for slicing, dicing, and segmenting the data easily. Once a lead in the CRM is tagged as "converted," another Zap sends the status back to Airtable to find the contact and update the record with the product they purchased.
Best of all, Blase acknowledges that streamlined reporting leads is a gateway to better campaign performance.
"Before putting the Zap in place, it was very easy to put off pulling performance data for analysis because it was such a tedious process," Blase says. "Now, not only do I not have to spend time pulling data manually, but all of my lead generation campaigns perform better because the feedback loop allows for easier and more frequent campaign optimization."
These are just a few ideas on how to automate your work day with Airtable and Zapier. With powerful yet friendly tools, the possibilities are endless. Feeling inspired? Build your own Airtable workflow on Zapier or use one of the templates in this article to get started.
How do you and your team use Airtable and Zapier? Share your ideas with us in the comments.
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