When it comes to data management, there are two main options — spreadsheets versus databases. While both organize information, each solution serves a distinct purpose.

In this post, you’ll learn the benefits of both databases and spreadsheets. Then, we’ll explore how you can choose the best organizational system for your business.

Table of Contents

Let’s start with definitions.

Databases offer a more robust way to work with relational data, or data connected across multiple tables. This also makes databases more complex than spreadsheets.

Even when both options are built to deliver effective results, the success of their implementation will depend on many factors, including:

For example, an individual keeping track of tasks and responsibilities will have different needs than a big company with thousands of employees working in different areas.

Next, we’ll dive into the benefits and drawbacks of each data management option.

A spreadsheet is a digital ledger that helps users organize information in rows and columns. The intersection between rows and columns creates individual cells that represent a piece of data, either numbers or text.

You can input functions, or math equations, that allow you to manipulate this data. This can be helpful for managing budgets, calculating monthly payments, and keeping track of working hours. You can also easily search for specific information across the tables.

Spreadsheets are popular options for smaller datasets, offering an easy way to gather and manipulate data. Your employees have likely worked with spreadsheets in the past. If they haven’t, there are hundreds of resources that make training easy.

While spreadsheets have many benefits, this data management solution may encounter limitations. That holds especially true if your team works with large, complex datasets or relational data.

Common disadvantages of cursing spreadsheets follow.

If you’re encountering these common challenges, it may be time to invest in building a more robust database. Next, we’ll explore different use cases for databases.

A database is a program that uses specific languages to let you store and organize data in a structured way. Think of it like a filing cabinet, where you can organize your data into folders and subfolders, and then sort it by using specific criteria. For example, a customer relationship management tool (CRM), like Hubspot, is a type of database.

A database works by storing information in a structure that is made of rows (called “records”) and columns (called “fields”). Fields can be anything from text-based labels like “name” or “description” to numbers. That may include prices, percentages, and dates.

A database is not only a folder that stores data but is also software that provides features to update data automatically. Maintenance doesn’t require hours and hours of work.

There are two main types of databases: relational databases (SQL) and non-relational databases (NoSQL).

Relational databases allow you to search for specific information without having to worry about losing data in the process. Relational databases can’t handle as much data as non-relational ones, because they only can store data that is formatted as tables.

Non-relational databases, known as NoSQL, are another option. They are similar to relational databases, as they both provide an easy search tool that facilitates access to information. However, a NoSQL database provides different structures that can accommodate more data at once. This feature makes it ideal for big data applications and unstructured data management.

Both SQL and NoSQL databases are ideal for storing large amounts of information. Here are other common benefits of using a database.

While databases have big benefits, they’re not the right fit for every team or project. Costs and training present two barriers to database implementation. We’ll explore these challenges.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for data management. Your data system will vary based on the size and complexity of your project. Before making your decision consider the following steps.

When choosing between spreadsheets and databases, assess the complexity of your data. Simple text and numeric data are good for spreadsheets. Meanwhile, databases can handle a wider range of file types and sizes.

After examining your data, assess your long-term goals. Are you looking to automate processes to save time? Do you want to create a simple organizational system anyone can use? Do you have the budget to scale your data solution, or are you looking to save money? Your answers will impact your decision.

Just because a spreadsheet meets your business’ needs today, does not necessarily mean it will work at scale. Consider your growth trajectory to determine if a database is worth the investment.

For example, let’s say that you’re running a startup with a rapidly growing client base. Keeping track of your clients can be done with a simple spreadsheet today. However, in six months, you may outgrow this method.

Spreadsheets are great for storing and manipulating smaller data sets. If you’re looking for a solution that allows for complex information and automation, you’ll want to opt for a database.

If you’re ready for a robust data management solution, learn more about HubSpot’s CRM. Our tools can help your business store information at scale so that your data capabilities grow alongside your business.