This may sound corny but one of the things I love about my job is helping people. I’ve helped many small businesses over the years get organized, more efficient, and consequently improve their sales and services. I take pride in the ability to sit with a new client, learn what they do and need and then build a solution to that need.
Recently, I did a job for a small organization that’s in the business of helping people. They had someone develop an Access database for them a few years back that tracked client activity. They need to report totals of this activity to various agencies on a regular basis. The database they were using was not done very well. It could not be used from year to year and had some other serious flaws. The client knew this. The client was spending way too much time on this reporting and not enough time on doing what they love, which is helping their clients.
I see this quite a bit. A client knows they need to get organized. They want to serve their clients/customers – not crunch numbers. They may start with a spreadsheet, find themselves entering repetitive data or hit some other wall, and eventually move to a database. Either they build the database on their own or have a friend or family member do it for them. I know using a friend or family member works well for some people. Of course, I don’t see the ones that work out well. I only meet the ones that don’t.
Anyway, I was able to take what this client was using and restructure it so that the client could enter data across years, compare data year to year, and produce the reports they need to send along to the various agencies I mentioned above. This cost them under $2,000.
I had a meeting with them a few weeks ago and the client mentioned that they looked at canned software for their industry and nothing fit their needs. They further mentioned how surprised they were that they could have a database customized to their exact needs so inexpensively. They can change it themselves with a little training, hire me, or hire any number of other consultants to make changes for them. And, their database is fully scalable to SQL Server or SharePoint – if and when their ready to go to the next level.
I sometimes hear statements like, “Why should I invest in a custom database when I can subscribe to a cloud based solution or buy canned industry specific software.” My answer is:
- An Access database is inexpensive. You most likely already have the software on your computer.
- When you lock into a subscription service or canned industry specific solution, you’re locked into that one company. If they go out of business, what do you do? Where is your data and how do you get it back? If you want it customized, can it be customized and how much does that cost? Often you can’t customize this software and if you can, it costs a lot to do!
- The subscription or canned software solutions can be expensive, especially over time even if customization is not needed.
So, I think Access is a great place to start. It’s cheap, scalable, and easily customizable. It can do just about anything you want it to do. For a small business, it’s a great solution.