Small Business Guide
To Airtable 2021
Learn how to use Airtable for collaboration and automation in your small business.
Table of Contents
About this Airtable guide
This Airtable guide includes all the basics to get you started with understanding Airtable formulas, syncing data, and building custom views. We’ll also cover Zapier integrations for Airtable as well as some best practices on how to use Airtable effectively.
This article is intended to be aimed at those starting in Airtable and automation.
This guide will not cover absolutely every aspect of Airtable. We do not know everything there is about Airtable and we probably never will, but this is what we think a new user would find useful. As time goes on we will continue to update this article based upon new information we learn, but at the time of writing, this information is up to date and accurate.
How to use Airtable in your business
Airtable is a no/low code online collaboration platform. What makes it special is that it has the familiarity of a spreadsheet with the power of a relational database. In a landscape of thousands of business and productivity applications, Airtable stands out because of its flexibility, automation capabilities, and extendability.
Airtable can be helpful in managing customer relationships, inventory and sales data, content calendars, managing remote work, product development roadmaps… the possibilities are endless!
Some of the interesting use cases Agility Automation has worked on include:
- Collateral and workflow management for marketing companies
- Patient booking and treatment platform for a medical organisation
- Business coaching and client tracking systems
- Course and student management for training companies
- Inventory control for a gift box supply company
- Client management for law firms
- Automated training certificate generation systems
- Event management and planning
- Client and program tracking for non-profit organisations
Where you have data, and you need to manage it, Airtable is a great option. Airtable makes it easy to create custom views of your data that help you understand what’s happening across each department or in your whole business.
Bases, Tables and Fields
The basic elements of Airtable are bases, tables, and fields.
Bases hold tables, which are like sheets on a spreadsheet.
Fields are the columns on your Airtable tables. Along with basic text, number, and email fields, there are also advanced fields for formulas, lookups to other tables, and rollup fields.
When you’re creating your Airtable setup, it’s important to use the right field types from the outset, because it will affect the overall structure of your base.
It helps to draw a mindmap of how you’re going to structure your base, and how the tables relate to each other. One way to think about it is in the context of ‘one-to-many’ and ‘many to many’ relationships.
Imagine your tables are Clients, Invoices, and Widgets.
- A Client can have many invoices and widgets.
- An Invoice can have many widgets, but only one client.
- A Widget can have many invoices and many clients.
So, in Airtable, it would look like this:
- Clients will have a relationship field to Invoices
- Invoices will have a relationship field to Clients and Widgets (allowing linking to multiple records)
Then, you can add Lookup fields to each table to bring in fields from the other tables.
You can add almost any type of file to an attachment field in Airtable. For some file types like documents, images, and some audio, you can preview them in the browser. One of the best things about attachments is that you can use them in Airtable automations (e.g. sending a document via email), or even via Zapier using the public Airtable link to the file.
Formulas in airtable are flexible and powerful. If you’re familiar with spreadsheet style formulas, you’ll recognise the calculation functionalities of Airtable. This is a great way to avoid having to write the same calculation over and over again.
While the range of formulas isn’t the same as Excel or Google Sheets, what’s there is robust and useful. Learning about Airtable formulas is a whole article on its own, but there is a comprehensive reference that Airtable has written.
All the views
Airtable also comes with built-in views that let you look at your tables from different angles, as well as create custom filters for these views. These are extremely powerful tools that help save time when performing repetitive tasks or looking through large amounts of data.
Each view has its own filters and sorting options which make it easy to see only the data you’re interested in. Every time you want to look at different combinations of your records or change how they’re ordered, just switch views.
You can choose from a regular grid view, a calendar, kanban, gallery, or gantt. You can also create sections to organise your views (depending on your plan).
One of the most impressive features of Airtable is the ability to create a form view, which you can share a link for or embed into your own website. All of the form submissions go straight into Airtable, without the need for any integrations. The form can even be pre-filled with data via a special URL.
Views can also trigger automations. By using smart filters, you can trigger an automation within Airtable or Zapier when a record drops into a specific view.
You can sync data between multiple bases. That means you can bring in data from multiple sources into one base.
Where you could use a synced base is when you have two bases that need to be separated for practical purposes, but you’d still like to share data between them.
For example, you might have a base for each department. They need their own bases, because their needs are unique.
In addition to the department bases, there could also be one for ‘Products’, that all of the departments need to use the data from. By using a synced table, you can bring in those product details into each of the bases and link those records to the department base records.
This way, you can keep your updated data in one place, but have it available to all the bases.
Apps supercharge the capabilities of Airtable, and there are over 150 apps available (and counting). For example, there are apps to send emails or SMS with SendGrid, enrich lead and company data with Clearbit, or even find and attach stock photos with Pexels. You can also show your data in a pivot table, or as points on a map.
Airtable automation is a newer, promising feature that adds extra power to the platform. The automations can be triggered by new or updated records, form submissions, when a record matches conditions, at a scheduled time, or when a record enters a view. Another interesting addition is the ability to trigger by webhook, which opens things up to external apps triggering Airtable automations.
In terms of actions, an automation can add or update a record, find records, send an email, or for the more adventurous, run scripts. There are also a bunch of third party apps that can be used as actions, like Slack, Gmail, Google Sheets, Twitter, and Hootsuite (among others).
The Airtable automations are still quite basic – they don’t allow for branched logic, delays, or some other features you would find in Zapier. However, they’re still a useful tool in your automation arsenal.
Airtable and Zapier
For the automations that Airtable can’t yet handle on its own, Zapier comes into play. Using the same trigger/action pattern, it can link Airtable with thousands of other apps. When combined with Zapier, Airtable has the potential to be even more powerful. For example, you can use Airtable as a sort of bridge between different apps by automatically creating or updating records each time certain actions are taken in another app.
You can access Airtable from any browser on your mobile device – but if you want an experience optimised for phones and tablets there’s also native airtable apps available for iOS and Android devices. If you prefer a native desktop experience, Airtable offers Mac and Windows programs.
Airtable can be used as a database for a front-end platform. What this means is that you can use the data you already have in Airtable and share it with whoever you want to, on the web. Imagine a client portal, for instance. You may want to share certain data, images, and summaries with your customers and clients. Airtable has an extensive API for programmers to use to create custom platforms, or you can use a third party tool to make a front end.
Airtable Third Party Tools
There are a bunch of third party tools for Airtable that extend its capabilities.
Here are some of the most prominent ones in the market:
MiniExtensions – Create portals, extend form functionality, and more.
Unito – Two way data synchronization and automation platform
Paytable – Add a paid members area for your Airtable bases
Pro Backup – Back up your Airtable bases
With the right permissions, you’ll have no problem keeping everyone in your company on the same page with Airtable’s collaboration tools. Using the built-in Airtable collaboration features, you can leave comments, annotate files, and because everything is instantly updated, everyone on the team will always be looking at the right version of your data.
Airtable Universe is a place where people and companies share what they’ve created in Airtable. Even though you may not find exactly what you want there, it provides endless inspiration for what Airtable can do.
Finally, we’d like to point out that Airtable isn’t for everyone. It does impose some limits on bases, automations, and files. So if you’re looking to house a massive amount of data, you would need to consider an enterprise level plan (or another platform altogether). The most notable limits (on the pro plan) are 50k records on a single base, 25 automations per base (with 25 actions per automation), and 20GB of attachments for each base.
How do I get started?
Run your small business on autopilot. From lead to customer, create a completely automated workflow.