Using Microsoft Access in Your Small Business

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Most companies are familiar with what can be done in Microsoft Word and Excel, but understanding what Microsoft Access can do is a bit harder to grasp. The idea of creating databases and trying to maintain them seems like an unnecessary use of resources; however, for small businesses, this program can provide several distinct advantages, particularly when it comes to managing growth and organization. It provides a much more robust way for small companies to track data and projects than Excel or Word.

Access may take more time to learn than the more commonly used Microsoft apps, but it also has the most value added for tracking projects, budgets, and growth. All of the data necessary to run a small business for comparison and analyses is maintained in a single program, making it easier to run reports and charts than in most other programs. Microsoft offers a number of templates to simplify the learning process, and users can customize the templates as they go. Understanding the fundamentals of Microsoft Access can help small businesses see its full value in their daily operations.

Bonus: If you're already using a spreadsheet, it is easy to convert your Excel spreadsheet to an Access database.

Maintaining Customer Information

A Microsoft Access database allows a business to track all necessary information for each client or customer, including addresses, order information, invoices, and payments. As long as the database is stored on a network where all employees can access and update it, the information can stay current. Because client information is critical to every small business, the database can (and should) be secured. Adding forms to the database helps small businesses ensure that employees enter data consistently.

As users become familiar with the program, more elaborate components can be added, such as mapping to client addresses. This lets employees verify addresses for new customers or plan routes for deliveries. It also allows businesses to create invoices, send emails and regular mail, and track when and how invoices were paid. Updating and storing customer data in Access is more reliable than a spreadsheet or Word document, and streamlines managing that information.

Tracking Financial Data

Many businesses purchase software specifically for tracking finances, but for a small business, it can be overkill; moreover, it tends to create extra work. Not only can invoices be created and tracked in an Access database, but all business expenses and transactions can be recorded, too. For companies that have the full Microsoft Office Suite including Outlook and Access, payment reminders in Outlook can be linked to the database. When the reminder pops up, users can make the necessary payments, enter the data in Access, then close out the reminder.

It may be necessary to purchase more sophisticated software as the business grows, and those businesses have an advantage if all of their financial data is stored in Access. Many other programs can accommodate data exported from Access, making it easier to migrate information when the time comes.

Managing Marketing and Sales

One of the least used but most powerful ways of using Access is to monitor marketing and sales information. With existing client information already stored in the database, it is easy to send emails, flyers, coupons, and regular mail to those who might be interested in sales or special offers. Small businesses can then track how many of their existing clients respond following marketing campaigns.

For new customers, entire campaigns can be created and monitored from a single location. This makes it easier for employees to see what has already been completed, what remains to be done, and what follow-ups are necessary.

Tracking Production and Inventory

Similar to client tracking, data tracking on inventory, resources, and the stock is critical for any business. Access makes it easy to enter data on shipments to warehouses and to know when it is time to order more of a particular product. This is especially critical for manufacturers who require a number of different resources to complete a product, such as airplane parts or pharmaceutical ingredients.

Even service industries have to keep inventory, and having all of that information in one place makes it easier to see which computer is assigned to which employee or determine when office equipment needs to be upgraded. Whether tracking vehicles, mobile devices, serial numbers, registration information, user logs, or hardware lifespans, small businesses are able to track their hardware more easily in Access.

Beyond hardware, businesses need to be able to track software. From registration and the number of computers allowed to use the software to version information and user, businesses must be able to quickly and accurately pull information on their current configurations.

Running Reports and Analyses

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Access is the user’s ability to generate reports and charts from all of the data. The ability to compile everything stored in the different databases is what makes Microsoft Access a powerhouse for small businesses. A user can quickly generate a report that compares costs of resources against current pricing, create a chart that illustrates how much is in stock for an upcoming marketing campaign, or run an analysis identifying which clients are behind on payments. With a little extra knowledge about queries, small businesses can take control of how they view data.

Even more important, Microsoft Access can be tied into other Microsoft products. Small businesses can review a report, look up client data, and generate invoices in Word. A mail merge can create regular-mail letters while the user simultaneously generates an email in Outlook. Data can be exported to Excel for a more in-depth look at details and, from there, be sent to PowerPoint for a presentation. Integration with all of the other Microsoft products is perhaps the best reason to use Access to centralize all of a business’s information.