This blog first appeared as a guest blog for Superhighways (who are absolute legends). If you haven’t heard of them, check them out. Pricing and plan details are correct to the best of our knowledge in December 2023.
Zoho Creator: our favourite no-code/low-code platform
I consistently get the same answers when I do a hands-up exercise in training. Do you collect data in a spreadsheet about the people you work with? All hands up. Do you have a spreadsheet about the number of activities or services you run and how many people attend? All hands up. Do you have a spreadsheet containing feedback? Most hands up. Do all those spreadsheets talk to each other so that you can link together your data about people, participation and outcomes. One or two hands up. This is where we enter database territory. Organisations can find themselves in an overgrown jungle of systems or in a desert wondering which way to go.
I think the solution is finally here - drag and drop style platforms where you can build your own database. These days, you don’t need much technical prowess if you’re using the right platform.
Allow me to introduce you to Zoho Creator. If you’ve ever built a survey using something like Survey Monkey, you’re not far away from being able to create a database in Zoho Creator. Zoho Creator is a low-code platform. This means that you don’t have to be able to code to use it. You can simply drag and drop things and make selections about how you want it to behave.
How to build a database in one paragraph...
Let’s whizz through a quick example. You could drag and drop a date field for date of birth, a text field for name and a dropdown menu for ethnic background. Hey presto! With a few more fields, you’ve created your ‘people’ section. Then you could create a new page about how people engage with your services. This is where the magic happens. Remember all those spreadsheets that don’t talk to each other? In Zoho Creator, a lookup field links all your pages together. Zoho guides you through the process of choosing what you want to “lookup” from where. You might want this field to display the names of your service users from the ‘people’ section. You can then select those people each time they attend one of your services and add some further information like what they did or how long they spent with you. Boom! You’ve created your ‘participation’ section. In the same way you could create your ‘outcomes’ section to track what changes for people over time.
What can it do for me?
Zoho Creator allows you to look at your data in a million different ways. Here are some of the most common ways charities want to analyse their data, and Zoho Creator can do it all:
● Who is attending our services (e.g. age, ethnicity, location, gender etc).
● How many services we run each month
● How many people attend our services
● Number of unique people who attended our service over a given time period.
● Average number of times a person comes to our service
● Average length of time we work with people
● Is there an improvement in outcomes?
● What is the average improvement?
● What’s working and not working and for whom?
● Do people drop out? If so, at what point and are they from a particular demographic?
That’s just scratching the surface.
Quick fire FAQs...
I get asked a lot of things about Zoho Creator so let me try and answer some of the things that might be floating round your head…
Is it free?
Yes, it can be free-ish. If you’re a small organisation there’s a free plan which doesn’t give you access to a huge range of features but might be just enough to get by. A major limitation is that you can only store 5,000 records. That can be chewed up pretty quickly if you're working with lots of people or doing lots of activities. For most organisations it's worth forking out for the Standard Plan which costs £6.42 per user per month (£77.04 per year) and gives you a much broader array for features.
But what if we need loads of users, won't that rack up the cost?
Yes and no. But mostly no because I’ve learned a trick or two about how to reduce the cost. A ‘user’ is someone who has full access to the database and all its saved data and features. However, you may not need to set your staff up as users because Zoho Creator allows you to send links or embed parts of the database. What that means is that if you want your staff or service users to fill in a form (for example, a service user filling in a feedback form or a staff member filling in a form about who attended their service and what happened), you can send it to them via text, WhatsApp, email etc to fill in the forms. Or if you want to embed your forms on your website (such as a registration form or a bookings calendar), this is just as easily done. This approach won’t cost you a penny, so you could get away with paying for just one user who manages the database.
Is my data safe and how can I ensure data protection?
A great question. Zoho Creator has done a lot of work since the introduction of GDPR to make sure their data security is up to scratch. They have data centres in Europe and are fully GDPR compliant. We've even done our own due diligence with charity GDPR specialists Hope and May and written plain English policies to give you guidance and reassurance about your valuable data. In addition, you can set up your database so that people only see the data that they need to see. So if you have three services with three different managers, you set permissions for them to see the detailed data for their own service but some top level, anonymised data for the other services.
Can I use it while I’m out and about?
Yep, there’s a Zoho Creator mobile app so if you want to collect data at your services right there and then, you can do so. And it hardly uses any data at all so it won’t chew through your mobile data allowance. In some circumastances, there’s also the option of using it offline.
Are there other drag and drop platforms I can use to build quick and easy databases?
Absolutely. The no-code/low-code movement has grown rapidly over the last ten years and there’s a raft you can chose from. The nice chaps at PC Mag recently reviewed a bunch of the leading platforms so you can pick through the pros and cons and decide what suits you. I’ve dabbled with many over the years and my loyalty sits firmly with Zoho Creator. It’s easy to use, clutter-free, reasonably priced and totally customisable to your ever-changing needs as an organisation.
I’ve read all this but I’m still not sure I can do it myself!
No problem, get in touch with us to see how we can help.