How many of you plan your business with an Excel spreadsheet? It’s OK. This is a safe place. No one’s going to judge. Truth be told, I'm actually a huge fan of Excel. I used it to plan my wedding, to track weight loss, and of course I lived and breathed Excel during my consulting years. But as a business management platform, Excel can be a real nightmare.
Yet so many folks are using it to do just that.
So I suppose if saving time, saving money, and being able to act with confidence matters to you, then you owe it to yourself and your business to have an Excel intervention and see how you can spend your time focusing on the things that really matter like, say, running your business.
But first, let’s look at a few reasons why it’s bedtime for Excel.
Your business is dynamic, and Excel is static
Among larger companies, gone are the days of the formal annual budgeting process. More and more, businesses are adopting a rolling forecast that flexes to the constantly shifting marketplace. These same large companies are swiftly shedding the giant, clunky planning tools of the ‘90s in favor of agile, web-based tools such as Adaptive Planning or Anaplan.
But for small businesses, these names typically mean very little. That's because the planning is happening in Excel. Based on our research, a whopping 93 percent of small businesses—including those using QuickBooks as their accounting software—are planning and managing their business with a spreadsheet.
The problem, in case we haven't noticed, is that nothing is static anymore.
Manually keying historical data into Excel is a drag, and manually plying through QuickBooks to understand where you were off target and why the numbers don't add up is time lost that could be spent thinking about your products and services or your customers. Your business is constantly generating new information, and Excel just sits idly by, waiting for you to fill it up. Then, it provides no "so what" or sense of what's next.
Even your business model is dynamic
Not only is your data dynamic, but your business model is too. Let's say you read an interesting article about the emergence of Content Marketing as a fantastic channel for driving new customers your way. You are thinking about dipping your toe in with exciting new tools like Contently or Kapost to help facilitate amazing new content, to facilitate amazing new traffic, to facilitate amazing new business… you get the idea. To fit that strategy into Excel, you're adding a row here, inserting 10 there, filling down formulas, checking the results. Pretty soon, you realize that you're spending more time building your business model when you should be building your business.
Because the very nature of your business is unique, and because it evolves, you need tools that are flexible enough to allow you to model out a new channel, or perhaps a new customer segment you're thinking about going after. You should be able to test out a change in pricing and see the impact to your bottom line instantly. Excel can do that, sure. But it takes so much time to grind it out that most business owners end up following gut instinct rather than owning the numbers. And that's a missed opportunity.
Everyone else has a web app…
Seems like a silly thing to say, right? But it’s true. The VP of Sales has Salesforce.com. The CMO has Hubspot. Your customer service team has Zendesk. It seems like every area of the business has the aid of smart, fast, cloud-based tools that turn a "one person team" into a one person army.
But what does the CEO/CFO have? What does the capable business manager have for planning, measuring, and executing on the business? They go to war with accounting software from the ‘90s and a spreadsheet from earlier than that. It just doesn’t make sense.
But those times are changing as a wave of young startups build sets of tools for the business manager that finally de-throne Excel as the go-to place to plan your business. And it’s a wave worth paying attention to.
I’m not saying you have to un-install Excel. (To many, it’s a comfort thing.) But just know that if you want to get back to building an amazing business instead of amazing spreadsheets, Excel’s days are numbered.
Adam Neary is the CEO of Profitably, a web app that helps small business owners plan, measure, and execute on what matters: their business. For more information, visit Profitably.com.