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20 Questions to Tell if Excel is Holding Your Small Business Back

Excel-SpreadsheetIn many ways, Microsoft Excel has become a pillar of most businesses. Since its inception in 1985, Excel has become THE spreadsheet technology used to run nearly all aspects of many businesses. Companies rely on it for everything—from accounting and financial forecasts to managing who’s in charge of bringing what to the next potluck.

But with the advent of cloud-based technologies built to streamline and optimize all types of business processes, is Excel holding your small business back? Could a shift away from Excel save time and money, improve data collection and reporting, make sure you get paid faster, and help grow your business?

The answer is “Absolutely.” To help you understand how much Excel is holding you back, we first need to define how over reliant on it you are. In order to figure this out, we’ve come up with a list of 20 questions, designed to measure your level of dependence on/obsession with Excel. If you can answer, “Yes” to three or more questions, then there’s a good chance a cloud-based, small-business management platform can pay dividends for your business.

But first, for fun, here’s a brief history of spreadsheets.

A Brief History of Spreadsheets 

In 1978, a Harvard Business student by the name of Daniel Bricklin came up with the concept of an interactive visible calculator for microcomputers. The first version of the software offered a matrix of five columns and 20 rows. Bricklin, realizing the program’s limitations, recruited an MIT acquaintance named Bob Frankston to help expand the program’s capabilities and speed. Frankston’s program, named VisiCalc, could fit on 20KB of memory, and is considered the first spreadsheet program for microcomputers.

Around the same time came the advent of the IBM PC and Intel computer chip, which improved computing power. In 1983, Mitch Kapor, who was a product manager at VisiCalc for about six months in 1980, capitalized on this new hardware, and introduced the world to Lotus 1-2-3. This spreadsheet program was faster, easier to use and ushered in charting, plotting and database capabilities.

Then, in 1985, Microsoft rolled out the first version of Excel for Macintosh; the first version for Windows (Excel 2.05) arrived on Oct. 31, 1987. Excel was the first spreadsheet program to offer a graphical user interface, pull down menus, and a mouse for point-and-click capabilities.

For almost 29 years (and 15 versions later), Excel has maintained its dominance as the worldwide spreadsheet software leader.


Now without further ado, on to the questions

  1. Did you actually read the brief history of spreadsheets?
  2. Could you have written the brief history of spreadsheets?
  3. At this exact moment, do you have five or more spreadsheets open on your computer?
  4. Have you ever cursed yourself out loud for forgetting that important Excel file on your work computer or the internal server?
  5. Do you routinely copy, paste and format data from multiple Excel spreadsheets into one spreadsheet, only to then copy, paste and format that data into yet another spreadsheet?
  6. Do you have any Excel spreadsheets that have more than 10 versions saved on your computer?
  7. Are you wearing an “I heart spreadsheets” t-shirt?
  8. If yes, does your undershirt also say, “I heart spreadsheets?”
  9. Have you ever run into a situation where unknowingly two people were working on copies of the same Excel spreadsheet?
  10. Does the idea of having to pay another $100 to $200 per license for the latest version of Excel make you cry harder than when you watched the end of “The Notebook” for the first time? (Be honest)
  11. Do your children believe Excel is the only way to sort and prioritize their Christmas lists?
  12. Do you have separate Excel spreadsheet templates for tracking time, expense, and client timelines and milestones?
  13. Is the entirety of your small business’ financials managed using one spreadsheet? Does that one spreadsheet include more than 15 tabs?
  14. Has your computer desktop ever been overtaken by a veritable sea of Excel file icons?
  15. Have you ever realized too late that you sent or trashed the wrong version of an Excel file?
  16. Have you ever found yourself sitting alone at a party after sharing your hilarious pivot table anecdote?  
  17. Do you take pride in the fact that a spreadsheet you created is so complex it actually crashed Excel? 
  18. Ever wish you could access information contained within an Excel spreadsheet on your phone without the hassle of uploading it first?
  19. Does the possibility of eliminating the need to manually pull Excel charts and graphs for weekly reports bring an infectious smile to your face?
  20. Is the task of shifting internal business records and management processes away from Excel daunting enough to keep you from exploring other, more efficient platforms?

Excel is a powerful, reliable tool that is used by millions of businesses. But the reality is cloud-based technologies allow for opportunities to avoid some of Excel’s shortcomings without losing the functionality:

  • These platforms are accessible anytime from anywhere via a web browser or mobile app.
  • Multiple people can edit the latest version of a document simultaneously.
  • Reports can be generated and emailed automatically.
  • Financial data is organized, easily accessible and can quickly be presented in reports, charts and graphs.
  • Timesheets, expenses and milestones can all be tracked directly within a job or client account.
  • Data can be seamlessly fed from one cloud-based technology to another via APIs, eliminating error-prone duplicate entry.
  • Software updates and patches are made automatically in the background with little to no interruption.

If you’re still using Excel to manage multiple facets of your small business, including lead management, job quoting, time tracking, project management, invoicing, purchase order management, or financial reporting, there are likely opportunities to integrate cloud-based, specialized programs—like WorkflowMax—into your business to optimize efficiency and maximize profitability.

Need help easing into the shift away from Excel? Try creating a spreadsheet to compare the features of different cloud-based, small business management platforms.