November 1, 2021
Let’s face it – getting to grips with our finances is rarely something we look forward to. However, keeping on top of revenue and expenditure is vital to achieving sound financial hygiene for any business. A couple of hours a week maintaining the balance sheet can go a long way to achieving peace of mind and improving the company’s financial position.
Fortunately, there’s a range of financial management software solutions available to make the reporting a little easier. They are mostly based on the familiar “spreadsheet” which has existed since time immemorial (well, 1969, with the mainframe-based LANPAR program). In the fifty years since the first computer spreadsheets were developed, software and cloud-based apps have come a long way. To help narrow the field, we’ve produced a rundown of eight of the most commonly used spreadsheet-based apps, including their pros and cons and how helpful they may be for your business.
First let’s start with the three generic spreadsheets from the big players, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. None are designed for business specifically, but all are in common use, nonetheless.
In some ways, the parent program of all modern spreadsheets, Excel has been in existence since 1985… and it shows! Although we’ve probably all used it at times, Excel’s strength continues to be its weakness. It’s a bit of a blank slate, offering little guidance when you forget a bracket in a formula, and rarely offering solutions. Effectively, if you’re using Excel to store data, and to display charts or tables, you’re doing full-stack programming.
By today’s standards, Excel is far from intuitive. Because its uses are wide-ranging, rather than finance-focused, it doesn’t offer the range of shortcuts and tools you’d find in a modern accountancy system. It has none of the reporting tools a business would want, leaving you to create end of quarter reports, balance sheets et cetera. To make it particularly useful, you need to integrate it with your CRM tool, ecommerce platforms and more.
Of course, if you’re a start-up with a limited budget and have PCs equipped with Office 365, you probably already pay for Excel, so you might consider it a “budget” option to get you started.
PROS: Longevity, online support and forums, formula complexity.
CONS: You must do everything manually; errors are hard to spot, no business focus.
The other low-cost option is to work in Google’s equivalent of Excel, which really is free, namely Google Sheets. Although Sheets once had the advantage of making it easier for teams to collaborate, Excel now offers multi-user functionality too. If you pay for a workplace subscription, you can video conference, store more data, enjoy improved security and priority support.
Sheets is in many ways simpler than Excel, so if you simply want to create a basic balance sheet, it might work for you, particularly as its easier to access on a mobile device. Like Excel, it won’t do much to prompt or assist you, however and lacks certain formula that might prove useful (such as gross margin or cash on hand). Google Sheets primary benefit is for those used to working within the Google Workspace infrastructure (Google Docs, Drive, Meet, Calendar etc.)
PROS: Mobile accessible, sharable, and fully free to use.
CONS: Non-intuitive with fewer features than other systems, not business orientated.
Of the big three tech giant offerings, Apple’s proprietary spreadsheet scores highly on being intuitive and simple to use. However, it may go too far in terms of stripping away complexity. For example, it’s hard to filter data using pivot tables, a standard feature of Excel and other systems.
If you want to get more analytical about your business’s finances, Numbers lacks some of the more statistical formulae that other solutions make available. Again, it’s not a business tool, primarily.
PROS: Simplicity and intuitiveness, free to Apple users.
CONS: Lacking in features and cross-compatibility, some formulas are missing.
Now we come to specialized tools which align vertically with your other financial management tools, either piggybacking on one of the above spreadsheets, or attempting to replicate them.
Made specifically for Salesforce users, Quip provides readymade templates and makes it quicker and easier to set-up spreadsheets. Although it’s primarily a collaboration tool for Salesforce teams, users can create secure individual sheets too. It’s intuitive and reasonably priced, but if all you want to do is track your corporate finances, there will be many features (chat, tagging, emojis) that will be irrelevant to you. And if you don’t use Salesforce, it’s value is further limited. Quip is more of a team productivity tool than anything else, and it won’t suit finance teams specifically.
PROS: Intuitive, easy to get started, affordable.
CONS: Not as fully featured as Excel, users complain about formatting issues.
Zoho Sheet is a spreadsheet-specific offering from parent brand Zoho, the workplace tool developer. It’s easy to import existing worksheets from Excel or Google Sheets and provides a long library of functions to drop into your calculations. Its possible to create live, sharable sheets to show to clients, but bear in mind that they must be viewed online.
Some users have complained about lagging when pages load, and offline options are limited. It’s not especially intuitive or helpful to the less skilled user, either.
PROS: Good templates and cross-platform compatibility, simple functions, and support.
CONS: Can be unstable; doesn’t have a significant advantage over Excel or Google Sheets.
WPS Office is a free suite of tools clearly designed to be a free alternative to Microsoft Office (or 365). Their spreadsheet offering is no exception. Modelled closely on Excel, and reasonably priced, this is a good alternative to the Microsoft program.
However, users complain of the lack of visualization options, and it scores a little low for being intuitive. It is certainly a contender for businesses on a budget, but it doesn’t solve the integration issues common to simple spreadsheet systems, namely manual data entry from your CRM tool.
PROS: Affordable, data upload is easy, cross-platform compatible.
CONS: Visualisation tools are lacking, could be more intuitive, requires manual data entry.
LibreOffice is one of the many direct competitors to the Microsoft Office suite of programs and this is its equivalent to Excel. It has a substantial free version, which make this another feasible alternative for those on a budget.
However, it lacks some key features of Excel, including charts and macros and does not score especially highly on looks or intuitiveness. You won’t be producing a convincing end-of-year report using this platform.
PROS: Free, good compatibility across platforms, full range of formulas.
CONS: Not a huge improvement over Excel and lacks some functionality.
Taking a different approach, LiveFlow rewrites the spreadsheet playbook and gives you a spreadsheet-based financial reporting software. Starting with the premise that for an overview of your business’s finances you need everything connected, it integrates with your bank accounts and any accountancy and payment platforms you use.
Everything is presented in easy to comprehend dashboards and graphic displays and LiveFlow will populate your spreadsheets for you. You’ll see live Cash Flow, Profit and Loss and Bank transactions upon request. Vitally, it can produce quarterly budgets and revenue charts to share with your team, C-suite, and board.
LiveFlow also added some helpful formulas to give you more real-time insights into your business’s performance including =GrossMargin, =GrossProfit, =CAC (customer acquisition cost), =LTV (lifetime value), =EBIDTA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) and many more.
We build LiveFlow with finance teams in mind, with the facility to tailor reports exactly the way you want them, and drill down to the cell level with formulas. More than just a spreadsheet then: a complete efficiency tool for your finance team.
PROS: Fully automated reporting tool, Populates spreadsheets for you in real-time.
CONS: Not enterprise-focused.
If you use spreadsheets for statistics or business analytics, some of the more manual systems listed above might work well for you. However, if you really want to get a grip on your corporate finances, LiveFlow makes it easy and intuitive for your finance team to gather and present all the data you need in a few clicks. Balance Sheets have never been simpler, or Cash Flow reportseasier to read – LiveFlow is the hands-down winner for intuitive, in-control, Financial Management.