Using Excel and/or Word as a business system – the pros and cons

In a recent survey we conducted a whopping 73% of small businesses cited that they use Word and/or Excel as business systems for generating quotes. This figure may surprise you but it’s also understandable when we consider other factors.

Most small businesses begin life really small, tiny in fact. Often as just one or two people in a small unit or home office. At this early stage money is very tight and trying to take on a proper business system just seems too expensive to consider. Besides, every small business needs Word and Excel, right? So why not just use them to record your quotes, orders, purchase orders, invoices etc? And that’s precisely what most small businesses start out doing.

They usually use Word (but sometimes Excel) to create the actual quote that gets sent to their customer, and enter a line or two in Excel to record the quote values etc. There is usually some sequential number that they get from Excel to record against the quote, often with some prefix or other e.g. JS153521. If you visit their offices you’ll hear staff shouting “What’s the JS number?”

The problems arise as the business grows and takes on more staff. Often the business owners realise they need a proper business system but they are just too busy to look at it, and so the problems get worse and hold the business back.

Here we take a look at the pros and cons of using Word and Excel for business management and compare that to our system OscarOnline.

Pro – easy to understand

OK some of the features in Word and Excel are a bit of a dark art, but the basics are known by almost anyone who’s used a computer. This makes them an obvious choice if you need to throw something together quickly.

How OscarOnline compares

There is of course a slight learning curve (even a new version of Office throws people!) but OscarOnline has been designed to be simple to learn, easy to use. It is an intuitive form-based system and there are help videos on almost all screens if you get stuck.

Con – slow to get things done

You’ll need to enter the same details at least twice. That’s assuming you care about reporting on what you’ve quoted, ordered etc. The basic details need to be recorded in Excel so that you can run reports, then the actual document template needs to be filled in, so copy and paste here we come! Then it will be someone’s job to get that information into the bookkeeping system once the invoices get raised.

How OscarOnline compares

Starting from the beginning, you enter the customer details in Oscar and you never have to enter those details again! Producing a quote will automatically populate the customer details, then you simply enter the lines of your quote (manually or by searching for a product). All done! Now a single click will produce your quote document to send to your customer, and you can even email it to them direct from the system. Reporting? No problem! once the details are in Oscar you can run all the reports you need. If you use Oscar’s optional bookkeeping system you don’t even need to worry about that part. Otherwise you simply need to export the details for your chosen accounts system.

Pro – inexpensive

You probably need Word/Excel anyway so using them for your business systems as well effectively makes them free!

How OscarOnline compares

Oscar starts from only £20 per user per month and for that you can manage all your contacts centrally, create quotes, sales orders, purchase orders, sales invoices and manage your marketing activities! So, we don’t think that’s too bad.

Con – you end up with duplicates

Not only is it easy to accidentally duplicate contact records using Excel, it’s also easy to end up with duplicates of entire spreadsheets. Because only one person can access the spreadsheet at a time, this can lead to people creating copies to work from and then forgetting they are working from a copy! Also, sales people or home workers can be tempted to take copies offsite and work from those. Soon you end up with your records all over the place and totally out of sync!

How OscarOnline compares

With Oscar you have a proper centralised business system that can be accessed securely from any location with an Internet connection and a web browser. This means that all of your staff that need access can log in and work on the system at the same time without duplicating data. Oscar also has advanced measures to help prevent staff accidentally creating duplicate contact records. It will perform checks while the new record is added to make sure it doesn’t already exist.

Pro – my data! Mine!

Having your business records in Word/Excel feels safe because you can easily keep it with you, and providing you have backups in place (many businesses don’t) you’re not in fear of losing your vital information.

How OscarOnline compares

Firstly, OscarOnline is encrypted and your data is backed up every 15 minutes to a seperate, encrypted offsite location. Furthermore, you can download your data into Excel from Oscar whenever you like. You can even take a full copy of everything in your Oscar database,  whenever you like.

Con – data protection and GDPR

How hard would it be for your employees to take all of your customer data offsite on a USB stick? Or email it to themselves?

If a bulk of your customer data was lost or stolen this way, would you be able to convince the data commissioner that you’d taken all reasonable steps to protect your customers’ private data?

How OscarOnline compares

With Oscar you can control exactly what level of access each of your employees has to the data, including who can bulk download or take backups. Obviously, you need to allow them access to the data they need to do their jobs but you don’t need to make it easy to take everything at once!

Pro – branding is easy

Using Word, you can make your quotes, invoices etc look pretty well exactly how you want them (although it can be a bit fiddly). This can include your logo, colours etc.

How OscarOnline compares

You don’t have as much flexibility with Oscar in terms of how your quotes etc are laid-out. However, our layouts have been created by professional graphic designers for clarity and professional appearance.

You are able to change the colours and logo to suit your business branding and you can even send your logo to the top left or top right of documents!

Con – very easy to make mistakes

When dealing with an open spreadsheet it’s very easy to put data in the wrong column or overwrite previous data. What’s worse is dealing with template quotes or other documents and leaving the wrong company information in! Sending a quote with the wrong company data gives a very bad impression and possibly breaches data protection obligations.

How OscarOnline compares

Because Oscar is form based it’s far less likely you will accidentally overwrite other information. It would have to be a much more deliberate action. In fact, once a quote is locked it cannot be edited! It can be easily requoted however, if required.

Con – hard to market

Let’s say you want to email all your customers with a new promotion – how easy would it be? Firstly, do you even have all your customer records in one place? Assuming you do, you’d need to import them into some sort of mailing application (now you have yet another copy of your data to look after). Then you email them and some unsubscribe, so now you need to run a report in the mailing application to find out who unsubscribed and flag that it in your spreadsheets so that you don’t mail them again later!

In reality you probably won’t bother as it’s too much hassle!

How OscarOnline compares

Because all of your customer and prospect records are in Oscar, you can email them directly from the system. You can categorise your customers how you like and email based on categories, the marketing activity that generated them, their location and much more. You then have a record of what you sent them at your fingertips and they can unsubscribe automatically without causing you any admin.

Because keeping in contact becomes so easy it happens much more often!

Summary

Although Word & Excel are great packages, they really aren’t meant for managing your business processes, and as your business grows you will encounter more and more issues with this way of working. Ultimately you will either migrate to a business system like OscarOnline or your growth will slow to an eventual stop as administration overwhelms your staff.

Perhaps now is the time to start that change?