Why using spreadsheets to manage your workflows is a terrible idea

There are few tools more flexible than a spreadsheet. You can design and  tweak one to perform almost any function. But workflow management is not one of them—particularly if you have any ambition to grow your accounting firm.

If you are attempting to manage your firm’s workflow in a spreadsheet, you probably already know it’s a bad idea. 

You may have spent hours in Excel crafting things carefully, only to quickly get frustrated and start feeling unproductive. You might think it’s just you. That you just need to put some extra time aside to iron out the bugs and train your team to use it properly. 

You’re wrong—no amount of time can mould a spreadsheet into an effective tool for workflow management.

Because collaboration is a nightmare, automation is basically non-existent, customization is complicated, there is no accountability, deadlines can’t be enforced, and you can’t switch between your macro work and the micro tasks. The list goes on and on.

To put it simply, spreadsheets are terrible for workflow management in an accounting firm.

If you’re serious about running a scalable and profitable accounting firm (and not lose your mind in the process), you must invest in a dedicated workflow management tool.

Work smarter, not harder

Spreadsheets don’t do enough for you. A dedicated accounting workflow management solution will take care of those low value and repetitive actions, so you can work smarter, not harder.

The ability to automate the process of assigning tasks to colleagues and updating progress statuses on individual pieces of work is simply not realistically possible using spreadsheets.

And so, you will always be completing manual tasks that will eat away at your time.

For example, in a spreadsheet, you need to create a new role manually for every single client job. You then need to carefully choose the right team member to assign it to, make sure the statuses, work type and notes are applied and identify the due dates. And that doesn't even factor in the individual tasks, process milestones and other stakeholders involved. 

You probably need someone to spend a large chunk of their day simply keeping things up-to-date. And the margin for error is high.

But with a dedicated workflow tool that automates these tasks, you’re unlocking opportunities to scale, upskill your staff, strengthen your service offering and build more meaningful client relationships.

Not only that, but you’re avoiding the inevitability manual (and costly) data errors.

Boost your efficiency

Because spreadsheets keep you trapped completing actions that can be automated, you will continuously hit a ceiling when trying to boost your efficiency. After all, manually assigning tasks to the correct staff member will always take a certain amount of thought, and a certain number of mouse clicks or keyboard strokes. Time that you won’t get back.

But dedicated workflow tools ensure that time is never lost. Plus, most solutions will give you a higher level of visibility across how you and your team are using your time with time tracking capabilities.

One centralized location

You can never really have it all with spreadsheets. You will always need to switch between it, your inbox, your to-do list, etc.

But with workflow management systems, you can consolidate this information into one, integrated place.

For example, Karbon directly integrates with your email client. On top of that, you are able to communicate internally with colleagues via comments on work items, emails themselves, and tasks. As a result, all your communication lives in one, centralized location.

This also enhances your ability to collaborate with your team across projects, which is especially important for remote teams.

Dedicated features and improvements

Because spreadsheet providers are not solving one single problem, their product/s will never address the specific needs of your accounting firm—no matter how many product updates they produce.

But workflow tools are specifically designed to organize and track your work. Better yet, accounting-specific workflow tools are designed to enhance the efficiency of your accounting firm.

Accounting firms work differently to all other businesses. Most work is repetitive, processes are template-driven, a job can touch multiple stakeholders and you need to engage with clients in unique ways.

There are many generic workflow tools out there, like Asana, Trello or Monday.com that try to appeal to a wide range of businesses. As a result, they have powerful features. But they're features that don't apply to accounting and bookkeeping firms. For example, ClickUp offers a massive amount of customization, but this very customization can be overwhelming. And as a result (an in conjunction with other reasons) using ClickUp for accounting firms isn't ideal.

Recommended reading: Is Monday.com right for accounting firms?

On the other hand, a product built for accountants is not concerned with anything other than the needs of accountants. So the teams developing these products are hyper focused on what you need instead of what you might find useful along with 50 other professions.

This means that product and feature releases are more likely to address your specific needs, providing you with instant value.

Find the right solution for your accounting firm

Like everything, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to workflow management. But one thing is certain, if your firm is using spreadsheets for managing workflows, you are missing out on simple ways to grow your firm—and your bottom line. 

Take the time to explore your options to find the tool that suits your firm’s size, operation and values. You won’t look back.