Friday, 27 March 2009

Excel or paper = no system?

Reading back through the Xero blog this morning, I found this post from Vivian Morresey, who says;
It’s amazing how many people have joined Xero recently, that actually come from ‘no system’ at all, ie shoebox, Excel or paper, and I’m sure that once people truly see that it can be done better, the better off we will all be.
By "Excel or paper", I'm guessing Vivian means accounting records kept either on an Excel spreadsheet or a manual cashbook. And I'd take issue with his/her statement that these are "no system".

I agree that spreadsheet records or a manual cashbook would probably only suit the very smallest of businesses. Elizabeth Jackson of Great Guns Marketing says in her book "Start Up!" that when she began her business, it was a one-woman band, and she kept her records on spreadsheets, before upgrading to QuickBooks when the business grew bigger.

For micro businesses, a neat well-kept set of records on Excel or a manual cashbook can be more than adequate. They've certainly done just fine for me in the past when it came to preparing year end accounts for those businesses.

And, I keep my own records on an Excel spreadsheet :-)

In the next paragraph of his/her article, Vivian says;
Generally, it’s at the end of the (financial) year when all the real pain comes to the surface, such as collating all your receipts and trying to remember why you spent that money, and what was it for, do I claim the GST or not? Digging up your bank statements, and realising you’ve lost one, it won’t matter how far back, or how efficient the online bank statement export is, you know it will still miss the thing that you need. Finally, sorting through your invoices and realising that you haven’t been paid or worse, that you still have to pay someone. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Now there I would say that (s)he is spot on.

Trying to go through your "bag of bits" at year end and remember what every receipt was for is a nightmare. And it's even worse when your poor accountant has to do it because they haven't the foggiest idea why you might have bought a train ticket to London. To visit a customer? To go to the theatre? To go to a lap-dance club? (I did know a client who tried to claim "entertaining" for his visits to an address in Soho...)

So regular record-keeping - yes please. But it depends on the size and complexity of your business whether that should be on Xero or similar, on Excel, or written out by hand. If one of these methods suits you and your accountant - stick with it.

[P.S. My apologies for the use of "his/her" and "(s)he" in this article, but "Vivian" can be either a man's name or a woman's and I don't know whether Vivian at Xero is a man or a woman.]


  1. But M - haven't you been caught in your own logical flow? If it's hard to remember what expenses are what then surely it makes sense to use a service where those pesky details can be accommodated? Remember that Excel requires 'maintenance on crosstabs - just for starters and that can go horribly wrong as I found out many years ago.

  2. @Dennis - you can make a list on a spreadsheet or on paper of what expenses are what as you go through the year - you don't have to do that on e.g. Xero.

    What do you mean by "maintenance on crosstabs" please?


  3. Hi,
    Viv from Xero, thx for the commentary.

    I thought I'd respond and put the gender comment to rest, as I'm a Mr. Thanks for the consideration, and attention to this. It would be fair to state that over the years the majority of people make an assumption, and generally its them that have got for me, well, I've been me for my whole life :-D, so I'm used to it...I've heard it all.

    While the majority of its uses (naming) has been generally feminine, I still would have not changed it during what at times, was a challenging upbringing. Lets say character building was one of the cliche' outcomes.

  4. Hi Vivian,

    Thanks for the response.

    I've found it's never safe to make an assumption - it usually goes wrong and then you're left feeling embarrassed and having offended the other person (not everyone's as level-headed and sensible as you are!)

    That applies not only to names like Vivian, Jocelyn, Evelyn and Jordan which can be either a man's name or a woman's, but also to nicknames like "Chris"!



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