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Using Spreadsheets To Track Your Small Business

Published: 20/06/2011

I've come to the conclusion that all you need to track your business financials is a few good spreadsheet templates.

Here's what's lead me to this conclusion. At beginning of this year at our house we went through a traumatic upgrade from a 2004 version of QuickBooks to QuickBooks 2011. My wife Levi, the accountant in the family (she has a 5 year accounting degree so accounting is a area that I don't argue about... I just say, "yes dear") and since 2004 she has refused to upgrade because there were some accounting features in the new versions that she didn't like. In 2010 I got her a new Windows 7 laptop which she loves. The only problem is QuickBooks 2004, of coarse, won't even install on Windows 7. Keeping her old Windows XP laptop going that is literally held together with duct tape (she slammed it in her car door a a while back) is quickly disappearing as an option. I finally convinced her to upgrade to QuickBooks 2011 that will run on Windows 7. There was a lot of huffing and puffing and swearing at QuickBooks and staying up until 1 AM but after a month or so we finally finished the transition.

Going through this process of of upgrading made it clear to me that we use only a fraction of the features in QuickBooks and at the end of the year we end-up with a handful of spreadsheets so why not just do the whole job start to finish with spreadsheets? I'm sort of a minimalist at heart. I run my part of the world (PFRE Media LLC) entirely with a few spreadsheets and am totally convinced that's all you really need. Levi doesn't read this blog or I'd probably be in deep trouble for dismissing the importance of QuickBooks.

Nowadays if you are willing to put your spreadsheets in the cloud, Google Docs provides a wonderfully simple, effective and free spreadsheet application that is compatible with MS Excel and Numbers on the OSX. They even have a bunch of useful templates, one of which I have linked to the above image. I was amazed at all the spreadsheet templates google docs has and since you can download them as .doc files you can open them with Excel or Pages and use them on your desktop.

I have a spreadsheet for monthly expenses,  monthly income, a yearly budget spreadsheet and a few other spreadsheets for miscellaneous tracking. You can download any credit card statement, bank statement or PayPal statements and put it into your spreadsheet. But I'm old fashion in that I don't keep my financial spreadsheets in the cloud. I use Numbers on the Mac ($19.99) and keep them right here on my desktop. I also don't use those features in QuickBooks where you give it your account numbers and passwords and it sucks down all your records. That's just too freaky for me.

The main thing is when you are in business for yourself you MUST keep good financial records and have a budget.

What do others use for their financial tracking?

Larry Lohrman

20 comments on “Using Spreadsheets To Track Your Small Business”

  1. Although, it's not cheap but I swear by It does everything I need including invoicing.

  2. Like you, I have concerns about turning over vital information to "the cloud." Not only from hacker security threat where one breach can potentiall be rewarded with hundreds of companies data. Also, the "poof" factor as the controller of the cloud server makes changes and all your hard work and, more important, data records disappear. While pre-cloud that happened to me and a decade later still have bad taste in my mouth - essentially meeting corporate goal/directive at branch level and loading sales prospects the system storing on corporate mainframe. Clueless tech guy at corporate HQ decided they needed the space and deleted everything as out hard work goes "poof."

    While the cloud isn't going to happen, surprisingly, Microsoft provides free resources for those who are not adept with Excel, or like me, know just enough to be dangerous. Hundreds of free templates are available as standalone, and with some skills may be able to interlink so entering in one - such as invoice - enter in another or several others. Go to - Downloads - office templates - limit to Excel and search under "finance" or any other key word.

  3. I am personally more of a fan of software dedicated to a task. Yes, you can track your accounting on a spreadsheet, but it's not very useful in terms of reporting, audit, etc. Plus you don't get updates, improvements, etc.

    We use Quickbooks and Freshboooks here. We've moved one set of books to and are evaluating as well. IMHO is *not* actually accounting software (it is not double-entry, and despite what they tell you, that is *not* ok). Though we use Freshbooks I don't like it very much. Does the job but makes it a bit painful IMHO. If I had more invoices to deal with I think I'd have switched away already. Xero is promising bug the UI is a bit clunky still.

    About the cloud, I don't think that there is a huge risk of data loss. These companies have very high-paid engineers figuring out how to keep copies of your data in multiple places as well as using expensive redundancy mechanisms to prevent downtime. If they lose customer data, they are out of business. Trying to prevent data loss on you own computer is much harder (you probably don't have RAID, offsite backup, and frequent verification that backups actually work). So in practice you are much less likely to experience a data loss due to "cloud failure" than to your own. After all, how many times can you recall losing data on your own computer (many times for me) vs on the cloud (not once yet in *years*).

    Besides that, any of you that are using sites like TourBuzz, PFRETour, TourFactory, etc, you are already using the cloud to run your entire business! So clearly many of us trust it already to run the guts of our business.

    In the end, the cloud offers incredible high value for the cost. Yes, it's not as free as a spreadsheet, or do-it-yourself virtual tour hosting, but the value delivered far exceeds the cost. That is why cloud services are growing so quickly. They are a perfect example of economies of scale at work and providing value for buyer and seller alike.

    Just a few thoughts... enjoy!


  4. I use $99/yr. It is a great tool to keep track of who owes you what. Its invoicing is a great time saver/accounts payable tracker. It has multiple currencies and you can customize the invoice template to your business very easily.

    There is also which is a invoicing/payment/expense tracking application. A bit more expensive though and doesn't do the account side of things. Can work in conjunction with Kashoo for the accounting side of things.

    I also signed up for 2.75% per transaction flat rate, no fees and quick transfers to your checking account. Clients are dumb struck that I took there payment over my mobile phone and sent them a receipt at the same to to their email with a few swipes on my phone.

    Both of these apps are web based so you can get to them from mostly any device.

  5. I use $99/yr for all of my accounting and tax records. Its basically Quickbooks or Peachtree, but web based. Profit & loss, balance sheets, reports, income and expense tracking/reports, upload bank records, trial balances, unlimited users/admins, vendor lists, contacts. It is a great tool to keep track of who owes you what. Its invoicing is a great time saver/accounts payable tracker. It has multiple currencies and you can customize the invoice template to your business very easily.

    There is also which is a invoicing/payment/expense tracking application. A bit more expensive though and doesn’t do the account side of things. Can work in conjunction with Kashoo for the accounting side of things.

    I also signed up for 2.75% per transaction flat rate, no fees and quick transfers to your checking account. Clients are dumb struck that I took there payment over my mobile phone and sent them a receipt at the same to to their email with a few swipes on my phone. Iphone and Android. The card slider is free.

    Both of these apps are web based so you can get to them from mostly any device.

  6. GNUCash is a great open source alternative to QB. The interface isn't real pretty, but it works great. And although it's feature packed, it works just as well for those who need basic accounting and invoicing.

    I used to use Excel, but I screw things up too easily - using a dedicated programs helps me there.

  7. I use an iiPad App called Invoice2Go which is much simpler but very effective for billing and record keeping.

  8. For my sole proprietor LLC I just use Quicken on my iMac.

    My bank provides Quicken compatible downloads.

    I can prepare reports for tax time, ect.

    I back up everything using Time Machine.

    I should back up the Quicken data base files and other financial documents to the Cloud every so often for the sake of disaster recovery. These files could be encrypted before they are sent to the Cloud.

    I do not have a large number of clients so I just prepare invoices using Pages. I track invoices using Omnifocus.

  9. I have used Quicken for many years. It's a very simple (and inexpensive) software, and does everything that we need, without double entry accounting, etc. It's like a checkbook register, but it allows you to run P&L's, expenses by category, etc.

    We also use TraxTime to track hours by job for billing purposes.

    I am not nearly ready to throw everything up on the cloud yet. Backing up Quicken onto another computer on our network and a flash drive periodically is adequate security for our needs, and we can do our books whether the internet is up or not.

  10. Shawn- I do now:) But I didn't at time time I was doing this. I try to know as little as possible about Win7.

  11. I am a software developer, and have been developing software for RE photography. My first interest was in radio controlled aerial photography, where cameras are mounted on rc aircraft. This has been used extensively in RE photography. The software has been up on my website for some time now, but the FAA and other regulatory boards have pretty much grounded everyone. I am quite far beyond a spreadsheet approach, this is a database program with related tables and true data entry. The program is useful now but will have more features added. It can be viewed at and the current version can be downloaded as a demo. I mention all this because as the developer I can take the program pretty much anywhere, provided I get some feedback, suggestions, and comments. I will also be reworking the price structure (downwards) so don't look too closely at that page.

    It is a Windows application, but I have several people running it on Mac computers that have a windows emulator running.

    You can email me at

  12. Before I started my business, I read a handful of "how to start a photography business" books that all said something to the effect of, "you don't need to use Quickbooks." After trying it those ways (spread sheets, etc.), then finally buying and using Quickbooks, one of the first things I now tell new photographers is to buy and learn Quickbooks. It may be more than I *need*, but its organization, automation, and synchonization take the headaches out of my bookkeeping.

  13. Joshua, how did you set up your QuickBooks? Did you use a default setup or can you customize things? In the software I wrote I have set up a Client table, with linked Contacts. The idea was to have one entry for say Century 21, and inside that a Contact record for each of the agents I did a Job for. Each Contact could have multiple Jobs but easily reviewed and tracked. Each Job would have an attached Quote that would become an Invoice when the Job was done. I do have QuickBooks, and I have an add-on toolkit that lets me transfer data between my application and QuickBooks, and in either direction. Unfortunately at this point I don't know enough about QuickBooks to program the connections.

  14. @Frank - I set up QB using the standard setup Wizard. My clients are entered individually. It might be nice to track sales by office (linking all clients at an office into a same office "category") but if I can do that in QB, I'm not currently. A lot of things can be customized in QB, it's just a matter of learning and understanding the software and chart of accounts within it. One reason I've steered clear of photography-specific accounting software (there are several options targeted at studio/portrait photogs), is because they're not as universal as QB. If I need help, my accountant can walk me through a general question much easier when we're both familiar with QB. What I would find most useful is a scheduling software that would link with QB & Google Calendar - That would be great! Best wishes with the build of your software!

  15. Thanks Joshua, some nice info. While I am tracking and reporting things my software is not an actual accounting package, one reason why I am looking at an interface to QuickBooks. I do have a scheduling calendar already but had not considered linking that to the Google calendar, which I do use for personal stuff. I may take a look at that.

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