Who doesn't love a good spreadsheet? Excel is ubiquitous in offices for several reasons: spreadsheets are easy to use, easy to learn, and cheap compared to dedicated software

But they also introduce a slew of problems that put your organization in grave danger. And if you're running a startup or small company, some of these snares could spell the end of your business.

Here are five reasons Excel might just be killing your business. If you're running your company on spreadsheets, you might want to reconsider.

Revenue Rifts

Leads and customers are the lifeblood of your business and every dollar in revenue counts, especially if you're struggling to get off the ground or keep the doors open. It's true that keeping track of customer interactions on spreadsheets is a fairly simple process for one or two people, but what happens when you hire your first dedicated sales rep? Or your first 10 sales reps? Customer tracking via Excel can devolve into madness fast.

Not only is determining who's working what lead when all but impossible, but inaccurate or incomplete Excel interaction tracking means that hot prospects sometimes fall through the cracks. If that doesn't scare you, I don't know what would.

Errors Galore

When you're operating a small company, you had better understand the precise state of your business. A few extra dollars here or there could make the difference between doubling down on a new strategy or investment, or backing off entirely and holding tight to your cash.

Too bad that precision isn't exactly Excel's forte. A University of Hawaii study found that 88% of spreadsheets contain some type of error. With this in mind, doing the financials on Excel might actually cost you money in the long run. 

Sharing Woes

Does this file name seem familiar to you?

Customer_contact_sheet_AB_YN_OP_DW_gh_final_8.31.15_final2_FINAL.xls

Such is the nature of sharing spreadsheets. Because people can't make live updates to the same spreadsheet, the document has to be passed around from one team member to the next, to the next ... to the next. After each person updates the master document (and let's pray they did it right), they pass the baton along. It's a slow process to say the least, so if you're waiting for the file to make its way back to you to report on results or make a crucial decision, let's just hope your task isn't time-sensitive.

And this assumes that each person fills out and saves the spreadsheet correctly. Neglecting to save the document to a shared folder can give rise to several conflicting versions. Good luck figuring out which is right.

Adoption Problems

The number one CRM challenge salespeople cited in last year's State of Inbound Sales report was manual data entry. This concern also translates to spreadsheets, which are nearly 100% manual.

If business owners struggle to get their salespeople and other employees to enter data in a CRM (which presumably features some level of automation), they're going to experience the same issues (perhaps even magnified) with spreadsheets. And if your employees aren't using spreadsheets, how will you know what's going on in your business? The visibility forecast looks all but opaque.

Security Issues

Not all data is suitable for everyone in your business to see. For instance, HR information such as compensation rates, social security numbers, and home addresses shouldn't be accessible to just any employee. Not only does faulty security put your employees at risk, it also puts your business in danger of a lawsuit or penalty. 

So what's Excel's answer to spreadsheet security? Access password protection. In other words, people can either see the entire spreadsheet, or they're blocked entirely. Needless to say, this isn't ideal in situations where users require different degrees of access that fall in between being privy to everything and nothing. 

Also, because security isn't attached to accounts (Excel has no way of knowing who is accessing a spreadsheet), all it takes is a password to fall into the wrong hands for your data to be hacked or stolen. Loose lips sink ships, so I hope your employees are trustworthy. 

As you can see, Excel is anything but a time- or money-saver. Spreadsheets can do a small business more harm than they're worth without you even knowing it.  

But dedicated technology isn't always expensive. There are plenty of lightweight finance, HR, contact management, and sales apps available today specifically built for small businesses' needs and budget. 

If you'd like to ensure prospect or customer data never slips through the cracks again, download the free HubSpot CRM. For the low price tag of $0, you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing you're not losing out on revenue. That's a bargain by any standards.

Realizing you should probably move off of spreadsheets? Start learning about the many benefits of a CRM system andhow to find the best small business CRM.

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Originally published Sep 2, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

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