Growth & Customers

How to eliminate spreadsheet overload in your accountancy practice

Drowning in spreadsheets as you manage your practice? There's a better way to stay on top of everything: using practice management software.

One of your most important accountancy practice tasks is to manage your clients and provide them with the best possible service.

If you run a smaller accountancy practice or have just started up, it’s possible to manage clients with basic spreadsheet tools. Right?


In this article, we talk about why using spreadsheets could result in more work for you – and what you can use instead.

Here’s what we cover:

The problem with spreadsheets

The more clients you win, the more complex your back-office work will become. And if you’re using spreadsheets, they could really slow you down.

Here are some reasons why spreadsheets aren’t great for client management:

  • They’re not user-friendly. As you add more clients, you may have to scroll through hundreds of rows and columns to get what you need.
  • They’re not that secure. You know the pain when one of your colleagues accidentally deletes essential data in a spreadsheet.
  • It’s challenging to share and edit data. We’ve all been in the situation where you’ve been unable to edit spreadsheet data because somebody else is in the same file.
  • They’re hard to organise. The more client entries in a spreadsheet database, the harder it is to control.
  • They can be inaccurate. It’s easy to make mistakes if you play with formulas and fall prey to mistakes from the infamous copy and paste.

How to stop using spreadsheets

Practice management software is the best option.

It lets you store core client data in one easily accessible database. You can record all client interactions and set alerts for when you need to contact a client or action something with them.

Practice management software lets you automate admin tasks, so you won’t always have to edit every bit of missing or outdated information manually.

This is important—if you don’t update client records often (at least annually), you may not have that email address or phone number to hand when you most need it.

Every member of your staff should have access to data to help clients. It would be even better if they could write notes for others showing what they did.

Other benefits of practice management software include:

  • Workflow management. Organise a series of activities needed to complete a given task.
  • Capacity planning. Identify what is needed to complete your work for a given period.
  • Work allocation. Give jobs to team members and then track the status of that job.

Stefan Barrett is the founder of Bee Motion Accounting, a practice he started after several years of working for other people.

He says if he were to start his own business again, “I would have practice management software from day one.”

Due to the software, Stefan can set up and track his team’s workflow digitally and have employees tick tasks off, whether preparing accounts or doing VAT returns and bookkeeping.

Behind each workflow, there are also ‘process notes’, he says.

Stefan adds: “If an employee’s unsure of anything, process notes can assist them. If they’re still unsure, the practice manager can step in. But nine times out of 10, the process notes are so good they help.”

Client reporting and metrics

Reporting is a big part of client management, allowing you to understand where you are as a practice, whether tracking progress towards goals, fixing problems, or measuring performance against the competition.

Some intuitive software tools allow you to easily manipulate and visualise data better than a spreadsheet’s rows, columns, and basic graph capabilities.

Business intelligence tools can ‘mine’ your data, where you pull up and discover patterns that reveal insights about your clients.

For example, you can find the type of work, client industry and team member combinations that generate the most profitable work, and you can set and track key performance indicators (KPIs).

There are two points to remember when it comes to KPIs:

  1. Check that measurements are regular and used with the proper range.
  2. Take actions based on the insights.

The metrics you put in place depend on your goals and insights you need.

3 ways KPIs can help your practice

Here are some ways in which KPIs can help you understand your business better.

1. Find out which of your services brings in the most money

With easily accessible, visualised data, you can learn your practice’s strengths, look for realistic areas to expand, and find weaknesses in your services.

For example, you may do a lot of tax work, but you could find that advisory or consultative services for a handful of clients are making more money.

2. Understand the types of clients your practice services

You can also categorise clients based on the nature of their business and how frequently they use certain services.

You may want to upsell to existing clients, and it’s here that measuring monthly recurring revenue (MRR) against client type could be very helpful.

It’ll help you forecast your future cash flow, budget, and control how you want your practice to grow.

3. Look at your clients’ satisfaction levels

Are your clients happy with the service you’re giving them?

Keep a close eye on client needs, so your practice can consistently meet their demands. If you take on a client within an unusual industry, you might have to research their unique accounting or finance needs.

Staying one step ahead of the game pays off.

Time is priceless

When starting out on your own, it’s fair that you’d want to save money by using spreadsheets for every aspect of running your practice.

But instead of having your head in a spreadsheet file trying to picture reports and visuals based on rows and columns of data, cloud software could allow you to find and create what you need with ease rather than pain.

Use practice management software as early as possible to maximise its value.

You’ll get more valuable data from a digital system, preventing a more complex transition from messy spreadsheets bloated with outdated information.

You’re better off using technology to free your time to focus on client work with as much energy and enthusiasm as possible.

Time is priceless, so get more of it.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in November 2022 and has been updated for relevance.