Are spreadsheets harming your agency?

 |  In: Agency management

How many spreadsheets do you use on a daily basis? Spreadsheet addiction is difficult to overcome, they’re so easy-to-use, you can produce one for anything and they’re cheap. What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, all the reasons we love them are the reasons they can be like poison ivy within a business, spreading across whole teams and devouring hours of otherwise chargeable time.

HubSpot recently offered 5 reasons why Excel is killing your business. They focused on the issues that spreadsheets cause in fledgling businesses but established agencies are not immune. In fact, the issue is often trickier to identify and weed out.

Getting to the root of the problem early and mapping out how you want to track and record key business information will save your agency time and headaches as well as financial and strategic mistakes.

Below, we look at four common strangleholds that spreadsheets can get around your agency.

1) Siloed documents

Spreadsheets are static documents. They store the information that we put into them but one spreadsheet won’t morph to reflect amends that have been made in a different spreadsheet. This means, with spreadsheets, you’re always looking at one element of the whole picture.

Let’s consider some key roles with an agency - project manager, client services director, account director, finance manager. Will one spreadsheet be enough for them to hold all the information they need? Not likely. More likely, each role will have their own complicated suite of spreadsheets. Numerous individual spreadsheets can easily hide crucial information and make agency reporting at best laborious at worst impossible.

2) Misinterpretation

Figures, like quotes, can easily be taken out of context. Open any red top and someone has said something outrageous until you read the article and see that within the context of the wider quote, they actually said something to the contrary.

Numbers are no different. If you look at a snapshot ie one spreadsheet, you don’t have visibility of the complete situation so it’s easy to jump to the wrong conclusions.

Plus, if everyone is working on their own spreadsheets, recording their chosen data in their own format then there’s no document management, meaning it can be near-impossible to review all the spreadsheets as a chain. Your finance manager could find they’re fruitlessly trying to compare apples and pears.

3) Hidden errors

If you have a joined-up system that shows you individual elements of the complete picture then you get a nice red flag when something is a little fishy. It’s then fairly easy to dig deeper and identify if it’s human error (someone added an extra 0) or if something is genuinely happening that is having serious financial implications.

As we’ve established, spreadsheets work alone. You’d need to review every spreadsheet in the chain in order to see what’s happened and this is assuming they can be cross-referenced (as discussed above, this isn’t a given.) If everyone is recording different data in their own format, this will take a lot of unravelling.

You also need to question how you’d know to go looking for the error. If your core team are working in silos you could be left no choice but to trust the data you’re given and therefore, you’d not spot that there is a roadblock to investigate.

Your chain of reporting is only as strong as the weakest link and mistakes do happen but if you can easily spot them then they can be fixed before that strategic or financial report lands on the boardroom table.

The Financial Times shares some scary statistics about the implications of mistakes made within spreadsheets.

4) People-owned data

If individuals are running their reporting in their own way with their own mini document management system, what happens if they leave?

Sure you’d hope they give a proficient handover but even if they do, they’re only going to report on the live spreadsheets that they’re currently using. What about all the old, out-of-date documents that are floating around? They’ve been forgotten about so most likely won’t get deleted or mentioned in the handover. Their replacement could innocently pick them up and it's back to square one with misreporting.

And what if they don’t do a great handover? You stand to lose all your historical data overnight. We’re all well aware of the dangers of a developer taking all their code with them when they leave, less talked about is the dangers of someone taking all your historical client and/or project data.

So what can you do?

If you still need some persuasion on whether or not it’s time to ditch the spreadsheets as your main source of project reporting, then you can review our guide how long can your agency run on spreadsheets.

But if you’re currently trying to count the number of spreadsheets used across your agency, and going white at the thought, then the good news is, there is an alternative.

Synergist pulls everything together into one online system so you can easily see key project data such as project estimate vs hours burned, client profitability on a job or client level, overall agency health, studio capacity vs output, hours spent per client and more. It’s one system to replace a number of different systems, and of course those pesky spreadsheets.

You can see more about what Synergist offers on our features pages, or you can book a one-to-one, 15-minute demo with our implementation partners The Agency Works.