Online Tools for Real - Time Financing

Article by:
Mick Liubinskas
EO Sydney

Your ability to collaborate with the right people, get good information and make the right decisions may determine if you’re thriving or surviving in business. Tapping away on a financial spreadsheet late at night and then e-mailing it around for feedback is 15 years too slow. Online, real-time collaboration is here, it’s powerful and it’s a tool you should use.

As entrepreneurs, we’re familiar with the benefits of spreadsheets. Using formulas, we can create simple or complex financial analysis and reporting tools that are customized to each situation, not to mention track expenditures as we build our businesses. Online spreadsheets add new levels of value. An online spreadsheet is a document edited through a Web-based application that allows multiple persons to edit and share it simultaneously. Instead of having your financial information in a single file on one person’s computer, the file is now a single, live document living on the Internet.

Here’s how it works: you create the spreadsheet using online software like Zoho, Skydrive or Sheetster, and then invite your collaborators to participate via e-mail. Now both of you can view and edit that spreadsheet. As you work, you will see the other person’s cursor move around the page. If one of you updates a cell, it updates the entire spreadsheet. Here are some more perks:

Real-Time Collaboration

If you require input from multiple people, then online spreadsheets can save you on time and mistakes. Instead of each person making their own version and trying to merge or compare them, everyone can work from the same master document at the same time.

Transparency

Online spreadsheets are a great way to encourage transparency when working with another company on a deal. We put the information into a private, but shared, online document, and then both parties can look at the same information at once. The fear of “hidden” content is squashed.

One Source of Truth

One of the biggest challenges with old-school spreadsheets is version control. You can easily end up with files called, “Annual Budget – final – version 3,” and still not know if it’s the right one. You don’t have that problem with online spreadsheets— there is only one file.

Forms

One of the cool features some online spreadsheets offer is the ability to use forms to generate spreadsheets. Basically, you create a simple form, and then you get a Web address you can use to invite people to complete the form. The information goes automatically into an online spreadsheet. It’s simple and powerful.

Online spreadsheets are incredibly beneficial for all entrepreneurs, but there are some things you should consider before using them:

Structure

You need to think about what you’re going to use the spreadsheet for, who will see it and how it might evolve. It’s no longer that private napkin you use to collect your thoughts— it’s in public view. This may require standardizing how a company uses the spreadsheets.

Security

People typically worry that having information available for all to read online is risky. Most good online tools, however, have private, public and secret options. Like all things, if managed well, the risks are low.

Lost Functionality and Speed

I’ll be the first to admit that you do lose some functionality by going online. If you’ve lived in Microsoft Excel for 20 years like I have, then you can make it purr how you want. All of the formulas, big files, adjusting zoom sizes and formatting are limited online. It’s a trade off, but well worth it.

Most of these applications are free to try, and some have an annual subscription fee based on how many users and how much data you have. These fees typically range from uS$30-50 per user, per year. Compared to normal spreadsheet software, it can be extremely cost-effective.

With the advent of new technology, it has become significantly easier for entrepreneurs to stay on top of their finances. While there are some advantages to sticking with the more traditional tools, I’ve found that online spreadsheets save me plenty of time, money and stress. As a busy entrepreneur, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Mick is the co-founder of Pollenizer, an Australian-based firm that has helped build more than 50 startup Web businesses. Mick was the head of marketing for Kazaa, Zapr and Tangler, and is wildly passionate about focus. E-mail him at mick@pollenizer.com.


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