Why Do Small Business Owners Treat Accounting Systems Like Toothpaste?

Pencil Posted by Richard Veltre on February 19, 2018

I had an epiphany this morning. I woke up early, started my routine, and - like many of my fellow business owners - immediately started thinking about things I needed to get done today. I believe I start thinking about work tasks so early to temporarily forget about the one part of my morning routine I dread: oral hygiene. I don't dread it because I have hygienic issues; I dread it because I feel like if I spend 5 minutes, my dentist would say I should have spent 10; 20 minutes should have been 30. Childish? Maybe. (But I digress.)

When I came upon that dreaded point in my routine this morning and grabbed for the tube of toothpaste, I immediately had to deal with three issues. First, you can't leave the toothpaste uncapped and not expect to deal with a crusty mess around the top - so I had to clean off the uncapped nozzle. Second, an uncapped nozzle can lead to a clogged nozzle, impairing the already slow rate of toothpaste dispensing from that very small opening - so I had to clear the clog. Third, once I started the toothpaste flowing, I realized there wasn't much paste left in the tube - but I was determined to complete my dreaded chore, so I rolled the tube up into a Guinness Book of World Records-level smallest possible tube of toothpaste to release every last possible ounce.

And after spending fifteen minutes without actually accomplishing anything, it hit me. (The epiphany, that is.) The way I just wrestled with my toothpaste is how my clients wrestle with their accounting systems.

In case you can't see it, let me break it down:

Like Toothpaste Tubes, Accounting Systems Need Maintenance

toothpaste.jpgYour accounting system requires maintenance, or the data can get crusty and possibly unreliable. You can't just install a system and expect it to stay perfect forever without some adjustments. The programs grow and require an annual data cleansing, a periodic procedural review, and possibly a data archive. Otherwise, your reports could be incomplete or inaccurate and cause you to make poor management decisions, affecting your company's value.

Like Toothpaste Tubes, We Do Everything Possible to Force More Out of Our Accounting Systems

If it would help, we would physically stand on the tube of toothpaste to get more product out. Don't like my toothpaste example? How about the old tubes of Elmer's glue we used to take to school as kids? Remember how we would use it once, the nozzle would clog, and you couldn't do much of anything to get more glue out? It's the same concept with an accounting system - we start to push for more data and try to encourage more output until the system starts to clog, crash, or slow down. Then we get pressured to get answers quicker, and we develop "workarounds," procedures that use man-hours instead of computing power. Workarounds destroy efficiency and slowly expose your company to errors.

Like Toothpaste Tubes, We Squeeze Our Accounting Systems Until They (and We) are Exhausted

You have to admit that we will squash, roll up, and practically destroy our toothpaste tubes to get every last drop before we buy a new one (if you're like me, you hate the grocery store). We treat our accounting systems the same way - even when we know the system is ill-equipped to help us anymore, we push and poke and prod it like a stubborn mule that lost all motivation. Then, because of the workarounds and alternate procedures, business owners think they're still moving forward when they're actually losing ground.

So I asked myself: why would business owners treat their business systems the same way they treat toothpaste? And I have to guess that maybe it's just human nature. There's the fact that energy was put into the existing hardware, policies, and procedures, and approving a complete overhaul of something is always a hard pill to swallow. There's also the fact that the business world is moving so fast that business owners don't have time to deal with a problem before it becomes a crisis.

Critical Reporting Cheat Sheet

If that's the case, it's time for a change in human nature. With the economic buzzwords being 'breakneck speed,' 'artificial intelligence,' and 'global economy,' business owners can't be satisfied with their accounting and finance functions following an "as-is" business plan. Small businesses need to be nimble and adaptable, and that may require replacing a system before it's fully exhausted. Think of your business's accounting and finance functions like your nervous system – without a nervous system, your body could forget to breathe, you could collapse, or worse. Without toothpaste, we just get bad breath and eventually a cavity.

I think it's fair to say we have to stop treating our information technology like toothpaste because it plays so much more of an important role in the survival of our businesses – and it isn't as easily replaced as a quick trip to the grocery store.

Do you treat your accounting system like a tube of toothpaste? Contact us for a better way.


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About Harbour Rock
Our outsourced CFOs are experienced professionals who offer expertise to business managers, including detailed insight into financials that allow you to make better business decisions; we also guide you through financial issues so you can spend time on growth instead of administration and overhead. By taking a proactive approach, together we can identify risks, evaluate options, and implement solutions at a cost that is well below the benefit. Learn more by visiting our website.

Topics: Accounting

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