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Excel spreadsheets are one of the most powerful (and free!) tools available to small business owners. Even if you’re not a math whiz or an accounting expert, Excel allows you to keep detailed, accurate business records.

You can customize Excel accounting to the level of detail you need for your business. If you have a simple online shop or freelance business, you can use basic Excel skills in a single sheet to keep track of your income and expenses. Excel can also be used to create a full accounting system, complete with financial statements, for a complex business with lots of expenses, income streams, assets, and debts.

See how account reconciliation is fundamental to small business accounting by visiting our informative guide at What is Account Reconciliation?.

Are you looking to automate Excel accounting processes?

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What is Excel Accounting? 

Excel Accounting for small businesses uses Microsoft Excel to manage and organize accounts payables and receivables, track income and expenses, create financial reports, and perform basic accounting tasks to maintain accurate and accessible records of a small business's financial transactions and performance.

Benefits of Excel Accounting

  • Customization: Excel allows you to create customized templates and worksheets tailored to your specific accounting needs. You can design your own income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and other financial reports to match your business requirements.
  • Affordability: Excel is cost-effective, especially for small businesses with limited budgets. Unlike specialized accounting software, which often comes with subscription fees or licensing costs, Excel is usually a one-time purchase or even available as part of a broader Microsoft Office subscription.
  • Ease of Use: Excel is user-friendly and widely used, making it accessible for business owners and employees who may not have extensive accounting backgrounds. Basic accounting functions like data entry, formula calculations, and chart creation are straightforward to learn.
  • Flexibility: You can adapt Excel to your evolving accounting needs. As your business grows or your accounting requirements change, you can easily modify or expand your Excel spreadsheets without the need for additional software purchases or training.
  • Data Analysis: Excel offers robust data analysis tools, including pivot tables, sorting, filtering, and conditional formatting. These features help you analyze financial data, identify trends, and make informed decisions based on your business's financial performance.
  • Integration: Excel can be integrated with other Microsoft Office applications and external data sources. You can import data from your accounting software, bank statements, or other financial tools, streamlining data entry and reducing errors.
  • Data Security: You have full control over your data when using Excel. You can choose where and how to store your spreadsheets, making it easier to maintain the confidentiality and security of your financial information.
  • Auditing and Version Control: Excel provides tools for tracking changes made to spreadsheets and reviewing formulas, which is essential for maintaining accuracy and accountability in your financial records.
  • Scalability: While Excel is suitable for small businesses, it can also scale with your business's growth. You can use more advanced Excel features as your accounting needs become more complex, ensuring that the tool remains relevant.
  • Robust Training Resources: Due to its popularity, there are numerous online tutorials, courses, and resources available to help you improve your Excel skills, making it easier to harness its full potential for accounting purposes.

Top 5 Excel Features to Help in Accounting

  1. Formulas and Functions: Excel offers a wide array of built-in formulas and functions that are instrumental in accounting. Functions like SUM, AVERAGE, IF, and VLOOKUP enable you to perform complex calculations and automate data processing. For instance, you can use the SUM function to calculate the total revenue for a specific period by adding up a column of sales figures or tallying your monthly expenses effortlessly.
  2. Pivot Tables: Pivot tables are dynamic tools that simplify the analysis of large datasets. They allow you to filter, group, and aggregate data, making it easier to create customized financial reports. A practical example is using a pivot table to analyze monthly sales data, showing the total sales by product category and month, providing valuable insights for business decisions.
  3. Conditional Formatting: Conditional formatting is a powerful feature in Excel that lets you format cells based on specific conditions or criteria. It's invaluable for highlighting crucial data points or identifying discrepancies in your financial records. For instance, you can employ conditional formatting to flag overdue invoices in red visually or indicate profitable months with a green font color.
  4. Data Sorting and Filtering: Excel's data sorting and filtering tools streamline data organization and analysis. You can sort data in ascending or descending order and apply filters to focus on specific subsets of data. 

Charts and Graphs: Excel provides a variety of chart types, including bar charts, line graphs, and pie charts, to visually represent financial data. Charts are excellent for conveying trends and patterns in your financial information. For example, you can create a bar chart to depict revenue by product category, facilitating the identification of your most profitable product lines.

Excel Accounting on a Cash Basis

Cash-basis accounting means that you track your business’ income and expenses by following the cash. Income is recorded as it is received, and expenses are recorded as they are paid.

For example, if you sold a widget in January, but your customer paid you in February, the income from the widget would be recorded in February when you received the customer payment.

Cash-basis accounting is the simplest, most straightforward accounting method. It works best for businesses with a simple structure and fairly steady income and expenses.

Recording business transactions in an accounting Excel spreadsheet is simple. Imagine looking at the register of your bank transactions in your banking app. You can see every activity: your direct deposit, your cell phone bill, the pizza you ordered, and a balance that shows how much is in the account after every transaction. When you create a cash-basis spreadsheet in Excel, you are doing basically the same thing for your business that your bank does for you.

In order to create a cash-basis accounting record in Excel, open a new Excel workbook.

You will need the following columns:

  • Transaction number
  • Date
  • Transaction description
  • Income
  • Expense
  • Account balance

Depending on your business's size and activity level, you can add a new worksheet or Excel tab each month or quarter. At the end of the month or other period, you can add a totals row for the income and expense columns. This will allow you to see how much income and how many expenses you had each month so you can calculate profit or loss.

If your business is very small, like a side hobby from which you make a little money, you may not need to create new tabs every month and can simply keep one Excel sheet for the whole year.

The main drawback to cash-basis accounting is that it can cause large ups and downs in income and expenses over several months. This can give the impression that the business does not have as reliable income as it truly does. For example, if you pay your business insurance ahead of time for six months, one month will have the entire insurance expense, while the other five will have none of that expense.

This will result in a much lower net income in the first month and higher net income in the other months. Cash-basis accounting is an intuitive and easy way to record your business’ income and expenses, but it may not be the best method to choose if you need to use your business's financial records to prove steady income.

Because of this, larger or more complex businesses and companies with shareholders will choose the other accounting method: accrual accounting.

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Excel Accounting on an Accrual Basis

Accrual-basis accounting, in contrast to cash-basis accounting, follows the business’s activities rather than the cash flow to track income. Remember our previous example, where you made a sale in January, but the customer paid you in February? Under accrual accounting, you would record the income from the sale in January rather than February because that is when you earned money.

Accrual basis accounting has more moving parts to keep track of than cash basis accounting, but it gives a more accurate financial picture of your business activity. It is considered the standard accounting method for all businesses that need to share their financial activity with others. Suppose you are considering taking on a partner, letting shareholders invest in your business, or taking out personal or business loans based on your business income. In that case, you should consider using the accrual method of accounting.

Ready for the crash course?

The most important thing to remember with accrual-based accounting is that every transaction you make in your business affects two accounts rather than just one. This means that you can see how each activity in your business affects your bank account and other parts of your business. This is based on the accounting equation:

Assets = Liabilities + Owner’s Equity

If a business activity affects one account, it must also affect another. If it is an account on the same side of the accounting equation, one account will go down, and the other will go up in order to maintain balance. If one affected account is on one side of the equation, and the other is on the other, they will both have to go up or down to keep the equation balanced.

This is where the idea of debits and credits comes in. Every account can be debited or credited. To keep the accounting equation balanced, each transaction must have one debit and one credit.

Accrual method accounting is a bit more complex to set up in Excel but produces better results. The first step is to list all the accounts your business uses. Organize them by category. You will get something like this:

  • Assets
  • Cash
  • Accounts Receivable – money owed to you for purchases on customer credit
  • Inventory
  • Liabilities
  • Accounts Payable – money you owe to suppliers or other service providers
  • Equity
  • Owner’s Equity
  • Revenue
  • Sales
  • Expense
  • Utilities expense
  • Cost of goods sold
  • Rent expense
  • Advertising expense
person holding white Samsung Galaxy Tab
Photo by / Unsplash

Be as thorough as you can. It’s easier to set up more accounts in Excel than you need right now than to adjust formulas and worksheets later when you need more accounts.

Assign each account a number, and label it with a debit or credit balance.

After you set up your chart of accounts, you will need a separate worksheet or tab for each account. Start with Cash, as it is likely the one you will use most often. Set up a tab for each account that includes debit and credit columns for each account. Every time you have a business transaction, you must record each account that is affected by the transaction. Essentially, you are moving money around from one part of the business to another.

For example, if you buy $35 of office supplies, that might look like this:

D. Supplies Expense 35

C. Cash 35

You would take the $35 out of the cash account tab in Excel(credit) and move it to the supplies page (debit) as that is where the value is in your business. Once you get it broken down like this, each account tab is the same as the single-entry bookkeeping method. Instead of having one page for all transactions and accounts, you’ve added an extra layer of organization. The transactions are broken up into the different accounts they affect.

Classify incoming expenses automatically. Keep your small business financial processes on autopilot so you can focus on things that matter.

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Formulas and Formats for Accounting

Excel has functionalities for many different uses, but most of them are focused on financial management. Here are some of the most common ones you will see and use in small business accounting in Excel.

  • Accounting number format: This allows you to automatically format as many cells as you need with a standard dollars-and-cents format. If you type the number 5 into a cell, it could mean any number of different things: 5 o’clock, 5 dollars, the month of May. Using Excel accounting number format lets you list all numbers as dollar amounts (or another currency).
  • Filters: Filters allow you to find what you want in organized data quickly. For example, if your rent payments are labeled, you can filter all your data to show only rent payments. This makes it easy to see, for instance, how much rent you paid for the entire year. Or you can do this with any account.
  • The =SUM() function: The sum function is one of the most important functions to know in Excel. It allows you to add every number in a column quickly. You will need the sum function to add up income, expenses, or a specific type of expense.

Single-entry bookkeeping in Excel

In general, Excel is built for single-entry rather than double-entry bookkeeping. It is theoretically possible to set up a double-entry system, but it would quickly become unnecessarily large. Technically, you can have up to 255 sheets in an Excel workbook. This would allow for plenty of accounts for a small business. In practice, however, this would be entirely too many accounts to keep track of or manage manually as accounting in Excel allows.

Single-entry bookkeeping means that each transaction or business activity gets just one entry in the accounting books. Double-entry accounting means that each transaction or activity gets two entries, a debit, and a credit, to each affected account.

Extra: Try our bookkeeping template to automate bookkeeping easily.

How to Record Transactions in Excel

Two ways to record accounting transactions in Excel are single-entry or double-entry transactions.


A single-entry sales entry would look simply like:

D: Sales $50

A double-entry sales transaction would look like this:

D. Cash $50

C. Sales $50

If the sale is on credit, and you have not received the customer payment, the sale would look like this:

D. Accounts Receivable $50

C. Sales $50

Then, when the customer pays you later, that transaction would look like this:

D. Cash $50

C. Accounts Receivable $50

Expense Transactions

There are so many different sorts of expenses that will be specific to your business.

For a single-entry bookkeeping system, you must list the amount paid and describe what it is for. Since the money is going out, you can show it as a negative number or put it in parentheses to show a negative. Or, like this example, you can have a separate column for expenses.

Double-entry expense transactions will look like this:

D. Internet Expense $25

C. Cash $25

And if you pre-pay an expense for several months, including the current month, it will look like this:

D. Prepaid Insurance $900

D. Insurance Expense $100

C. Cash $1000

Then, as you use up your insurance policy payment, the prepaid insurance will gradually be reduced to zero, one month at a time:

D. Insurance Expense $100

C. Prepaid Insurance $100

Debt Payments

Suppose you take out a loan to expand your business.

Double-entry accounting will look like this:

Cash $10,000

Loans Payable $10,000

Then, every month when you make the payment, it will look like this:

D. Loan Payable $900

D. Interest Expense $100

C. Cash $1,000

Automate payments, financial document processing, expense classification, financial report creation, account reconciliation, etc.

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How to Generate Financial Statements in Excel?

Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is a snapshot of all account balances at the end of the accounting period. To create a balance sheet, you first have to see how much you made in income for the period. This means taking the revenue (sales) and expense accounts and bringing all the totals of revenue and expenses to owner’s equity.

Then, make a list of all asset account balances, all liability account balances, and all equity account balances, pulling numbers from each account worksheet tab in Excel accounting to make a list of all the accounts. The total assets should equal the total liabilities plus total equity.

Excel accounting on the most basic is just single entry transactions
Photo by Scott Graham / Unsplash

Income Statement

The income statement sometimes called a statement of profit and loss, is the only financial statement you get in cash-basis Excel accounting, and it is easy to make. All you need is the total numbers from income and expenses during the year. If you categorize your expenses with a number or color for each expense, you can filter your Excel sheet to get totals for each expense category.

Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement is important if you are using accrual-method accounting. You don’t necessarily see how much cash went in and out of your business during the month. A cash flow statement translates the income you made into an actual cash balance. For example, if you made sales on customer credit, those don’t count for actual cash in your business. On the other hand, if you paid your insurance three months ago but recorded insurance expenses this month, the insurance expense wasn’t actual cash out of your business, but it did reduce your income. If there are enough of these variances, it is possible to have a “profit” on your income statement while your business actually lost cash for the month.

The cash flow statement is a place to record all these corrections and end up with an accurate cash balance.

This is a very basic rundown of small business accounting that can get you started. Keeping accurate Excel accounting records throughout the year will make it much easier when something important happens in your business. That might be tax season, an SBA loan application, or converting your business from sole proprietor to an entity. Excel accounting can help your business get there in any situation, but as the business grows, you should implement an automated accounting automation system to handle your accounting.

Nanonets for automated accounting

Nanonets is a go-to software choice to automate manual tasks using a user-friendly interface. Nanonets has a wide range of tools like automated workflows, document verification, 3-way matching, and OCR API along with service choices like personalized training, annotators, 24x7 support along with a free trial that makes it a perfect choice as an accounting automation software for small businesses in 2023.

Automatically upload all your financial documents like bills, receipts, and invoices with easy integrations. Nanonets can extract data from scanned documents, validate the document's authenticity and upload the data into the system of your choice. No need to manually upload information from receipts and match the PO, receipts, and invoices. Automate book-keeping workflows and month end close processes seamlessly.

  • Easy to Use - No code environment
  • Drag and drop automated Workflows
  • Automated Expense Reports
  • Process Invoices on autopilot
  • Pay your vendors using Global payment platforms from Nanonets
  • 24x7 Support
  • >95% accuracy of API models
  • GDPR and SOC2 compliant
  • Pay-as-you-go plans

Get started with Nanonets' pre-trained workflows or build your own custom accounting workflow. You can also schedule a demo to learn more about our OCR use cases!

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Reviews of Nanonets Accounting Software

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