business-expense-cards (2)
Spend management 12 min read

Business expense cards: the must-have tool for office management

As an office manager, you have an endless list of tasks of fulfill and people to please. You literally have to keep the lights on, the heating running, everybody smiling.

It's demanding, complex, and often thankless.

And one aspect of office management that’s often overlooked is handling expenses. Because whether you have a dedicated finance team or you manage it all on your own, a huge proportion of the company’s expenses run through you.

Very few companies handle expenses properly. Which means there is an inefficient system that disproportionately affects you. We have to fix that. 

We're going to see how one small adjustment - switching from company credit cards to prepaid expense cards - can make a world of difference

But let's start by looking at the kinds of payments you have to make on a regular basis. 

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Office expense categories

The kinds of expenses you have to handle can be long and complex. And the broader the list becomes, the harder it’s going to be to stay on top of everything.

Just some of the classic office expenses include:

  • Salaries. You probably have a good system in place to pay full-time staff. But a lot of office managers also have to pay freelancers for various teams on an ad hoc basis, and this is a real administrative burden.
  • Rent. Even if it’s just once a year, you need to know that the doors will be open and the heating will be on.
  • Food and drink. It’s becoming more and more normal for companies to provide, snacks, breakfast, and often lunch to teams. This is a significant ongoing cost.
  • Employee perks. Outside of food, employees expect certain concessions. This might mean office parties and team lunches, but can also include Spotify subscriptions, retreats, and yoga classes. The more diverse these become, the harder they are to manage.
  • Office furniture. Every new desk, chair, and plant means one more payment that you have to make.
  • Electronics and technical supplies. Computers and phones get lost of damaged all the time, and the office manager needs to make sure that a replacement arrives quickly and under-budget.
  • Travel. We’ve written a lot about corporate travel management. If you’re dealing with this as the office manager, that’s another massive task landing on your plate.
  • Legal fees. Hopefully this doesn’t impact you often. But lawyers expect to be paid on time and in full.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a fair overview of the kinds of costs most businesses have to deal with. And this is just to keep the lights on and everyone happy.

happy-office-space

As we proceed, we won’t talk about salaries and rent. These have their own processes, with tools and people in place to make sure that the right people get paid when they should.

It’s the smaller-scale stuff that can add up day-to-day. And that’s what we’re going to help you solve.

Key challenges for office managers

Whether you’re the solo office manager, an administrator in a larger team, or the CEO handling G&A on top of everything else, running an office comes with a few common problems

You’re always juggling

Running an office is like spinning plates. You need to have expenses, payroll, and utilities (Internet and electricity) under control, and even manage issues like workplace injuries and petty squabbles.

Good office managers are jacks-of-all-trades. And while you’re undoubtedly an organised, efficient, and diligent worker, there’s going to be a limit to your powers.

For this reason, you need to find ways to simplify (and even automate!) what’s on your plate. Instead of an endless list of small things you have to deal with manually, tackle the bigger processes behind them once, and then relax.

office-manager-expenses

You want help, but it often slows you down

Without a doubt, you have too much to do. That’s just part of the job. But while a helping hand could make a big difference, in reality that’s just another person you’d need to explain things to.

Which means that, when the new salesperson or product manager offers to pitch in with your weekly chores, it’s easier to just say “no, thank you.” You have all the institutional knowledge, and you’re better off doing things your own way.

This is always going to be true, to an extent. But you want to find ways to help others help you, without adding to your own burden.

You always have to give the bad news

Office managers often act as the buffer between senior leadership and business teams. Management expects you to keep on top of all the small stuff that they don't have time for. Little requests and plenty of questions.

In practice, this means a lot of saying “no.” No to flying business class; no to staying in that hotel; no to Red Bull in the office fridge.

This is an even bigger issue if your office expense policies are not clear and understood by all. It can feel to others like you’re just making up the rules as you go along, and giving special favours to some.

You’re the unofficial groundskeeper

It wasn’t in your job title when you signed your contract, but you almost certainly spend your days cleaning up after other staff. That could be physical cleaning - tidying meeting rooms after use, and emptying the dishwasher because nobody else will.

But there’s also the constant pressure of fixing other people’s small issues. Someone forgot their key and wants to work on a Saturday. Another team member calls you at 9pm to check the alarm code.

These sorts of challenges really only affect office managers (and startup CEOs), and they add up.

There are of course plenty more we could add to this list. Office managers are part finance managers, party planners, IT experts, contract negotiators, cat herders, interior designers, and therapists.

Not all of these are about expense management. But the thing is, you can improve spending so much so easily, that it’s the best place to start if you want to make some changes.

And while you can’t erase the entire load in one move, you can ease the pressure in a few areas with one key asset:

Business expense cards: no more expense drama

In plenty of growing businesses, the “finance team” actually means the office manager and perhaps an outside accountant. In others, the office manager handles the spending, and then a finance manager takes care of the books.

Either way, office managers touch the vast majority of a company’s payments. These include the big ones we mentioned above - utilities, travel, payroll and furniture. But it also means one-off costs like office parties, gifts, and even legal fees.

For this reason, it’s really important to have an efficient way to pay for things. And that’s where most growing companies are miles behind.

Status quo - the company credit card

Because office managers handle so many payments, they’re very often the keepers of the company card. Which means that whenever somebody else needs to make a payment, they come to you.

Immediately you’re set up to field a mountain of inquiries that don’t relate to your core tasks.

Because most of the time, you actually have nothing to do with these payments. Suppose a salesperson wants to take a client out for lunch. They get approval from their manager (or possibly the CEO), they take the card, then when they come back from lunch you have to make sure they kept the receipt and that the payment is recorded correctly.

But in an ideal world, you’d never even need to know. Their manager should be on top of it, and they could (in theory) log the payment and file the receipt themselves. You just happen to have the card.

And this is the inherent problem with corporate credit cards. If everyone had their own (and knew how to use them), life would be so much easier. But everyone can’t have their own because they’re connected to the bank account and spending would get out of control.

You need some sort of credit cards with more security, that are easy to monitor, and that ensure that nobody can spend when they’re not supposed to.

The modern solution - prepaid cards

This is the exact sticking point that prepaid expense cards were built to fix. Rather than sharing two or three company cards around the office, you can give every employee their own card.

smart-prepaid-cards

Here’s what makes prepaid cards different:

  • They’re not connected to the company bank account. Instead, you load money onto a central platform that all your cards draw from.
  • Every card has its own limit. This can be set (and changed anytime) by whoever controls the platform - managers, a finance leader, or the CEO.
  • Each card belongs to a person or team. There’s never a question of who spent what, unlike the company card. You know who made a purchase, and they can even record why they bought something when they make a payment.
  • Approvals are built in. Some team members aren’t allowed to spend a cent without approval. Others, like managers, may have some freedom. Prepaid cards let you set these rules for each individual card. And when approval is given, it’s recorded in the platform in real time.
  • Receipts are stored easily. The best time to save a receipt is the second that the payment is made. Good prepaid cards come with a smartphone app that lets your team members take a photo of their receipt and save it next to the payment they just made. So expense reconciliation is basically done for you.

Business expense cards are designed to tackle all the biggest issues with company cards: security, trackability, and convenience. For a busy office manager, this can be just the change you need.

Why this is great for office managers

Let’s start with the most obvious upside: if everyone has their own card, they don’t have to constantly bother you. Most of the small annoyances around spending are basically gone in one fell swoop.

But surely this gives rise to other issues? For instance, if they don’t come to you with every payment, how can you keep on top of it all?

First, in an ideal world, this should be managers’ responsibilities anyway. But on top of that, a expense cards that include a spend management system give you real-time oversight. Something you often don’t have with a company card.

You just open up your platform and you’ll have a record of every payment made by each person, the moment they make them.

You’ll also be able to give them approval in advance, but without the usual email trail. So if you still want to sign off on every office expense before a team member executes, it’s all done within the platform. No need to leave your desk to talk in person.

Empower team members and free yourself up

The whole point of this technology is to let other employees handle the payments that affect them. If they need a new mouse or computer screen, or if someone’s planning a special lunch for a client, you don’t have to be a part of it.

Staff have the tools they need to pay safely and securely, and every purchase is recorded the moment they make it.

It’s a more flexible system, but it’s safer too.

You end up juggling fewer tasks, and you don’t have to be responsible for every little thing that happens in the office. Other managers can take over without needing new skills.

That’s the kind of balance that lets office managers do run high-functioning workplaces full of happy campers.

Spendesk offers prepaid expense cards and other tools to make managing expenses simple for your business. Just ask us how:

Request a demo with Spendesk

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Patrick Whatman

Patrick Whatman is a content marketer and writer. He lives in Paris, loves music, and writes his own brand of cultural criticism for fun. Tweet him @mrwhatman where he mainly talks digital marketing, American sports and New Zealand trivia.