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Infographic: How to use Excel to get ahead of the crowd


If you’ve ever had an office job, there’s a good chance you’ve used Excel. If you’ve used Excel, there’s a good chance you’ve ended up cursing it and wishing you’d never heard of it, having somehow corrupted that enormous and complicated spreadsheet you were working on. However, no matter how much pain it might have caused you over the years, you probably can’t imagine life without it.

But that doesn’t mean that your life with it couldn’t be easier and more successful. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, there are ways that Excel can be used to help you, and some of them might surprise you. Particularly for small business owners, there are many business functions that can be performed using Excel that can save you a fortune on buying bespoke software. All you need is to know how to do it.

So here’s how to use Excel to get ahead of the crowd:

Accounting & finance

It might not be a shock to think that Excel would be used for something involving lots of numbers and formulas, because that’s pretty much what it’s there for to begin with. However, if you use it effectively, it can perform some very impressive tasks that you might think need specialist tools. On a basic level, you can use Excel to keep track of your finances with income and expenses recorded in a sheet, allowing you to easily work out profits and losses.

Stepping things up a bit, you can create a cash flow forecast in Excel, which would let you identify where problems with your cash resources might crop up before they happen. It’s still a fairly simple spreadsheet to create, but if you’re not already using that kind of tool, the insights can be the difference between success and disaster. Beyond that, Excel can also replace Word as your go-to tool for creating invoices using an easy template.

HR & payroll

This is where Excel might really start to surprise you with what it can be used for and what things you might be paying for that you probably don’t need to be. Of course, if you’re a multinational company with thousands of staff, a more sophisticated HR system than Excel is essential, but smaller businesses can use it to create timecards, paystubs and even manage vacation schedules.

The timecard templates can be used for several important functions, like calculating overtime pay for staff or tracking how many hours have been used on a project so that you can bill clients for the time. Using Excel for managing payroll and automatically generating paystubs can help ensure those crucial processes run smoothly without the high costs of bespoke software.

Inventory & equipment

If your business uses equipment or sells physical goods, you need the right systems to manage your inventory. A warehouse inventory spreadsheet lets you create a simple, easy view of all the information you need to have at your fingertips with regards to your items, from unit prices, quantity and reorder information.

Depreciation of fixed assets over time is another area that needs to be factored in when you have an inventory and Excel has formulas for that too if you fill in information like salvage value and useful lifetime, using the straight-line method to track and predict how much the value will go down. It’s not just the value you need to know, of course, and Excel can also help you track and predict the physical condition of your equipment as well as what you’re paying for anything you’ve rented from another company.

Organization & project management

Not every small business has equipment or physical stock, of course, but every business of every size has to tackle projects of some kind or other, and Excel can be used to help make this run more smoothly. You can create Kanban boards for project management, which will help you make sure your sprints are organized and everyone is aware of the information they need to know. You can create Gantt charts to track project budgets and see how they are affected by delays and other changes to the plan.

Both of these are tasks you might previously have thought needed you to pay for specialised software, but are easily and efficiently managed once you’ve created or downloaded an Excel template. But did you know that you can even run a CRM in Excel? Again, it may be the case that if you have a weighty leads database that you might need something bespoke or less labor-intensive, but Excel can be an excellent lightweight solution for small businesses that want to track interactions with sales leads and targets.

So, now that you’ve learned all of the things that Excel can do for you, are you ready to start diving in and seeing where you can use it to make savings on what you’re spending on all those expensive tools you thought you needed?

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