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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Excel Christmas Quiz 2010


A Merry Christmas to all of our readers.
Last year I created a Christmas Quiz in Excel just for fun (last year’s quiz),  but it proved very popular so I thought I should do it again this year.
This time though I thought it might be nice to add a little Christmas present if you get them all right. I won’t tell you what it is and spoil the surprise, but you will find it very useful if you need a spreadsheet. Even if you don’t, I hope you have a bit of fun with the quiz.
Maybe you could even do it without Google!
Good Luck and have a great Christmas break and a fantastic 2011!

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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Lessons I didn't learn until I ran my own business - Lesson 2

Welcome to the second lesson in my occasional series, 5 Lessons I didn't learn until I ran my own business.


Lesson 2: Flexibility is far more important than you think


In the early days of my business, I wanted to make sure I had all of the building blocks in place for the business I wanted in the future. In many cases I made long term commitments to keep the costs down so that I would have a greater share of the income that would eventually come in. This is really faulty logic!


When sales weren't as anticipated, I still had these monthly overheads to cover, whether or not there were any sales - each month leaving me less and less room for manoeuvre. Instead of being able to focus on growing the business, you find yourself focussed on short term sales to feed the overheads and survive until next month.


If I was starting out now, I would focus on trying to make as many costs as possible variable rather than fixed (even if this means that the rates you actually pay are higher). Once you have a proven regular level of sales, you can revisit these and maybe make some longer term commitment to keep the cost down. But if you do, make sure this works for the minimum level of sales you can expect, keeping the flexibility for sales above this.


Ways to stay flexible:


Employees - Where possible use temporary staff, paid by the hour, or outsource to experts by the day as needed. Employ sales people on a commission-only basis or at least with a high commission element to their package.


Stocks - Look at sale or return, or consignment stock arrangements so that you only have to pay for stock you sell. Operate a Just-in-Time approach with suppliers to minimise stock holdings.


Premises - Look for easy-in, easy-out options on offices or workshop space, ideally with a one to three month notice period, so you can flex for the space you need, rather than be tied to the space you've committed to.


Capital purchases - Do you really need that capital item? If you do need it, could it be bought second-hand? Can you pay for it out of cash and avoid a monthly lease commitment? If this is not feasible, try to ensure that there is an exit route, e.g. that the outstanding finance will remain below the resale value, allowing you to get rid of it by stopping the payments.


Vehicles - Although these should be covered by Capital purchases above, I think they deserve a mention on their own. The question, "Do you really need it?" should be asked at least ten times before committing to a vehicle lease in the early days of your business. This is probably the easiest way to take on large monthly commitments that bring little benefit to the business. Trust me, I learned the hard way. You're only kidding yourself when you say the flash car is necessary to bring the business in. Clients/customers are unlikely to be impressed and will more likely drive a hard bargain as they think your margins can stand it.You are buying it because you want to - there is no business case. You need a reasonable car to get you around. When you are making the money, you can get the car you want.


Remember, if you have a 20% profit margin, for every £100 monthly overhead you commit to, you now need to sell an extra £500 to break even! And remember break-even just means earning nothing!




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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Off-the-shelf or bespoke software - How to decide

I have been approached by a client to build a project planning spreadsheet, but given the client's very general requirements, I have pointed him towards an off-the-shelf, on-line solution that will be a much more cost-effective solution for him. This got me to thinking about that choice.

My previous post on how to decide between a spreadsheet or a database made the assumption that you had already decided that you needed a custom solution, but how do you come to that conclusion.

I will take a similar approach to that previous post and list what I think are the key points to consider:

1. How unique is what I need?
Is your requirement something very specific to you or your business or is it quite generic, even if that is just in your industry? The more generic the requirement, the more likely an excellent solution already exists.

2. Do I have some very exacting requirements about how I want the need met?
In a similar vein to point 1, even if you have what appears to be a generic requirement, you may want it implemented in a particular way. We recently developed an on-line time-sheet system for a client because for their business had some very specific ways they wanted to keep time-sheets.

3. Is it possible, or practical, to change the process?
To get the best from an off-the-shelf product, it is better if you can adapt your processes to suit the way the software works. In many cases, this leads to an improvement in the process anyway - but sometimes the current process is key to the business, or a change would cause too much disruption. A bespoke solution can be tailored to the process.

4. How complex is my requirement?
This one really comes down to comparative cost and development time. For a simple requirement, a bespoke solution can often cost little more than an off-the shelf package and be implemented as quickly, but it can be tailored to your exact needs. The more complex the requirement, the more incentive there is to tap into (possibly) years of development that have already gone into an off-the-shelf package where the development costs are shared with the other users, than to pay to re-invent the wheel yourself.

5. What is my budget?
As ever, this is always going to be a factor. In most cases the off-the-shelf package will be the cheapest option, however do bear in mind any costs of tailoring your processes to fit (see point 3).

6. Ultimately, does the package I want exist?
If your answers to the other questions suggest that an off-the-shelf package would be best for you. This is only of any use if an off-the-shelf package exists. Alternatively, you may have just identified a business opportunity!

If you do feel that you need a bespoke solution (either spreadsheet or on-line database), then visit us at Spreadsheets by Email where we can provide you with a cost-effective, fixed price solution.

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Spreadsheet or database - How to decide

There are those who will tell you that every application should be a database and that spreadsheets should never be used, whereas others will look to address every problem with a spreadsheet. How do you decide what is best for your specific requirement?

As with most of these things, neither is right for every application. In this post I want to give you my thoughts about when I believe you should favour either - I would appreciate your views in the comment too, whether agreeing or opposing.

I thought the best way to address this would be as a series of questions about your specific requirement and some comments about how your answer might influence the decision.

I have assumed in the questions below that the decision has already been reached that a bespoke solution is required.

1. Does my application require access (and particularly editing) by multiple users at the same time?
Although there are ways to achieve this with a spreadsheet (for example using Sharepoint with Excel, or if you do not require the functionality of Excel, Google spreadsheets are great at this), a yes to this question should certainly push you down the database route. In most cases, if there is only one user then a spreadsheet is the most cost-effective option.

2. Will large amounts of data need to be held in the application?
If the data really does need to be held in the application, a yes would favour a database, however if the data is already held elsewhere (for example your accounting or ERP system), Excel is an excellent tool for reporting from the data.

3. What interaction (if any) does the application require with other applications?
As stated in point 2, Excel can be an excellent reporting tool from other applications where the data flow is one way (i.e. into Excel). If your application needs two-way communication with other applications, or if it needs to trigger real-time events, such as reminder emails, then a database would normally be more appropriate.

4. Who will use it?
Many users are comfortable with Excel and will find it easy to use, however it is much harder to make "idiot-proof". If you really want to lock it down in such a way that it can't be edited by the user at all, then a database may be more appropriate. With a reasonably competent Excel user, the ability to edit and enhance might be a positive for the spreadsheet solution.

5. Where are the users?
If everyone who might use the application is on the same network (and point 1 is not a major issue), then a spreadsheet held on the server might be what is needed. Alternatively, where the application performs a task (rather than holds data), multiple copies can be used - although this may need to be controlled. An on-line database can be great way to deal with multiple users who need to access the same data from anywhere as all they need is a web browser.

6. What is my budget?
In the real world, this one can't be ignored. Assuming that either approach could address your requirements, it will almost certainly be cheaper to pay a third party to have a spreadsheet built - in many cases you can do it yourself.

I hope this helps. If you need any help in deciding, please feel free to drop me an email. At Spreadsheets by Email we can help you with both spreadsheet solutions and online databases.


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Thursday, 21 October 2010

EXCEL TIP: The IF Statement made simple

One of the functions I use most often in Excel is the IF statement. This function is very powerful and to many can seem very complicated, whereas to others it is deceptively simple and its power can be underestimated.

The basic IF statement


The basic format of an IF statement is as follows:

=IF(if this is true,return this,otherwise return this)


Example:

=IF(A2>3,"Greater than three","Not greater than three")

returns the text Greater than three if the number in cell A2 is greater than 3 and Not greater than three, if it is not.

The first argument can be any expression that can be true or false, usually using =,>,<,<=,>= or <>.

Other Examples:

=IF(A3="X","Yes","No")
=IF(SUM(A2:A10)>B2,"Over Budget","Within Budget")
=IF(A2<0,0,A2)

Combining conditions


All of the above examples include only one condition, but it is possible to combine numerous conditions using the AND and OR functions.

Theses functions are formatted as follows:

=AND(Condition 1, Condition 2, Condition 3.....Condition n)
=OR(Condition 1, Condition 2, Condition 3.....Condition n)

The AND function returns TRUE if ALL of the individual conditions are true.

The OR function returns TRUE if ANY of the individual conditions are true.

They can be used in IF statements as follows:

=IF(AND(A2<=200,A2>=100),"In Range","Out if Range")
=IF(OR(A2="X",B2="X",C2="X"),"Contains X","Doesn't Contain X")

More complex decisions (Nested IF Statements)


If the decision required is more complicated, you can have IF statements within IF statements - this is called Nesting.

Example:

=IF(A2=0,"NIL",IF(A2>0,"POSITIVE","NEGATIVE"))

If A2 is 0, this will return the word NIL, however if A is not 0 the third argument is another IF statement that will return the word POSITIVE if A2 is greater than zero, otherwise it will return NEGATIVE.

And that is the IF statement. Don't forget you can still take the easy route and get your spreadsheet built for you at Spreadsheets by Email.


Click here for our our exclusive offer on Online Excel Training 

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Lessons I didn't learn until I ran my own business - Lesson 1

This post follows on from an earlier one, 5 Lessons I didn't learn until I ran my own business where I listed the top lessons I have learned since starting my own business nearly 10 years ago. I promised I would revisit them in more detail later, so here goes with Lesson 1.


Lesson 1: The salesmen and women were right. Sales must come first.


This is a tough one to swallow from a financial background. I am sure we've all at times thought that salesmen are so full of themselves, thinking that the whole business should revolve around them. They would always think that they are key to the business and we financial people are just overheads. Well, although I wouldn't go that far, there was a lot of truth in what they said.


No matter how fantastic our back-office systems and  processes are, they are still a cost. By making them better, we can reduce that cost, but not eliminate it.


As accountants we should know better than anyone,


Profit = Sales - Costs


If we are being paid our wages, then costs must be positive and it doesn't matter how much we reduce costs, profits will be negative unless sales exceed them.

Like many of us from an accounting background, I followed my instincts and set up all of the back office processes straight away. Thereby creating overheads before sales and guaranteeing early losses.

Starting over I would do it differently. Believe me, it's a lot nicer problem to have sales flooding in and a need to set up processes to account for them, than to have overheads to pay and a need for sales to meet them.


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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

An Introduction to working with dates in Excel

I find that many clients are quite comfortable working with financial figures in Excel, but don't know how useful Excel can be when manipulating dates.

I thought that it might be useful to provide a short post on some of the most useful functions for handling dates in Excel.

One of the simplest functions is the TODAY function, which can be used on its own or within another formula to return today's date. It has no arguments and is essentially a variable (Excel still requires empty brackets after it so that it has the same format as other functions)..

Example:

=TODAY()          will display today's date in the cell


I covered YEAR, MONTH and DAY in an earlier post. These allow you to return the year, month or day respectively (as a number).

Examples:

Where cell A1 contains the date 5th October 2010,

=YEAR(A1)   returns 2010
=MONTH(A1)   returns 10
=DAY(A1)    returns 5

WEEKDAY allows you to identify the day of the week (as a number) of any date. It has two arguments, the first being the date you wish to use and the second (optional) argument being the number 1,2 or 3 depending on how you want to number your days.

1:  Sunday=1 through to Saturday=7
2:  Monday=1 through to Sunday=7
3:  Monday=0 through to Sunday=6

If this argument is not entered then it defaults to setting 1.

Examples:

Where cell A1 contains 5th October 2010 again (a Tuesday),

=WEEKDAY(A1)   returns 3
=WEEKDAY(A1,1)   returns 3
=WEEKDAY(A1,2)   returns 2
=WEEKDAY(A1,3)   returns 1

I hope this has made you feel a little more comfortable when working with dates in Excel.

Don't forget if you want to take the even easier route, we can build your spreadsheet for you at Spreadsheets by Email.


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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

5 Lessons I didn't learn until I ran my own business

When I worked in other people's finance departments I thought I knew everything about business. When I set up my own consultancy business nearly 10 years  ago, there was no stopping me. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way. I thought it might be worth picking out the areas where my thinking has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.

All of the lessons below have been learned since I set out into the wild world of business as that fresh-faced, and incredibly naive, 30 year-old. Education can be very expensive!

I will elaborate on some of them in future posts but for now I just want to put them out there and see what others think - particularly those still working in finance departments.

Lessons I didn't learn until I ran my own business:

  1. The salesmen and women were right. Sales must come first.
  2. Flexibility is far more valuable than you think.
  3. It's not about how you look - it's about what you do.
  4. Cash flow and profitability must come before any other ambition you have for the business.
  5. Never mistake an overhead for a sign of success.
Please comment below whether you agree or disagree. It would also be interesting to know which perspective you are coming from - i.e. whether you are running your own business or not.



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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Where and when are you at your most creative?

As "number-crunchers", it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what we do is not creative. However, to do our jobs well, we need to regularly come up with new approaches to doing things and creative solutions to business or financial challenges - whether that be a creative spreadsheet solution or an innovative structure for an acquisition.

I often find that my best moments of creative inspiration happen when I am out of the work environment altogether. I have had many a flash of genius while lying in the bath!

Recently I have taken to an early morning walk before work that takes in a quiet hillside not far from my house (I took this photo just the other morning). I find that the combination of the quiet (apart from the birds singing), the beautiful views and the exercise really help me to put whatever challenges I might have into perspective and allow me to come at them from a different angle.

I'd love to hear where and when you feel at your most creative.


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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Rules for creating a great spreadsheet

Found a great list of rules for creating better spreadsheets on Chandoo's blog, you can even download a free poster with the 12 rules on it.

One item I would add to this list is my OAP rule, which I have elaborated on in an earlier post.

You can see the original 12 rules by clicking the link below:


12 Rules for Making Better Spreadsheets






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Please let me know what you think of the new look

It's been a busy month here and I have neglected my blog posting duties, however I am now starting to get back on track, starting with a brand new look.

I have tried to stop the blog looking as busy as it did, as well as making it clearer what services I can offer readers - they are all now available in one box at the top left of the new layout.

I would really appreciate any comments below (good and bad) on the new look.


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Monday, 28 June 2010

Ease your World Cup woes and finish June on a positive note

As most of my readers and clients are in England and the USA, this weekend was not a good one for us from a football (or soccer if you prefer) perspective. The USA put up a brave fight against Ghana on Saturday night which is more than can be said for England yesterday against Germany.

I can't take away all of the pain but I will do what I can to ensure that June has not been wasted. To this end, I am offering a 20% discount on almost all of Feechan Consulting's services if paid for before the end of June.

That's:


There's still time to ensure that you remember June for something positive.


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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Come on England! Austerity and adversity have always inspired us!

After George Osbourne's 'Austerity Budget' yesterday (great summary from Accountingweb here), we face a 'do or die' England match this afternoon.

It is in the English character to be inspired by austerity and adversity, just look at how an older generation performed under rationing and during the blitz. As a nation, we are never at our best when things are going well but put our backs up against the wall and put the pressure on and we find hidden strengths.

I suppose what I am saying is that two draws and press vilification on the football front and a recession and a massive belt-tightening at home are ideal preparation for this afternoon's match.

If you need more inspiration, take a look at this video the BBC have put together with Brian Blessed.

Speaking of videos, I feature (briefly) in the video below from Back the Beard supporting Help for Heroes and Great Ormond Street, as I am not shaving while England are still in the competition. I am personally raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support and you can see how the beard's coming along, and donate, at http://www.justgiving.com/HairyGlen.





COME ON ENGLAND!


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Monday, 21 June 2010

Excel Tip: Manipulating text in Microsoft Excel

We all know Excel is great for manipulating numbers but I find I often need to use it to manipulate text, whether that be words or references such as accounts codes. The good news is that Excel has some great formulae for doing this.

I would recommend using the Insert Function (fx) button and looking at the functions in the Text category to see what is available but I will highlight some of the more useful ones here.

The Ampersand

Before we get into any functions it is worth looking at the power of the simple ampersand (&).

You can use the & character to join text together:

Examples:

="Not"&"Just"&"Numbers"  returns NotJustNumbers
="Glen"&" "&"Feechan" returns Glen Feechan
="The account code you are looking for is "&A2 returns The account code you are looking for is 655-300, where cell A2 contains the Account Code 655-300.

RIGHT, LEFT, MID


These three functions allow you to return a section of a piece of text.

=RIGHT(A2,x) returns the last (rightmost) x characters in cell A2
=LEFT(A2,x) returns the first (leftmost) x characters in cell A2
=MID(A2,y,x) returns  x characters from cell A2, but starting at the character in position y

Examples:

=RIGHT("Not Just Numbers",7) returns Numbers
=LEFT(A2,3) returns 655, where cell A2 contains the Account Code 655-300
=MID("Not Just Numbers",4,4) returns Just

LEN


This functions returns the length of a piece of text, in characters.

=LEN(A2) returns the length of the text in cell A2

Example:

=LEN("Not Just Numbers") returns 16 (NB: Spaces are characters)

LOWER, UPPER, PROPER


These three functions allow you to change the case of a piece of text, great for adding consistency to keyed in data. They allow you to convert to Lower Case, Upper Case and Proper Case (lower case with capitals at the start of each word).

Examples:

=LOWER("Not Just Numbers") returns not just numbers
=UPPER("Not Just Numbers") returns NOT JUST NUMBERS
=PROPER("NOT JUST NUMBERS") returns Not Just Numbers


Uses


Many of these functions are useful for manipulating codes, for example if the first 3 digits of your account code indicate the department, then you can use the LEFT function to strip these out and maybe use the result in an IF formula to determine how that code is treated, or with a VLOOKUP to return the name of the department.

Alternatively they can be used for getting data in a consistent format, for example getting address data all in proper case.

The uses are endless, have a play and see what else you can come up with.

And don't forget those of you who have signed up to Excel Advice by Email can just ask.


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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

I'm backing the beard for England and Macmillan

Inspired by James Corden's call on his World Cup Live programme to Back the Beard and not shave until England return home from the World Cup, I thought I might be able to generate some money for a good cause, Macmillan Cancer Support.


I shaved, as I do every day on the morning of Saturday 12th June, prior to England's first match and will not shave again until England are coming home. Hopefully after a victorious World Cup Final on the 11th July. I will be regularly updating my Twitter feed with updated photos of my increasing hairiness.


If you'd like to support this worthy cause, so that my hairiness is not in vain, please visit:


http://www.justgiving.com/HairyGlen


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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Ever feel your business needs re-formatting?

You know when your PC starts running slower and things aren't working the way they should. You know it's become a bit bloated with too many things installed on it. Sometimes the best thing to do is reformat and start again with what you know you need. Everything then runs faster and smoother.

I've been through a similar process with my businesses in the last few weeks.

Since launching the Excel Advice by Email service in the middle of May, we have revamped all three corporate websites with the help of Kelly Cairns:

Feechan Consulting Group
Spreadsheets by Email
FC Procurement

In addition, I have brought in a good friend of mine, Les Pynn, to drive forward the FC Procurement business.

All of this activity is the reason that there has not been a blog post for a few weeks. The process is now, however, pretty much complete with everything shiny and new so that I can concentrate on my day job, including this blog.

Are there any areas of your business that could do with re-formatting and starting again?


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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Excel Advice by Email

If you build and use spreadsheets at work (or at home for that matter), what do you do when you get stuck?

Excel Advice by Email

I have just launched a new service from my Spreadsheets by Email business to provide email support for Excel users such as yourself.

For a small monthly or annual fee, you can email any queries you have and they will be answered by me, or one of my colleagues.

If you act quickly (before Midnight GMT on Thursday 20th May), you can get a 20% discount on the annual subscription.

Find out more details (and subscribe) at:

http://www.spreadsheetsbyemail.biz/ExcelAdvice.htm




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Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Is it just me, or have our politicians been acting responsibly?

After an an incredible few days, as I write this it looks like the UK will be governed by a coalition of David Cameron's Conservative Party and Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats. Hopefully this gives us a strong and stable government.

I do feel some hope as I have been very impressed (and pleasantly surprised) at the responsible approach taken by politicians of all three parties, given the hung parliament that they had to work with.

The challenge of concocting a government where no party has a majority and the only two parties that could muster one between them are not natural bedfellows is quite an ask.

Gordon Brown agreed that these two parties should speak first while carrying out his constitutional duty to maintain the role of Prime Minister until a new government could be formed (far from squatting in Number 10 as the Sun rather shamefully called it). Both Nick Clegg and David Cameron appear to have treated these talks with the seriousness they deserve. Gordon Brown then offered to step down so that if these two could not agree, the politically more obvious (but mathematically more challenging) pairing of Labour and the Lib Dems could become a possibility without his baggage. Nick Clegg then explored this avenue, although it appears to have come to nothing.

Throughout all of this all three parties seem to have acted responsibly and without the usual mudslinging. There may be hope for our parliamentary democracy yet.

As for our press, that's a different matter. A surprising (and rather shocking) number of members of the press don't seem to understand how a parliamentary democracy works.

For a prime example take a look at Adam Boulton's (Sky's main news anchor) remarkable outburst on Sky News below (even Alistair Campbell looked responsible and statesmanlike in comparison):




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Thursday, 6 May 2010

Real benefits of the cloud to smaller businesses

The latest techie buzz-phrase is Cloud Computing, but what it actually is and why it is important to real businesses gets lost in all of the technical and corporate jargon surrounding it. This also leads many of us to think that it is only for the big boys.

Although the technology behind the scenes can be complex, the premise is simple - instead of accessing your applications and data using software installed on your desktop , laptop or server in your office - you access them via a browser on the web.

I have started using many of these tools in my, very small, business and have typically found them simpler, cheaper and more powerful than their locally installed counterparts.

For the record, I am using Kashflow for my accounts, Salesforce.com to manage my relationships with clients, Payroo for my payroll (amazingly this one is free) and have just started using Google Apps for email, calendar, online documents and spreadsheets, etc.

There are numerous other similar packages out there, but I can only talk from my own experience. Please comment below with your own experiences, so that we can have a broader picture.

The general benefits I have found:
  • No IT headaches - I have no software to install, no updates to worry about, no concerns about which version I am using. As long as I have an internet connection, that's all I need to concern myself with;
  • Manageable cost - I can use all of these for a total of less than £65/$100 per month, with no set-up costs;
  • Ease of use - I have found all of the above to be far easier to use than their desktop counterparts;
  • Greater functionality - with these packages I have the kind of functionality only previously available to large organisations who had invested a fortune in their IT infrastructure. I have access from anywhere, on any machine (including my Blackberry). The programs pass information to each other in real time as well as integrating with my web site where I need them to. Even ignoring the benefits resulting from online access, the functionality of each of these programs is typically greater than their desktop equivalent (with the exception of documents and spreadsheets in Google Apps which have far fewer features than the Microsoft Office equivalents, although this is compensated by the fact that they can be shared with anyone, and any number of people can edit them at the same time!);
  • No obsolescence - I am always on the latest version as upgrades happen seamlessly behind the scenes and I am notified of additional features I can now use.
It is early days for me and I will post on this subject again as I learn more, but I genuinely feel that this is a fantastic opportunity for smaller businesses to level the playing field and urge you to give some of these a try - they all have free trial periods.

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Thursday, 22 April 2010

HMRC - making paying tax funny



Sorry, I've been a bad blogger recently. Things have been a bit hectic. I will do my best to post much more regularly now.

I have to thank a new client, Geoff Dowling of Windsor Accountancy,  for forwarding me this gem, as well as www.bringonretirement.co.uk, where he got it from - although I believe it has been forwarded around by email a great deal already.

This is apparently a genuine letter from HMRC in response to a taxpayer:


Dear Sir
I am writing to you to express our thanks for your more than prompt reply to our latest communication, and also to answer some of the points you raise. I will address them, as ever, in order.
Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last as a “begging letter”. It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a “tax demand”. This is how we at the Revenue have always, for reasons of accuracy, traditionally referred to such documents.

Secondly, your frustration at our adding to the “endless stream of crapulent whining and panhandling vomited daily through the letterbox on to the doormat” has been noted. However, whilst I have naturally not seen the other letters to which you refer I would cautiously suggest that their being from “pauper councils, Lombardy pirate banking houses and pissant gas-mongerers” might indicate that your decision to “file them next to the toilet in case of emergencies” is at best a little ill-advised. In common with my own organisation, it is unlikely that the senders of these letters do see you as a “lackwit bumpkin” or, come to that, a “sodding charity”. More likely they see you as a citizen of Great Britain, with a responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the nation as a whole.

Which brings me to my next point. Whilst there may be some spirit of truth in your assertion that the taxes you pay “go to shore up the canker-blighted, toppling folly that is the Public Services”, a moment’s rudimentary calculation ought to disabuse you of the notion that the government in any way expects you to “stump up for the whole damned party” yourself. The estimates you provide for the Chancellor’s disbursement of the funds levied by taxation, whilst colourful, are, in fairness, a little off the mark. Less than you seem to imagine is spent on “junkets for Bunterish lickspittles” and “dancing whores” whilst far more than you have accounted for is allocated to, for example, “that box-ticking fa├žade of a university system.”

A couple of technical points arising from direct queries:

1. The reason we don’t simply write “Muggins” on the envelope has to do with the vagaries of the postal system; 

2. You can rest assured that “sucking the very marrows of those with nothing else to give” has never been considered as a practice because even if the Personal Allowance didn’t render it irrelevant, the sheer medical Logistics involved would make it financially unviable.

I trust this has helped. In the meantime, whilst I would not in any way wish to influence your decision one way or the other, I ought to point out that even if you did choose to “give the whole foul jamboree up and go and live in India” you would still owe us the money. Please send it to us by Friday.

Yours sincerely

[Annoyed but funny HMRC employee]



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Thursday, 11 March 2010

Do you need an on-line tool rather than a spreadsheet?




You may be familiar with the simple process that we use at Spreadsheets by Email to make it easy for clients to get the spreadsheet they want as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

Sometimes, however, a spreadsheet is not the ideal answer to the problem and an on-line database application is more appropriate - particularly if:
  • Multiple users need access at the same time;
  • Not all users will have Excel or another spreadsheet package on their PC;
  • Some users need mobile access;
  • The requirement is more of a database solution.
We have today added this service to the Spreadsheets by Email website.

Just visit the on-line tools page for more information.


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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Credit Crunch solved!




Well maybe not, but I had to share this entertaining story that was forwarded to me on a round-robin email. Apologies if you have seen it:

"It's a slow day in a little South Devon town. The sun is beating down,and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.  
         
On this particular day a rich tourist from up north is driving through town. He stops at the motel and lays a £100 in cash on the desk saying he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.
 
As soon as the man walks upstairs, the owner grabs the notes and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.
 
The butcher takes the £100 and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer.
   
The pig farmer takes the £100 and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel.
 
The guy at the Farmer's Co-op takes the £100 and runs to pay his debt to the local prostitute, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer her "services" on credit.
 
She rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill with the hotel owner.
 
The hotel proprietor then places the £100 back on the counter so the rich traveller will not suspect anything.
 
At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, picks up the £100, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves town.
 
No one produced anything. No one earned anything.
 
However, the whole town is now out of debt and now looks to the future with a lot more optimism.
 
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the British Government is conducting business today."

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Friday, 5 March 2010

What's the point of business plans?

This evening I attended a really interesting and informative event run by The Entrepreneurs' Forum at Durham Business School entitled "The Challenges of Growth".

It was a panel event where four successful entrepreneurs were quizzed about how they grew their businesses.

One particularly interesting point was that none of the four said they set out with a detailed business plan and they had all only used business plans for raising finance or later in their business when they needed to co-ordinate the activities of  a much bigger workforce.

They all seemed to feel that the flexibility and agility they had been able to display through the lack of a detailed plan had worked in their favour.

I must admit I am inclined to agree with them, but what do you think?






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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Bankers' Bonuses rewards for simple mechanical tasks

I stumbled across this really interesting and entertaining video of Dan Pink discussing the social science behind  motivation and rewards. In the speech, he quotes some 2005 research where economists, D. Ariely et al, set a bunch of MIT students various tasks with varying levels of bonuses for success.

Their results were intriguing:

As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.


But once the task called for "even rudimentary cognitive skill," a larger reward "led to poorer performance."

These results have been borne out in many other studies too.

The logical conclusion of this research, if the bankers are right in that they need to be paid their huge bonuses, is that investment banking does not require even rudimentary cognitive skill. An interesting thought.

I'd recommend watching the whole video. It explains why, for most types of work, bonuses reduce performance rather than improve it and gives us all food for thought when it comes to rewarding our own employees.




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Thursday, 18 February 2010

Become a Pivot Table Expert and save




Apologies for a blatantly promotional post, but I think many of you might find it very useful.




To celebrate the 1st birthday of Spreadsheets by Email I am making a very special offer on our Introduction to Pivot Tables course.


Purchase the Introduction to Pivot Tables video course on or before 25th February and receive a massive 50% discount on the purchase price.


But that's not all - Purchase the course before this date and you will receive a voucher for 20% off any spreadsheet you want built at Spreadsheets by Email.

So, what better time than right now to become a Pivot Table Expert.

End of blatant promotionalism.



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Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Using the OFFSET function in Microsoft Excel (Great for budgets)

The OFFSET function is incredibly useful, especially when looking up budget information. It allows you to look up data based upon its position relative to another cell.

The format is:

=OFFSET(reference,rows,cols,[height],[width])

[arguments in square brackets are optional]


where:

reference is the cell reference from which you wish to calculate the offset
rows is how many rows you wish to count down (up if negative) from reference
cols is how many columns you wish to count to the right (left if negative) of reference
height is the height of the range returned (1 if not entered)
width is the width of the range returned (1 if not entered)

To use this to look up budget data in management accounts:

Where your 12 months budget figures are in cells E5 to P5, and your current period number is stored in cell A5, you can use the formula =OFFSET(E5,0,A5-1) to return the current month's budget.

To return the cumulative budget for the current month, you would use the optional arguments along with the SUM function - i.e. =SUM(OFFSET(E5,0,0,1,A5)). This returns a the sum of the range that starts at cell E5 (month 1), has a height of 1 row and a width of the number of months to date.

Have a play with this function, see what you can do with it. Also, let me know in the comments below any other uses you have for this function.

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Please judge my blog jiggery pokery

I have made a number of changes to the layout of the blog and would appreciate any comments. I have tried to make it look cleaner as well as allowing additional information to be shown in a new side-bar down the right as well as the left.

Please comment below with any feedback.

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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Top 5 Tips to make Excel Spreadsheets work for you




I thought I would share with you an article I was kindly asked to write for Malcolm Gallagher's Achiever Newsletter. It's a nice summary of what I think are the top 5 most useful things to learn to get the most out of Excel. I'd also love to hear any you feel I have missed (please use the comments below).

Here is the article:

Top 5 Tips to make Excel Spreadsheets work for you

You probably already use Excel in your business to some extent, but very few businesses even scratch the surface of what it can do for them. I build spreadsheets for businesses throughout the world and below I will show you the top 5 things you should know to really start making Excel work for your business:

1.      Learn Pivot Tables - The number one spot has to go to learning how to create a Pivot Table. A pivot table allows you to analyse any data you have, whether you have keyed it in or pulled it from a database such as your accounting software, in seconds. Master these and you will amaze yourself with how you can master your data. There is not enough space here to show you how to do this, but here is a FREE VIDEO that will take you through it step-by-step.
2.      Find the Insert Function (fx) button - This little tip pushed pivot tables close for the number one spot because it allows you to use any function Excel has, without knowing it first. All you need to do is click the little fx button to the left of the formula bar and you can browse all of Excel’s formulae. It will tell you what the formula does, how to use it and then help you to fill in the arguments step-by-step. To see how it does this, just click on it, or see this blog post for more detail.
3.      Use dropdowns for data entry – The information you get from a spreadsheet is only as good as the data you (or your employees) put in. It is very easy to use Excel’s Data Validation to create a drop-down list that only allows you to enter data from that list. I have created a blog post that covers how to do this in detail.
4.      Learn the VLOOKUP formula – You can access this via the Insert Function (fx) facility discussed in point 2. VLOOKUP allows you to look up data from a list in a spreadsheet. For example, you could enter a product code and automatically show the description and price from a separate price list. Use the fx button for more detail or watch the FREE VIDEO on my blog.
5.      Learn how to record a macro – a macro is a short program attached to a spreadsheet that carries out a particular task. The good news is that you do not need to be a programmer to create one – when you have a repetitive task you can simply ask Excel to record you carrying out the task and create a macro to do it automatically next time. You do this by selecting Tools > Macro > Record New Macro… Again, there is a short FREE VIDEO on my blog.
Hopefully these tips help you to tap into how Excel can help your business, just question whenever you are manually manipulating data whether it can be done in Excel – it almost certainly can.
For those of you who don’t have the time, or the inclination, to build the spreadsheet you need, why not let my team and I do it for you at Spreadsheets by Email?



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