Category Archives: Small Business

Never Update the Pivot Table Source Range Again

Pivot tables are one of the most helpful tools in Microsoft Excel.  I literally use it everyday for the various projects I work on.  One of the crucial steps when working with a Pivot Table is to update your source range.  Updating a source range is needed when new data is added.  This is an easy step to forget when you are working on multiple time sensitive projects.  There are two ways to get around this issue.  The first technique is to transform the source range into a table.  A table is a way to tag a group of cells in Excel.  To change a group of rows and columns to a table do the following:




1. Click Insert

2. Click Table

Select Table Range3. Specify the data range of the table

4. Click Ok

Range to Table

5. The source range has been transformed into an official Excel table

The next step would be to create a pivot table and specify the table range.  Excel will automatically recognize that this is a special “table”.  Now any additional rows or columns  you add to the table will be automatically carried to the pivot table.  All you have to do is refresh the pivot table.  Tables are handy tools which have other benefits as well.  We will share another approach on how to automatically update a source range in our upcoming class. Register here.





The Excel Rosetta Stone – Decoding Complex Excel Functions and Formulas

Recently, I’ve been getting quite a few questions about ways to understand complicated Excel formulas.  To put it in simple terms breaking down an Excel formula is like learning another language.  At first glance it may seem difficult and daunting but once you have the “Rosetta Stone” it becomes simple and seamless.  The following outlines a few tools and techniques which can be used to unlock the mysteries of Excel functions and formulas.


Evaluate Formula Tool

Complex functions and formulas are typically nested within one another.  What is nesting? Nesting is the process of combining multiple functions into a long formula.  There are pros and cons to creating a large nested formula.  The Pro: Spreadsheet real estate is saved.  A complex calculation is included in one cell. The Con: A large formula is included in one cell.  Large formulas are usually harder to understand and take time to correct or debug.  The evaluate formula tool is one of those tools which can help unlock the mystery behind long complex formulas and functions.   This tool essentially walks you through each calculation step that Excel takes until a final result is displayed.

Select Formula Menue

Select Formula Menu

  1. Click on Formulas
  2. Click on Evaluate Formula

3. The formula in the cell appears in the evaluation window

4. Click Evaluate to watch the first calculation step

  5. Click Evaluate additional times to watch each calculation step

6. The last evaluation step shows a simplified version of the original formula

Function Button

The function button sometimes referred to as FX is a tool which is rarely used but has a tremendous benefit. The FX function is like a dictionary, it gives additional description about a function.  In addition when clicked a dialogue box appears which reveals step by step instructions on how to use the function.  It’s a huge time saver and it helps pinpoint common errors.   In order to use this function to begin to understand a complex function click on the cell that contains the function then on the Fx button.  A dialogue box is exposed showing the purpose of the function, the elements needed and the intended result.  Below are a few brief steps on how to use it.

  1. Click on the Fx button next to the formula bar

Note: The active cell must contain the formula

2. A dialogue box is revealed outlining the following

a. Description of required  elements

b. General description of function

c. Anticipated result based on populated values


Understanding the Symbols

 Another way to begin to easily understand complex functions is to understand the operators and symbols. Every Excel formula has symbols and each carries a specific meaning.  Very often using the wrong symbol can be the difference between accuracy and error.  For example there are mathematical operators which are needed for arithmetic in Excel.  In addition there are other characters which are used to define worksheet locations etc.  In our post titled Excel Characters, we highlighted different symbols used in Excel and there meaning.  It’s a great primer to understanding complex functions.

Complex formulas and functions will never be eliminated from the world of Excel.  With the tools and techniques mentioned above these formulas and functions can be translated into plain language.

Excel in Financial Planning and Forecasting

Recently I read this articled titled Excel in Financial Planning and Forecasting: The old same problem for CFOs.  This was a great post which summarized the wide spread usage of Microsoft Excel in the area of financial planning and forecasting. In short, “43% of respondents use Microsoft Excel for financial planning and budgeting”. According to the article In spite of the high usage of Excel many survey respondents had some concerns about using this tool.   Amongst the concerns were:

  • Inability to preform what-if Scenarios
  • Inflexibility of Excel
  • Not friendly to users
  • Lack of skilled staff to perform the task

Many of the highlighted reasons stem from the limited Microsoft Excel expertise available in many organization.  Skilled staff should be able to create a financial model that solve the concerns above.  A financial model can be built to handle the planning and forecasting process in a seamless way.  What is a financial model?  Think of a model train.  The train model looks like a real train but may not have all of the components.  It resembles the real life version in some form or another.  A financial model is used to  forecast the impact on an organizations finances based on “what-if” scenarios.  Internal or external changes can be entered into the model to review the change on a business. The purpose of a financial model is to paint a financial picture, test various scenarios and support fact based decisions.  If this tool is built properly it can alleviate all of the concerns highlighted in the article above.  

In order to build a sound financial model a few things should be kept in mind.  The models that we have built in the past for institutions are the result of a through fact gathering process.  The process includes multiple discussions with key personnel, research on the specific industry and review of prior financial statements to name a few. As a result the models are more accurate, flexible and provide information quickly.  In order to build a good financial model below are  a few things which should be kept in mind: 

Build Ability to Test What-If Scenarios

Utilize tools in Excel like drop-downs and links to create the ability to test scenarios dynamically.

Design with Environment in Mind

In order to design with the environment in mind research the industry and key trends.  Include this information in the model.

Design with User in Mind

This is a key part of any software design.  Interview key stakeholders.  Who will be using the model? Who do they report to?  What type of information will they need to produce?  What types of ad-hoc request did they receive in the past?  What is the proficiency level of the primary user with Excel?  The answers to these questions and others will help in the design of a tool that is easy to use.

Outsource Design & Internalize Knowledge

Many organization lack the skilled staff to build such a tool.  In many cases it is ideal to outsource the development of the tool but internalize the knowledge associated with it.  For example, often after we develop a tool for an organization we provide training and documentation.  After this point key personnel are able to modify the financial model as the business changes or products\services are added.

Microsoft Excel has become the software of choice for planning and forecasting primarily due to its flexibility.  This same reason is a source of concern for many organizations which lack the skilled staff.  Outsourcing the design of a financial model can increase accuracy and speed up the planning and forecasting process.



Understanding Your Small Business Revenue

Over the past few weeks I’ve been attending FastTrac Growth Venture©.  This is a entrepreneurship program designed by the Kauffman Foundation to help revenue generating small businesses grow to the next level.  During one of the sessions each business owner took some time to dive into there revenue patterns.  Understanding revenue patterns is a critical piece of every business.  A good understanding of this line item can help business owners plan for cyclical slowdowns, identify high volume customers or lucrative products\services. Below are a few things you can implement in your business right away to begin to understand the revenue numbers:

Create a Cash Flow Analysis – Cash flow is the movement of money in and out of your business. Analyzing your cash flow can help you plan for late paying customers and slow seasons.  Analyzing your cash flow in advanced can help your business stay away from costly stop gap measures like a line of credit. An analysis tool can be created in a tool like Excel or by utilizing a stand-alone package like Quickbooks.

Create Revenue Slices – There are different ways to cut your revenue to discern patterns.  For example as a small business owner you can cut your revenue by client demographics, product\service type or  various time horizons to name a few.  Each slice tells a different perspective, together they tell a story about your businesses revenue.  These slices can be setup with a simple table in Excel.  The addition of trend visualization tools like sparklines can assist with identifying revenue patterns.  

Every business owner should understand the numbers, especially the revenue numbers.  In addition business owners should develop a plan to measure and provoke growth.  With the help of some of the techniques highlighted here small business owners can soar to new heights in revenue.

Small Business Break-even Point

Break-even Point


One bit of information every business owner and start up should know is there break-even point.  The break-even point is the juncture at which revenue is equal to expenses.  This information helps business owners understand the number of units they need to sell in order to cover expenses. In the example above we arrive at the break even point by dividing the total fixed expenses of $1,000 by the per unit price which is $20.  The result of 50 represents the number of units which need to be sold in order to break even.

2014 NYC MWBE Procurement Plans

2014 NYC MWBE Procurement Plans

2014 NYC MWBE Procurement Plans

Business owners are always looking for opportunities for new clients.  The government can be great clients for many small businesses but planning is needed.  We came across publicly available data, digested in Excel to show you what agencies plan on spending in 2014.  Data leads to knowledge.  How will you use this knowledge?


5:30am , Spain & Vlookup

Up at 5:30am today I was on a phone call with a small business in Spain (a six hour time difference).  They requested a price quote on automating some internal processes using Excel.  One item which came up was the usage of unique identifiers in functions like Vlookup. This function uses a “key” to match and pull values from different worksheets.  I explained to the potential client that using names as the key would not be ideal for this function as there maybe multiple John Smith’s or John Adams’.  A more thorough approach would be using an identifier like an id number.  The client proceeded to explain that in Spain names are very unique.  A name is a composite of first name, Mother’s last name, Father’s last name and in some cases Grandmother’s last name.  These combinations produced a truly unique name which could be used as a “key”.  In this country using a name as a key may pass the test.

You’ve heard the saying “when in Rome”, well “when in Spain.”

Spelling Helper In Excel

Grammar and spell checking is unfortunately the last thing people think about when using Microsoft Excel.  While this may be at the forefront with tools like Microsoft Word it is overlooked when using Excel.  This oversight is significant.  I can’t tell you how many spreadsheets I’ve received with “Totls”, “chrts” and the like.

Clicking the spell check tool available under Review tab is a simple but powerful approach to preserving the integrity of your document in the eyes of the reviewer.  Very often presentation is everything.

Business Cash Flow and Microsoft Excel

“A company that does not effectively manage its cash flow by balancing income and expenses on a day-to-day basis is poised for collapse.”  This quote by Timothy Hatten a business professors summarizes the importance of cash flow management for a Small Business.  Cash flow is the life blood of a business…it must be conserved and used wisely lest the organization perish.
In one of our recent Excel business workshops I discussed how this tool can be used to manage cash flow.   Excel is a great tool to begin to create a cash flow budget and monitor spending against that budget.  Cash flow must be a concern for startups and seasoned organizations alike.

Excel 2003 vs. 2007 Format

Many businesses have transitioned from Excel 2003 to Excel 2007 (and beyond).  The question then becomes what to do with those old Excel file formats?  Documents created in Excel 2003 are saved in an .xls format.  Documents created in Excel 2007 and 2010 are saved in a .xlsx format. This is no subtle difference.  Files saved as .xlsx cannot be opened in Excel 2003.  On the other side files saved as .xls can be opened in Excel 2007 but have limited functionality.  One solution to this problem is to convert old files into the latest Excel format.  This would require going to each file and saving it in the new format.  In many organizations this can be hundreds of files.  A quicker approach would be to use VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) a programming language to make these file changes in seconds.  Contact us today to learn more about this method.