Getting more out of your computer – Excel

So after all this time you finally gave in and bought a computer. You attended a few basic classes and learnt how to create folders and files, use Word and Excel and maybe even PowerPoint. But now, do you ever wonder to yourself whether or not that box and screen on your desk are earning their keep? Do you ever think – this computer, it is nothing more than a very expensive typewriter? During my travels in Tanzania I have seen computers put to a wide range of tasks. All too frequently it seems that businesses and individuals have obtained computers because of an overwhelming sense that they should catch up with the so called modern world. Beyond this there is only a flimsy understanding of what the computer is actually for. For many tasks Tanzanians will still turn to using paper and pencil and calculator, instead of utilising the quite large investment that a computer represents. So how can you really use your computer in such a way that you recoup your investment and get the benefits you rightly expect?

Knowledge is Power

Computers were invented to deal with information or data more quickly than a human can. Therefore, you can use your computer to bring information to your attention that otherwise would be hidden by the complexity of dealing with it.

If you are sitting down regularly with paper, pencil and calculator to work out your business’ monthly accounts and your computer is sitting idle, then you are wasting a valuable opportunity. You could use Excel or another spreadsheet to do all the calculations for you – you just have to enter all the figures, and then hit the sum (?) symbol. Voila! It goes further than making it easy to add up – once the data is in Excel, you can do more with it. If you have entered dates with your figures, you can examine when in the month, week or day money is flowing in and out of your business. This might not just be interesting. You can use the knowledge to adjust your business practices – for example, if you own an internet caf� you might notice that Monday mornings attract few customers. This information could suggest that you reduce your prices on Monday morning to attract more custom, or you close on Monday mornings, saving costs.

Another example – if you run a safari business and use Excel to keep track of your outgoings you might notice more quickly that a particular vehicle is being maintained on a frequent basis – Excel might help you realise that you would
actually save money by buying a new vehicle.

Excel is designed to help you get the most from the information you enter into it. It isn’t just there so you can send accurate returns to the taxman! Once you have established what you want from Excel, you can create templates that will do everything except for enter the data. Once the data is in, the calculations are carried out almost instantly!

Templates for success

You don’t even have to make your own templates – some useful ones come bundled with Excel. If you go the File menu and select New… you will find options to open from a template. In Excel XP this takes place in the New Document workpane that appears to the right of the screen. Click on General Templates… under New From Template. This takes you to a tabbed window. On older versions of Excel, when you click on New… you go straight to this. Clicking on the various tabs will show you what templates have come preinstalled. For example, Excel XP comes with the Loan Amortization template,
which helps you calculate how to pay off a loan, and how much interest will cost you. You could use this to compare different lenders based on their terms of payment.

More templates are available from the Office web site ( – not only for Excel but also for Word and PowerPoint. They are organised by topics such as Finance and Accounting, or Orders and Inventory, and subtopics which help you find what you need from the hundreds of templates available.

One thing to note is that to download templates from Microsoft’s site you will need the Office CD that was used to install Excel on your machine. Another reason to make sure that whoever sells you a computer includes installation CDs!

Using templates that other people have made and share means you do not have to reinvent the wheel. However, it is worthwhile learning a little about making templates in case you find that what you need isn’t available. Learning a
little more will also let you make changes to existing templates – a lot of people use the same invoice template for example – you can make your business look more professional.

Originally published in Arusha Times 289


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