In 2003 I was a young sailor on a submarine in the Pacific Ocean. I knew how to install software, configure routers, and write some code. So, when my senior officer asked me how to use Excel to create a pie chart, it was completely expected that I knew how to do that, too. But I didn’t have a clue! And, I didn’t have the ability to just go to Google it. (There is no constant internet connection on a submarine.)
Wherever you are in your life right now, you’ve got it easy. If you want to make a pie chart, or a cherry pie, the internet can show you how!
Recently, I was helping a client of mine to polish up a business plan in preparation for a loan application. He had a year worth of data from sales, inventory, investments, etc. and five years’ worth of projections based on the investments he wants to make. I ended up showing him how to make some charts, and format his spreadsheets. We reworked a good percentage of his data and used referential cells so that we could show how the numbers would change if one of the assumptions changed, such as a 10% increase in sales compared with a 20% increase in sales. This also made it easy to see what would happen if he extended his hours. After showing him a few basic charting tips he put together a professional looking document with full color charts that really brought his business numbers to life.
Today, the ability to use technology effectively is not a marketable skill, it’s a nonnegotiable requirement. But, that doesn’t mean that you need to be a whiz. The internet is full of how-tos and useful tips. Mastering a search engine and thinking “there’s got to be a better way” will steer you towards mastering your software tools. I’ve already covered “Google fu” in another post. Here are some examples of things to know about how to boost your Excel (or any other spreadsheet app).
There are many resources on the internet, each with their own style for presenting the ‘how-to’. You may find videos better, or maybe you learn better by reading and then doing. Whatever your preference for a spreadsheet application, there are plenty of sources for you.
Here’s a complete two-hour portfolio that’s a good place to start if you have little to no understanding about spreadsheets.
Freeze panes are fun and they make it so that you can hold horizontal or vertical labels in place and scroll across multiple rows or columns of data without having to remember which data is in which row or column.
Referential cells make it really easy to change one or more variables in a formula. You can incrementally increase variables and do many other cool things with cell references.
Filter and sort is a great tool that helps you organize your data or extract just a selected portion of your data based on the values or even the colors of cells.
Here’s everything to know about graphs (charts). Everything.
Most of what you can do in Excel, you can do in the alternative spreadsheet apps like Numbers on Mac OS or even Google Sheets. Here’s an example of how you can do charting in Sheets.