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I’ve lost count on the number of apps that have emerged to cover almost an endless array of possible tasks. I’m all for productivity so I never take a dig at a system trying to improve a persons output. That being said when you’re overwhelmed with information or data and you want it organised quickly with more than enough flexibility to manipulate it later then nothing beats a spreadsheet.

Outside of my core applications that I mostly use on mobile such as Evernote, Asana and those apps for health tracking day-to-day I still use spreadsheets for a stack of things. As an owner of a large quality management system within a pharmaceutical company it’s in my best interest, not to mention a requirement for compliance, to be on top of all key pieces of information that can impact the output of product quality or patient safety. In personal projects outside of my leadership role, for instance, this blog, personal finances, or even business I can always rely on my love affair with Excel to trend, gather, manipulate and interpret key pieces of information.

Here are 5 of my favourite reasons I still think spreadsheets are sexy and how you can use them too;

Versatile. Flexible. Transferrable. Most cloud based apps, CRMs and software packages that contain a “field” will allow existing data importation from an excel spreadsheet. This means if you have an existing excel spreadsheet of say, client contacts, member details, product details etc. it is quite likely you will be able to import them into a new system when the time comes. This is particularly useful for companies or businesses that have legacy systems and have been wanting to upgrade but are afraid they wont be able to keep all the data they have gathered over the years. Having also worked alongside my Father in his organisation as a Marketing and Branding Manager in none other than a Real Estate Company we have had to update with technology to keep up with the pace and management of an ever growing database of clients. It seems the harder you work the more clients you manage. Go figure right? A few years ago I had organised the transfer of an existing paper based system into a cloud package for contact management. With a bit of code my developer was able to populate all of our data into the new system relatively quickly. This means we now have access to the business from virtually anywhere at anytime.

Trends analysis. If you run a business or manage a system that is dynamic and always evolving you can appreciate the usefulness of information about where you are and where you think you are heading. A lot of CRM software packages on the market are great for tracking details of your last client contacts, linking them to products or services, intra-database relationships etc. but when you need to manipulate the information with more flexibility you often find the little “export to .csv” button sitting in the corner. This is where the fun begins. By spending a little time getting savvy with the features of a spreadsheet package you will be able to determine trends in customer purchases, product quality issues, returns, customer complaints, distribution times by product, demographic and/or geographic, best sellers, trending sales, previous year to date sales etc. Some of you reading this will be thinking – isn’t this the normal thing to be doing in business anyway? You’re not wrong for thinking that but don’t be surprised to know that many businesses don’t capture this information. Crazy, right?

Business or process capability. Depending on the key indicators you feel matter most to your business or the processes that run it there is a good chance you could be missing out on valuable information around how “capable” the operation or process is running against either your own targets or indicators or against what it has historically been the output. What characteristic do all of the worlds best brands or companies share in common? Consistency. Consistency is monitored through analysis of process output. Those brands or businesses that consistently produce quality product usually outperform their competition. Let’s say you are a baker or patisserie and produce large quantities of bread. You will agree that there are key ingredients that go into your bread and optimum temperatures at which to bake it. If you are a baker that likes to innovate and happen to create a product that people really love, in fact, rave about, at some stage quantity of output will increase. In order to control consistency when volume increases things like oven temperature, humidity and amount of dry ingredient will likely require minimal variability and any possible chance of facing variability will need to be determined early so issues don’t impact sales. A simple spreadsheet with key bits of information like this can mean the difference between a corner store and a growing multinational.

Tracking spending, forecasting and managing finances. I know for me personally that having a spreadsheet that tracks my finances means I’m managing my money and not the other way around. Anytime I have softened on this rule I have felt it on the hip – this applies to personal finances or spending in business. A financial spreadsheet can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. It could be a simple itemised list of things tallied against your salary or turnover to full scale forecasting, predicted expenses and an indicator of how far away or on track you are towards an end financial goal.

Managing your own or your teams KPIs. If for example you are in sales then it’s almost certain you will have a target against client calls, meetings, conversions, IPS or any combination thereof. If you are serious about results then it’s likely you will have set some goals around your own performance or want to track yourself against those set by whoever you report too. Most companies will have a system for this in place already, but again, you will be surprised at how many don’t. What ever your industry if you want to set some targets for results the consider working backwards from the end goal.What will it take to achieve x? Break it down depending on the business cycle you work with. If it’s monthly then divide your goal by months, weeks and then days. This information is easily setup in a spreadsheet into rows and columns and from there the possibilities for interpretation are endless. You can use it to see how many contacts convert to sales, what the best times in the day, week, month or year for conversion are etc. and of course, how much of your effort manifests in to a financial outcome.

Whatever your trade, job, business or role in the family home a spreadsheet can often help systematise things into something more manageable. With that said, I’ll still throw some caution to the wind – what was once a simple excel spreadsheet can turn into a monster of useless information very quick which can detract you from the real reason why you started it in the first place. Learn to use them effectively and manage them well and you can expect to see some outstanding results. They have stood the test of time for a reason.

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Image linked courtesy of microsoft.com.

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