Woman working on laptop.
Microsoft Excel is part of the Office software collection, and it's essential for small business owners looking to keep track of any kind of data. — Getty Images/Poike

Using Microsoft Excel can be a headache for any less-than-tech-savvy business owner. From the myriad techniques used for adding and subtracting to more advanced organizational and calculation-heavy formatting, Excel can be difficult to learn and master. To make sense of Excel’s many uses, here are some tips and tricks you can use to get Excel to work for you and not against you.

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Is Excel helpful for small businesses?

A recent study showed that 68% of companies and small businesses rely on Excel for the majority of their data preparation needs. Not only is it incredibly versatile, but Microsoft Excel can also store vast swaths of business data that could make or break the success of your business. That is why it is important to understand the services and tools Excel provides before you dive in and start tinkering with the numerous tools and tricks the software offers its users. Below are a collection of tips and methods you can use yourself to decrypt the mysteries of Excel and get back to running your business.

Excel tools for small business productivity

Sum tool

In order to do this in the quickest and most efficient manner, simply highlight the cell where you would like your final answer to appear, then press Alt and the plus (+) symbol. After this, you can add numbers from different cells more easily and get your desired answer more efficiently. While it certainly is not a panacea for all your business calculation necessities, using the sum tool can keep you from getting mired in data organization and save you time and money that could be more effectively directed toward growing your business.

Not only is it incredibly versatile, but Microsoft Excel can also store vast swaths of business data that could make or break the success of your business.

Pivot tables

This tool is by far Excel’s best-kept secret. Pivot tables can be implemented to display revenue data by offering, type of client and even the month a client was booked. It ultimately allows users to organize raw data in almost any form and sort it into tables or use it in a multitude of other ways to be determined at the discretion of the business owner, depending on their data-related needs and long-term business goals.

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Text to columns

When you need to parse through mountains of business data and don’t have much time, the text-to-columns tool can do wonders for your data organization needs. The tool can even be used to cut and paste data from the web into an Excel spreadsheet. From there, you can split the data into separate columns, which can then be used as tables for whatever data you choose to input. As PDFs have gradually become the most commonly shared file type, text to columns is tremendously useful when you need to copy and paste information or data from a PDF.

Audit toolbar

In essence, the audit toolbar is a more sophisticated, digitally driven way to check that your calculations are correct, so as to save you potential embarrassment when you present to your colleagues or potential customers. The toolbar archives your work by graphically tracing which cells are included in a given mathematical formula used in your Excel project. For those of you who are organization mavens, the audit toolbar ensures the right columns correlate with the right rows, no matter the formula you use.

Highlighted panes

You won’t be able to properly calculate your data if you can’t see it clearly. Freezing highlighted panes guarantees that cells remain visible as you enter additional data further down the page. This is especially useful when you need to compare facts and figures between different sheets, be they quarterly or yearly reports on EBITDA or other vital business figures. The panes themselves can be split into multiple worksheets, so you can interact with a single pane while the data on the other pane remains static.

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