21 Excel Tips and Tricks to Become a Spreadsheet Sensei

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  • 3/10/2017

    21 Excel Tips and Tricks to Become a Spreadsheet Senseiprocess.st/excel-tips-and-tricks/

    Adam Henshall

    March 10, 2017

    In 2013, 90% of businesses reported using Microsoft Excel in their business operations.

    In 2016, 1 in 5 companies report using Excel as their primary mode of communicating data internally.

    However, the world is catching up and Excel is wandering into a future of SaaS apps and automation. If you haveExcel deep within the structures of your business, this article will show you two key things:

    1. How to get the most out of Excel. Learn how to do more than the basic calculations and how to bringautomation into your Excel operations.

    2. The other automation tools on the market which you can begin to integrate into your operations as you moveforward.

    What were going to do is lay out a series of steps by which you can get more from Excel. Were going to start offsuper simple with our Excel for dummies, and move gradually up to complex tasks which can really demonstratethe power of Excel.

    Are you ready?


    Firstly, lets look at what Excel is usually employed for.1/16


  • Excel for Dummies

    Every companys use case for Excel may be subtly different. Nevertheless, there are a couple of core functionsExcel is often given the responsibility of handling.


    Many companies use Excel for defining working hours and timesheets. This can often be used to manage payrollfor companies which pay via hourly employment, or defining contractor relationships. Excel is often also used toschedule meetings or availability of meeting rooms and other workspaces. Traditionally, this would require anindividual working in an administrative capacity to be responsible for managing these spreadsheets. With Microsoft365 and other improved services over the years, much of this work has been shifted into cloud-based provision.

    Tip 1: To make your scheduling work more clearly, use color coding on your spreadsheet with a neat key on theside. Each cell can be given a different background color and you can enhance the borders on headers to make thetable easier to understand at a glance. You can do this easily by selecting your data, right clicking, and selectingTable. Excel will automatically make it look pretty, then you can customize.

    Accounting reporting

    Excels spreadsheet and basic calculation functionality have historically made it an essential feature of accountingdepartments. Its very easy to record data and manage that data, adding and subtracting against columns .Through being able to easily generate reports and charts, Excel provided and continues to provide a way to bothmanage accounting tasks and to compile and present accounting performance in easy to use ways.

    Tip 2: You can do simple calculations within Excel using commands like SUM. To run these commands, select thecell you want the result to appear in and type =SUM followed by brackets with the number of the first cell in thecolumn you want to add up. Then add a colon to separate it from the last cell in the column you wish to addtogether and close the brackets. Press enter and Excel will add that range up for you.

    Tracking performance



  • If you wish to understand your companys operations by numbers, Excels spreadsheet view provides an intuitiveway to record all relevant data and see how certain elements relate to others. You can track production costs versussales performance and map that against operating costs with ease. From this base, you can use Excel to drawprojections and spot downstream problems in your business operations. Excel has been used in boardroomsacross the world to understand company direction.

    Tip 3: To calculate a series of cells you can do simple commands. If you have a column for revenue and one forcosts, you can calculate profits by selecting the cell you want this to appear in and typing = followed by the numberfor the revenue-total cell, the minus sign, and then the number for the costs-total cell. Press enter and Excel doesthe calculation for you. If you used the SUM formula above to calculate those totals, then any number whichchanges in the revenue or costs columns will make Excel recalculate the profit total .

    Customer information

    As you gather new customers, you need to keep track of them and the different variables pertaining to theirrelationship with your company. Excel is often used to record this customer information, with the ability to easilysearch for specific customers within this database making it a simple way to record and track individual contracts.With the ability to create new columns as and when they are needed, the spreadsheet layout makes the datacontained highly malleable.

    Tip 4 + 5: When compiling data on customers, you may record the date they joined you or the date they purchasedyour product. When you enter a date into Excel, it automatically understands you are using dates and formats thecolumn accordingly. However, you can alter the way a column is formatted by right clicking on the column andselecting Format cells. You can also change the way these dates are sorted by clicking on Sort & Filter in thetop right of your screen.



  • There are countless use cases for Excel and the above are simply the most common broad categories. Even if youare using Excel in a simple way, you can improve your processes and efficiency through applying a few simple tipsand tricks.

    Lets have a look at some of the basic steps to improving your Excel usage.

    Tips and tricks to get the most out of Excel

    Im going to assume you know how to type a number into a box. Im also going to assume you already have the needto have lots of numbers in boxes, but maybe need to be able to more easily interpret those numbers or runcalculations automatically.

    Here are the 5 tips well cover in depth:

    SUMIFS Formulas

    VLOOKUP Formulas

    INDEX+MATCH Formulas

    IF Formula

    Nesting Formulas

    Tip 6: SUMIFS Formulas

    Imagine you have two products which you sell across three different regions and you have two defined customertypes. What you want to know is how many of a particular product in a particular region you sold to aparticular customer type.

    This isnt the easiest thing to do if you dont know how to make Excel do the analysis for you. This is where theSUMIFS command comes in. SUM is about adding stuff, and IF is about controlling for variables. So, SUMIFS isabout adding certain stuff together providing certain parameters are met.

    It looks a little something like this:

    =SUMIFS(sales, regions, A, products, B, customer types, C)


  • The first value above is what we want to add together. The second value is us defining a dataset (the region), withthe third value being the variable we want to use from that dataset (a specific region). The fourth and fifth are pairedtogether in the same way. As are the sixth and seventh.

    It might look like this:

    =SUMIFS(A1:A100, B1:B100, South, C1:C100, Chocolate bunnies, D1:D100, Commercial outlets)

    This scans through the sales data in column A and pulls out all the information which matches the parameters youvedefined in the rest of the formula. It then adds these figures up and presents you with the total .

    If we say that the sales figures are total dollar sale amounts for each purchase, then the amount of chocolatebunnies sold to commercial outlets in the south would come out as $10,000 or whatever the actual sales figureswould be.

    This turns a complex task into a simple calculation which can be completed rapidly, saving you time and keepingyou focused on the important things.

    Tip 7: VLOOKUP Formulas

    The best way to imagine the VLOOKUP is a search engine which shoots back the answer to you . Like any goodsearch engine, its all about defining what it is youre looking for.

    If you have a large table with a number of different columns and you know one piece of data (datum to save youthe effort of reminding me in the comments) and you want to find out about another bit of information related to thatdata, you can use the VLOOKUP.

    Lets pretend we have a sheet which contains, amongst other things, customer names and customer IDs. What wewant to do is enter the customer ID and have Excel shoot the customer name right back at us . Well assumethe customer ID is 12345 and the column for customer names is the second column in a table of customers whichspans cells A1 to D20.

    It should look something like this:

    =VLOOKUP(12345, A1:D20, 2, 0)


  • Which means were performing the lookup on the customer ID within the table of customers, and then pulling out itscorresponding value recorded in column number 2, and we want an exact match; 0 means false the value 1would mean true and would give us an approximate match.

    In the defined table A1:D20 the VLOOKUP will automatically search within the first column for your searchterm, in this case the customer ID. When it finds it, it will then look at the value next to it in the second column, in thiscase column B.

    Excel will then return that value to you. Like a search engine, but for your spreadsheet.

    Its important to be aware, that if your table is defined as D1:F20, for example, column number 2 would be column E,because that is the second column within your defined range.

    Also, always use the column your search term is in as the first column in your defined range. The VLOOKUPautomatically searches this column for your search term anyway, so it saves headaches for you to just follow along.If your customer ID is in column F and the name is in column G, dont use A1:G20, use F1:G20 as your definedrange. It just makes things a little easier .

    Tip 8: INDEX+MATCH Formulas

    The problem with VLOOKUP is that it only searches in the left-hand column.

    The painfully obvious limitation of this is that it makes it difficult to find things which are stored to the left of the termyou are searching for. So, how do we fix this?

    This is where we have to use the INDEX+MATCH approach.

    This works by first stating what you want to find and then defining what corresponding information Excel can use tofind it.

    Lets say we have the name of a customer, but we want to find their customer ID . The reverse of the examplegiven in the VLOOKUP explanation above. This means the customer names are in B column between cells 1 and20, and the customer IDs are in A column between 1 and 20.

    First, we have to tell Excel what we want to find:



  • Now we need to insert the MATCH command into that formula. It slots in nicely before the end of the bracketsseparated by a comma and with its own set of brackets after it:

    =INDEX(A1:A20, MATCH())

    Inside those second brackets we put the parameters for the item we know were searching against the name of thecustomer, its location, and whether the column is sorted (0 means false, 1 means true):

    =INDEX(A1:20, MATCH(Wee Joe Allen, B1:B20, 0))

    The above formula should search the B column for the customer Wee Joe Allen and return to us thecorresponding figure from the A column Wee Joes customer ID.

    Simples, no?

    Tip 9: IF Formula

    You can use IF formulas in loads of different ways, but well give you a pretty simple scenario to get you started.

    Imagine you have 10 employees and they all earn $3,000 per month. Youve told them time and time again tosubscribe to the Process Street blog. Youve decided that youre going to incentivize them further by giving a raiseto all the employees who have subscribed to the blog. Youre going to give them all a raise, because youre nicelike that, but youre going to give a bigger raise to subscribers .

    A 10% raise to blog subscribers and a 5% raise to the rest.

    You might have lots of important columns detailing your employees information but for us there are two columns ofimportance.

    The first column we care about is the column which lists their monthly wage. A column of 10 where every cellcontains the figure 3000. Lets say this column is located E2:E11.

    The second column you create is designed to record whether or not the employee is subscribed to the ProcessStreet blog. Lets say this column is F2:F11. Against each employee, you give a score of 0 or 1 . If they aresubscribed to the blog, they receive the score 1 which means the statement is true.

    What we can do now is build the basic formula in the next cell along; G1. The formula will look something like this:



  • =IF(F2, E2*110%, E2*105%)

    Lets look at what this means.

    F2 is where you stated your true or false expression: 0 or 1. E2 is the original wage they were receiving. So, of thethree parts to the above formula, part one asks whether the statement is true or false, part two defines whathappens if the statement is true, and part three defines what happens if the statement is false.

    So if E2 contains the value 3000, F2 contains the value 1, then Excel will calculate that G2 will contain the value3300.

    Tip 10: Now you select the G2 cell and click on the little blue square which appears on the bottom right-handcorner of the cell. Drag that down the page to G11 and Excel will calculate all the figures for all the other cellsautomatically.

    If you now click on G11, you should see the formula:

    =IF(F11, E11*110%, E11*105%)

    automatically generated without you having to type it out .

    Tip 11: Nesting Formulas


  • Sometimes youre faced with something a little more complex than a true or false value can define. Maybe you haveto deal with multiple different variables?

    Do not fear.

    For these kinds of scenarios, we can put formulas inside formulas and work out more complex things .

    Lets take the same employee raise scenario we used above. However, this time you want to give a raise tosomeone based on how many Process Street articles they have read each month. We pump out a minimum of12 articles a month and you want your staff to read every last one of them.

    Youve decided that youre going to hand out a 15% rise for anyone who has read over 10, a 10% rise for anyonewho has read over 5, and a 5% rise for everyone else because you know the cost of living is rising and Terry just hadanother child, bless him.

    How do we do this?

    Imagine your data is laid out similarly to before. If youre following along in Excel, list the number of Process Streetarticles each employee has read that month in column F, and were going to do our calculations in cell 2 of column Gagain.

    In the last IF formulas, the structure was:

    IF condition, resul...


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