By Jen Morrison
Microsoft Excel — the spreadsheet program — makes an appearance in almost every business in North America. But many independent contractors don’t seem to be as aware of the many uses that Excel can be put to in their own business. Here’s a small sampling of uses that any contractor can find for the powerful program.
You’re probably already using Excel to keep track of your income versus expenses, letting you know how your efforts are turning out financially. What you might not realize is just how flexible Excel is in keeping track of your accounts. With the clever use of in-cell drop-down menus, for example, you can reduce the amount of time it takes to assign a given number into the categories of Expense, Unpaid Invoice, Income, or whatever your business needs.
With just a little bit of formatting, you can create an Excel template that will print off in the format of a professional-looking invoice — and because it’s Excel, it can even calculate details like sales tax and rush charges for you.
One of the best sources for a contractor to obtain work is from old clients that liked your previous work. By keeping an up-to-date Excel spreadsheet that includes details like the kind of job you performed, the customer’s contact information, and how long it’s been since you completed the last job, you can maintain a file of potential clients to contact. In fact, you can even set Excel to send you an Email reminder a few months to a year after you completed a job, nudging you to recontact the client and look for further work!
Whatever tools and materials you need for your contracting job, Excel is the one tool that keeps track of the others. From the simplicity of inputting numbers and having Excel tell you how many of what remains in your stock to the advanced uses — like sharing a spreadsheet across your employees’ smartphones and having them input usage numbers from the field, and then programming Excel to Email you when stocks start to get dangerously low — Excel is perfect for making sure you never run low on what you need.
Whether you get paid by the hour and you need to know exactly how long you spent on a project, or you get paid by the project and you need to keep your hours low and profit high, Excel is the tool you need. By putting your hours into a simple Excel form, you can not only get your totals instantly and accurately over any number of days worked, but you can have Excel give you an instant profit-per-hour breakdown.
Project Project Duration
By giving Excel a basic database of how long the fundamental tasks of your contracting work require, you can then easily create a tool that can take the various tasks of any specific job, calculate in items like travel time and time to acquire the necessary parts, add a little wiggle room, and give you a decent estimation of how long that particular job will take. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s a sight better than estimating by the seat of your pants.
Project Project Cost
Similarly, you can tell Excel how much basic parts cost for any specific task, and then what tasks are going to be involved in a specific job in order to have Excel estimate how much a given project is going to cost you. Then, you can add a little wiggle room, keystone it, and hand it over as an estimate, using an Excel template to print off a professional-looking final product.
Test Potential Solutions
One of the more advanced functions of Excel allows you to set up scenarios and test multiple variables to see what the final projected costs and profits will be. For example, if a project’s duration looks to be longer than you have before a different project starts, you might consider hiring someone to help you. Excel can examine the costs and effects of such a hire, and tell you whether it’s going to be more profitable in the long run to hire that extra worker, or just give yourself a few hours of overtime.
Excel isn’t just an accounting tool; far from it. If you’re not using Excel in almost every aspect of your business, it’s probably only because you need to learn a little more about the power behind everyone’s favorite spreadsheet.
Jen Morrison is a writer for LastMinuteTraining.ca. Canada’s largest online marketplace for training. They provide access to Excel training in Toronto and in most other major centers across Canada.