Life as a Balance Sheet


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Saturday, 27th October, 2007

YESTERDAY Barbara and I had a long session setting up a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. It’s something I’ve been attempting to do for years but, while you can grasp the basics of entering data in a half hour tutorial, the nuts and bolts that would bring your data together in a useful way - in a simple invoice for example - are hidden away in obscure corners.

Grey Areas

Some years ago, determined to get to grips with it, I bought Microsoft Excel2000 at a Glance but this proved to be a frustrating book because, while it tells you over and over again how to pop fancy clip art, cool fonts and colourful bar charts into your spreadsheet, when it comes to crucial functions, like lookup, it just says ‘Lookup Wizard helps create formulas to find data in lists’, and that's all it gives you in 270 pages of step by step instructions.

Now that we’ve blundered upon some of the most useful essentials of Excel for ourselves, we need to write them down because I find that when I come to use them again they aren’t always given the names you’d expect, for instance if you want to create a drop-down list you won't find it, as I would have guessed, under the 'Insert' menu; it's pigeon-holed in the data menu and you get to it via the ‘validation’ dialogue box.

Grandma's Guide

Grandma's Guide to the InternetMy sister wrote down the basics of sending and e-mail and surfing the web for my mum when she first started using a computer and we later made this into a booklet, Grandma’s Guide to the Internet. We had encouraging reviews in the press and a few mentions on radio, and we’ve now sold well in excess of 50,000 copies. You can still buy a copy, and its sequel, Grandma's Guide to Internet Shopping, from (£2.95 plus postage). In the run-up to Christmas you might even spot it in the bookshops.

After tootling along for 8 years, Grandma is looking a little staid and stolid, compared to the glossy swishness of the Vista generation, but because we went for the absolute basics, it's all still relevant.

Barbara and I ought to publish our efforts to put together an Excel spreadsheet. We’ve designed ourselves a system that should save me day’s work in April when I have to put together my accounts for my self-assessment tax return.

Getting a Grip

ExcelI’ve set up a page where we can see exactly how much we’ve spent on the business – on printing, pens, sketchbooks, travel etc – which it then deducts that from the total of the invoices that have been paid, so I can tell at any time exactly how I’m getting along with my business.

Oh dear . . . did I really want to know that?

But I feel that it gives us more of a grip on the business - better than waiting for the results when I tot up all those scraps of invoices in April.

Richard & Barbara’s
Excel-ent Adventure

how to do something really useful but slightly alarming in
Microsoft® Excel

Could this be our next bestseller?!