Excel Tricks Every Entrepreneur Should Know to Increase His Productivity

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In this article, we will look at tips and trick in MS Excel to enhance the productivity of an entrepreneur. We will examine the following: 1) an introduction to Excel, 2) Excel tricks to increase your productivity as an entrepreneur, 3) advantages and limitations of Excel, 4) and a short conclusion.


What is Excel

Excel is a part of the MS Office suite from Microsoft, which includes other programs such as the MS Word, PowerPoint, and Access. MS Office provides a comprehensive solution for small offices and businesses to organize and carry out most of their documentation needs. Excel is an electronic spreadsheet program of the suite which allows users to enter, store, manipulate and analyze data in many different ways. Excel is a powerful program that lets you tabulate your data, make calculations and integrate information from other programs. An excel file is called a workbook. Each workbook contains many worksheets and chart-sheets. A worksheet is divided into hundreds of rows and columns of cells. There are millions of cells in a workbook. Each cell is identified based upon its position in a column and row. This position is known as cell address or cell reference. The rows are identified by numerals and the columns by alphabets. Hence, the cells have alphanumeric addresses. A cell stores data and formulas that are used to make calculations or to communicate with other cells or programs. The chart-sheet is used to display a graph or a chart that is generated using the data stored in a worksheet. Excel is a very versatile program and allows a user to create, format and design worksheets easily and quickly.

History of Excel

The history of Excel is older than its Windows OS. Before it became Excel, the electronic spreadsheet program that Microsoft developed was called MultiPlan. It was developed in 1982 to work on CP/M and MS-DOS based systems. Though it was very successful in the CP/M systems, it was trumped by Lotus 1-2-3 on the DOS based system. Microsoft then revamped the MultiPlan, renamed it Excel and launched it as a graphical interface based spreadsheet for Apple Mac in 1985. It was the first electronic spreadsheet program that had a graphical interface and pull down menus. When Microsoft came out with the Windows OS, Excel was launched for the OS platform, and Microsoft came out with the first Windows version Excel 2.0 in late 1987. Since then Microsoft has released many different versions of Excel, with each version adding some new features and capabilities to the existing version. The latest version of Excel is the 15.0 but it more popularly known as Excel 2013. Now Excel is a powerful data analysis, manipulation and storage software that is used by professionals, scientist, researchers, accountants, etc. to excel, present and analyze data.

If you wish to learn more about the history and evolution of Excel, here is a great infographic.

Major Uses of Excel

Excel is a highly customizable spreadsheet that allows its users to present and automate data in a variety of ways, easily and quickly. Excel can be used anywhere data manipulation and representation is required. It can be used for:

  • Data storage, management and sorting: The basic function of any spreadsheet program is data storage, management and sorting. Excel is capable of storing text, numbers or formulas. The data that is stored in the cells can be sorted and filters in many different ways based on parameters provided by the user.
  • Data analyzing and charting: Excel is a great tool for data analysis. The pivot table that is available in Excel allows the user to analyze large amount of data. It can automatically, sort, enumerate and calculate data stored in one worksheet and project the summary of the data in another sheet. It can generate several different kinds of charts based on data range selected in your worksheet.
  • Modeling including sales forecasting, budgeting, break-even analysis, cash flow estimation: Automation provided by the functions of Excel make it easy for businesses to maintain their books and accounts as well as create what-if scenarios to create and forecast business models such as their sales, budget, cash flow and break-even point.
  • Generating reports based on the data analysis and models: Excel can also print reports once data has been analyzed and manipulated.
  • Integration with other softwares: Excel files can be integrated with other software like MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Access, etc.
  • Team work: Excel allows you to share your data with a group of people, who can then collaborate and work on a project together. Since the collaboration is web-based, your team members can be anywhere in the world and still be able to contribute.

Significance & Importance of Excel in Business

Argument #1: Excel offers several very important functions within one tool: analysis and visualization

It has been argued that MS Excel is perhaps one of the most powerful computer programs ever created. It has many wonderful functions and tools available within the software that allow a user to perform a wide variety of tasks from statistical and mathematical calculations to preparing reports, automating data analysis, creating data bases and lists, sorting data in a variety of ways and creating future projections. Its powerful visualization tools make it extremely useful for making business projections, charts, graphs and predicting future trends that support decision-making. It capability to handle text as well as numerical data makes it extremely useful.

Argument #2: Excel is widely used

There are few programs that are as popular as Excel for people who need to store and manipulate data. Its interface is very user-friendly and allows you as a user to observe what is happening to the data as it is manipulated. Its capacity to handle both mathematical and statistical data has made it a very desirable program for finance, marketing, sales and business development. It is increasingly being used by professionals and businesses for decision-making. It is used by students for their assignments and by scientists for their research. It is used by traders, merchants, accountants and portfolio managers. Excel has its use in practically all spheres of life, and anyone who has ever handled data has probably used Excel.

Argument #3: Excel is very versatile

Excel is a very versatile program and can be used to perform a diverse variety of tasks. It can be used to store personal or business data, a data converter, can perform simple functions of a calculator or complex functions that are required in a database management software. You can draw in it, add images, create charts and graphs, import data from internet and other programs, export data to other programs. You can sort data and arrange in many different ways, extract relevant information from a data range and use it for business, sales or trend analysis.


General tips when using Excel

MS Excel is a highly customizable software, you can personalize it fairly easily right from the beginning. There are shortcuts and templates available that let you create and navigate spreadsheets quickly and efficiently. You need to familiarize yourself with these shortcuts, templates and tips in order to get as much leverage as possible out of Excel.

Excel allows you to customize its interface. You can change the way the ribbons are displayed and what you may wish to have in the toolbars. You can format text and numbers, change font and color, etc. Create templates, change the tab color and also how you work in Excel. It allows you to create macros, deal with calculations and analyses in your own way. Here is a great website that will teach you how to work with all these and much more.

Major Features and Functions of Excel

The basic features of all spreadsheet programs are common, and Excel is no exception. Other features include:

  • Ribbon Tabs are visual menus that remain open at the top of your workbook. Each tab contains a host of features that allow you to access quickly and use features and functions contained in the tab.
  • Autosum allows you to add the contents of a range of adjacent cells.
  • List Autofill automatically adds the cell format when a cell is added at the end of a list.
  • AutoFill lets the user fill in repetitive or sequential data, such as numbering, date, alphabets, etc.
  • AutoShapes allows the user to draw predefined geometrical shapes, lines, flowchart elements, arrows, etc. within the worksheet.
  • Wizard provides useful hints and tips as you work and guides you. You can turn it off if you do not wish to use it.
  • Drag and Drop allow you easily drag and drop data anywhere in the spreadsheet.
  • Charts allows you to insert many different types of charts and diagrams within your worksheet based upon your data.
  • Pivot table allows you to manipulate data to generate reports and analyze the data and it is perhaps the most powerful feature of Excel.
  • Functions and Formulas can be used within the cells allowing you to perform a variety of calculations, manipulations, presentation and extraction of information from your data. Insert Function button allows you to search for and insert functions within your cells. You can select a category (from a list of 12 major categories) and use a scroll down menu to choose the function that you wish to use. The functions that are available to the users are not contained to just financial calculations. It has functions that help to manage and clean up huge data and reconciling data.

Initial Tricks in Excel – Useful Shortcuts

Excel allows you to use keyboard shortcuts to perform quickly certain actions and functions without using the mouse to navigate through the menus. These keyboard shortcuts are extremely useful while working in excel as they increase your productivity and cut down the time you spend working on a spreadsheet. Here are some of the shortcuts that are most useful.

Function keys:

  • F1 – Help
  • F2 – Allows you to edit the selected cell
  • F4 – Repeats last action
  • F5 – Allows you to navigate to a specific cell
  • F7 – Spell checks a selected range or worksheet


  • CTRL+ARROW keys – Moves to another section of the text
  • CTRL+PGUP – Moves between worksheets within the same workbook
  • CTRL+PGDN – Moves between worksheets within the same workbook


  • SHIFT+ARROW keys – Extends the selection from one cell
  • SHIFT+CTRL+ARROW keys – Extends the selection to the last cell that contains data in the same row or column.
  • SHIFT+CTRL+8 – Takes you to the top of the column.

ALT keys for menus:

  • ALT+1 – Saves current file
  • ALT+2 – Undo
  • ALT+3 – Redo last action
  • ALT+F – Opens File Menu
  • ALT+H – Opens Home Menu
  • ALT+N – Opens Insert Menu
  • ALT+P – Opens Page Layout Menu
  • ALT+M – Opens Formulas Menu
  • ALT+A – Opens Data Menu
  • ALT+R – Opens Review Menu
  • ALT+W – Opens View Menu

CTRL Key for easy access and formatting:

  • CTRL+N – Open a new file
  • CTRL+S – Save a file
  • CTRL+O – Open a dialog box where you can choose a file to open.
  • CTRL+C – Copy a selection
  • CTRL +V – Paste a copied or cut selection
  • CTRL+X – Cut a selection and save it on the clip-board
  • CTRL+A – Select an entire sheet
  • CTRL+B – Apply or remove bold formatting
  • CTRL+I – Apply or remove italicized formatting
  • CTRL+D – Create a fill down command and copy content and format of the top cell to a selected range of cells below
  • CTRL+P – Open the print dialog box so you can print your file
  • CTRL+U – Apply or removed underline from a selected range of text or number
  • CTRL+Y – Repeat the last command or action
  • CTRL+Z – Undo command to delete or reverse the last action you performed.
  • CTRL+5 – Apply or remove strikethrough from text or numbers.

Tips & Tricks with Excel for Business Purposes

There are few people who are familiar with the big part of functions available in Excel. Most enterprises use only a few set of functions for their business analysis. Here are some great productivity features that are present in excel:

  • Audit Toolbar: To trace the cells that are included in a formula use the Audit Tool Bar. It will graphically present the cells that are being used in the formula.
  • Freezing Panes: You can freeze panes so that they remain visible while you scroll through the cells beneath. This is helpful when comparing data.
  • Conditional Formatting: Lets the users change the formatting of a cell or range of cells to meet a specific criterion.
  • Sparkline: Is a small chart that is used to identify trends within tables. They are also known as micro charts. You can find more information about sparkline here.

Tricks & Tips about using Pivot table

A pivot table is a tool that helps to summarize data in Excel and other spreadsheet and business software. A pivot table is capable of automatically sorting, totaling and providing an average of the data within a table or spreadsheet. Pivot table also allows creation of contingency tables. A user can change the summary by changing the fields graphically to create different data sets. Pivot table is an analytical and visualization tool.

  • Report filters – This is used to apply a filter to a whole table.
  • Column labels – These are used to apply filters to columns that need to be displayed in the pivot table. You can apply the filters to one or more columns at a time.
  • Row labels – These allow a user to apply filters to a row or several rows that need to be displayed in the pivot table.
  • Values – these are text or numerical values that can be used for calculations.

A good introduction to using pivot tables you can find here.

Excel Tricks with Charts

Excel lets you create charts quickly and easily from a selected range of data within a worksheet. Charts are great visualisations and make it easy to understand the trends and analyze the results. There is a variety of charts available in Excel to graphically present data (for example: pie, column, line, bar, area, radar charts). It is easy to customize and format your charts in Excel. You can:

  • Remove any vertical gridlines;
  • Change horizontal gridline color from black to a very light shade of gray;
  • Adjust chart series colors to get better contrast;
  • Adjust font scaling (for versions Excel 2003 and prior);
  • Switch rows and columns;
  • Add a title;
  • Add data labels;
  • Change the position of the legend;
  • Remove/add or change background color;
  • Change chart to another type say line chart to a bar chart.

Tips for YouTube channels where you can learn more about Excel tricks

If you wish to learn Excel and its functions on your own, there are several channels on YouTube that can provide you with all the material you may need for self-study. Some of these are mentioned below.


Like any software, Excel too has its advantages and limitations.


The advantages that Excel provides its users are many and diverse. Some of the key advantages are:

  • It makes it easy to analyze data, make comparisons and discover patterns with its powerful analytical tools.
  • It has powerful filters that can handle comparably large amount of data. Its filters along with the sorting and searching tools help the users to analyze large data and narrow down criteria to help users to come to a decision quickly.
  • It is scalable and can work on most machines without much trouble. You do not need to invest in a new machine to run the program.
  • It allows collaboration with other people and within a team so several people can provide inputs to a worksheet.
  • It has formulas and calculation features that make mathematical and statistical calculations easy.
  • It can be used on smartphones and tablets. Other spreadsheet programs support Excel too allowing files to be imported and exported in Excel formats.
  • It is easy to start working on it without much training.


There are some limitations to what you can do with Excel, there are also glitches that are present. Some of these include:

  • Though it is an easy to learn program for basic functions like creating tables and using mathematical functions, the program has so many functions and features that it takes a long time to master all the tools available.
  • There is no way to trace where a data originates and or to determine an audit trail.
  • It is a tedious and time-consuming job to enter data into Excel leading to human errors in data entry.
  • MS Excel is a part and parcel of the MS Office Suite and requires a subscription to it. This makes Excel pretty expensive compared to other spreadsheets, some of which are available for free.


Though it is a very popular software, Excel is not considered by experts an ideal software for running a large business. It may be a great financial software for small companies, but it cannot meet all the demands of a large business. It is good only for small businesses or individual users which do not handle or generate big amounts of data.

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