bCentral Home
Your Online Business Center

More efficient accounting

Features in Microsoft Excel that can streamline your finances

Business accounting practises have come a long way, thanks to technology. So have spreadsheets, the stalwart finance-tracking and analysis tool of the modern era.

Whether you use spreadsheets in your business to track expenses, cash flow and inventory or to project tax and capital requirements or analyse lease/purchase options, the latest features in Microsoft Office Excel 2003 can save you time. And as anyone who handles small business accounting chores knows well — time really is money.

Sharing and Comparing Documents

In many situations, the financial information logged on spreadsheets is used by a number of different people. The sales guy turns his expense report in to his manager. The manager forwards it to the bookkeeper, who might want the business owner to review it. With Excel 2003, there are several features that enhance sharing and comparing Workbooks:

Smart Documents extend the functionality of a Workbook by dynamically responding to the context of your actions. Forms and templates work particularly well as smart documents. So do Workbooks that are part of a process.

Let's say your company has a process for filling out annual employee expense reports that's based on an Excel template. By turning that template into a smart document, it can be connected to a database that automatically fills in some of the required information. When you're done with it, you click a button and it is automatically routed to whoever is in charge of the next step in the process.

With smart documents you can save time by reusing existing content. For example, whoever does your billing can drop in existing boilerplate copy when preparing monthly statements.

Smart documents can also interact with other Microsoft Office applications. You can use them to send e-mail messages through Microsoft Outlook without leaving the Workbook you're in and without starting Outlook.

Document Workspaces simplify the process of co-authoring, editing and reviewing documents in real-time with other people on your staff. Document Workspaces occupy a Microsoft Windows Sharepoint Services site dedicated to one or more documents. Typically a Document Workspace is created when you send e-mail with a shared attachment; as the sender you become the administrator of the Document Workspace and those you send the document to become members with permission to contribute to the site.

In addition to allowing people to collaborate efficiently, Document Workspaces also have automated update features that help with version control. In addition to Excel Workbooks, Document Workspaces can be created for Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003 and Microsoft Office Visio 2003 documents.

Compare Side by Side gets around the often difficult task of trying to use one Workbook to view changes made by multiple users or perhaps in different accounting periods. When you use the Compare Side by Side with command on the Window menu you can see the differences between two workbooks easily, without having to merge them into one Workbook or tab back and forth between them.

Taking Shortcuts. Here are a few more quick tips that can help streamline accounting chores:

AutoFilter is an Excel feature that helps you manage large spreadsheets easily. Suppose you have 2,000 customers in a Workbook and you need to identify those who have purchased one specific product. Filtering lets you see only the data you want to see and hides all the rest.

Unlike sorting, filtering doesn't change or rearrange the data; once you remove the filter everything appears just as it did before you filtered it.

Consolidating data from a variety of sources into one Workbook can be a nightmare at tax time, fiscal year-end and other major accounting milestones. Retyping or copying and pasting multiple columns of data from multiple sources take considerable time.

Excel's importing feature makes the task go much more smoothly, plus it can automatically update your data when the original source database is updated.

Locating discrepancies between long lists of data can be time-consuming if you have to go through them line by line. But with Excel, you can identify inconsistencies automatically. With a little advance set up — for instance choosing or creating a field in each list that is unique and comparable — you can have Excel find data that is in one list but not the other.

Customisable templates can help you make quick work of routine tasks. Rather than creating or buying forms you need to track financials, you can download free pre-built Excel templates and then customise them as needed to meet your specific requirements. You can access these templates at the Office Online site.

When you're running a business, saving time on the small stuff leaves more time to focus on the big stuff. And you can always track that on a spreadsheet too.

Sign into Microsoft Small Business+ for free web-based training, online chat help and software support.

sign in
Security information

Find a local Microsoft Small Business Specialist to help with your IT needs

Microsoft Small Business SpecialistMore info >

What do 'flexible working' practices mean to you?

What do 'flexible working' practices mean to you?

Free business newsletters - subscribe now

Our free newsletters are packed full of business advice and ideas - plus all the latest news

Security information

Get the latest bulletins and updates direct from Microsoft