What Excel Experts and VBA Developers can do for my firm
and how to hire them for my spreadsheet project?
An eye-opening guide on how to fully leverage the capabilities of Microsoft’s Excel and Visual Basic macros
in your company, with a little help of Spreadsheet Consultant or programmer to improve Excel-based processes and systems. Learn how to get the best help with your files, models, macros before you book an Excel consultation.
Excel might seem dull, but is not going away and is low-hanging fruit on the cost & error reduction tree.
Future-proof your files and workflows to avoid working on Sundays once the errors backfire.
Automate tasks to not end up being called the Head of Copy-pasting Department. And get an astounding ROI!
1. Why spreadsheets? The Ubiquitous MS Excel
2. Use it smart, not hard. Excel is not a lifestyle. It’s an analytics tool
3. It pays off to do it right. Efficiency & cost savings: Treasures in boring spreadsheets
4. More than you thought. The healthy data lives in a healthy spreadsheet
5. So improve or suffer. Spreadsheet Jenga: lack of improvement is regress
6. Let's see how to do it. How can Excel work be improved?
7. And when you need it. When do I need Excel Experts or VBA developers for my company?
8. Who will use it? Which departments benefit from improving Excel tools, solutions & processes?
9. What can they develop for me? What types of deliverables can Excel programmers create for me?
10. How do they call themselves? What different Excel & VBA Professionals are there?
11. What skills should they have? Desired non-technical skills of Excel & VBA Developers
12. Should I hire or outsource? Should you hire an Excel Consultant or delegate project internally?
13. How to manage the delivery cost? Spreadsheet development cost: rates, fees & more
1. The Ubiquitous MS Excel
Microsoft’s Excel is the most famous piece of software used by SMEs as well as the majority of corporate departments not related to software development. In August 2020, over 18.0 mln people in the USA and 2.4 mln people in the UK listed Excel, spreadsheets or VBA skills on their LinkedIn profiles. For Canada, it was 2 mln, Australia 970k & Ireland 290k.
It’s also the most sought after skill for interns and one of the most popular formats of management reports.
From household budget and balancing diet nutrition to investment banking valuation models and comprehensive financial modelling, MS Excel remains a convenient tool to analyse and visualise data.
And VBA macros with Power BI make it extremely versatile, also outside the spreadsheet environment. You may see those tools on the Gartner Magic Quadrant, jointly referred to as the Microsoft package, where the x-axis represents the completeness of vision and the y-axis the ability to execute. Microsoft package has been listed by Gartner as a leader in the Analytics and Business Platforms category for 13 consecutive years.
2. No, Excel is not a lifestyle. It’s an analytics tool.
Let’s face it. Only some Excel Consultants get excited about spreadsheets, while beginner users often picture it as the digital successor of the piles of boring financial reports. On the other hand, top-notch AI developers view it as a rudimentary tool, often not aware of VBA macro capabilities. What to make of it then?
Well, MS Excel is, first and foremost, a tool. Easy to use, yet not primitive. And the open secret is that the vast majority of businesses don’t need top-notch machine learning solutions for every task.
When dealing with analytical challenges, optimising financial goals or transforming data into insights, you strive for accuracy
and simplicity of use. The least sophisticated methods that produce sound and actionable outputs are the best. They allow you
for sufficient control and flexibility. They make the software
work for you as opposed to losing control for negligible programming complexity gains. Improving Excel use efficiency, you can invest in business change, not the development of software for experts only. Why would you use systems that force you to hire full-time programmers when spreadsheet solutions could be used by people with minimum Excel expertise?
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough".
3. Efficiency & cost savings: Treasures in boring spreadsheets
When screening business for areas to improve, you might want to rank-order all the tasks for the frequency
of execution and their impact on the company. Then, many SMEs immediately find out that work in Excel is the first (or second to email use) most time-consuming type of task at their office. A survey on 250 professionals performed by Filtered found out that the majority of them used Excel for an average of 0.5-3 hours a day.
Notably, it shows the following department employees and their average daily Excel use:
Research & development: 3 hours
Finance: nearly 2.5 hours
HR, Administration: 1.5 hours
Logistics: nearly 1.5 hours
Sales: 1 hour 15minutes
Marketing: 40 minutes.
The particularities of Excel work vary across companies, departments and even between different reports. You can, however, find out that the efficiency gains are more tangible than you would think. In most cases, you should be able to work out the cost/benefit ratio as well as the ROI estimate or payoff period pretty quickly, focusing on the amount of time saved.
Try this simple Excel improvement ROI calculator, modifying fields:
Now, let’s take a note here that some people disregard the idea of treating Excel work as something worth taking a look at, not to mention undertaking improvement projects. If you are feeling a cognitive dissonance now and are wondering why you haven’t heard about improving the efficiency of the work done with MS Excel, here is a short answer.
It’s because spreadsheets are not perceived as glamorous. Also, job titles are very seldom named after the tools they deploy, but rather expertise area. Similarly, the Communications Manager won't be referred to Email Developer even if their focus is on email communication.
Moreover, almost all Excel users consider their proficiency as “advanced”. It is very difficult
to self-assess without a tangible scale of reference. That's by the way, why quite rarely candidates adequately prepare for Excel interview tests.
It is a well-described phenomenon called the Kruger-Dunning effect. There are also many other factors at play that cement the status quo of not touching a spreadsheet that’s (barely) working. Often at the cost of dull, manual overwork.
4. The healthy data lives in a healthy spreadsheet
As you may have thought, optimising Excel-based work not only yields time savings but several other benefits as well. What’s the difference between as-is and to-be? Once your spreadsheet processes are efficient, you regain full control over company operations. Data errors become radically rare and quickly detected.
That fosters information flow across the entire chain of command and data-driven decision making. In turn, the atmosphere of clarity and precision accompany daily work and enhance the capacity of what your team can do. It also returns your colleagues more time to make decisions and identifies broader patterns, anomalies, and trends, be it in finance, analytics, or other functions. Unfortunately, specialists focused on manual, repetitive spreadsheet tasks don’t have time for high-level reasoning.
And why wouldn’t you just stay in your comfort zone of well-known templates and general as-is setting you are familiar with?
Otherwise, they would have already been moved to non-maintenance platforms that do all the work in the background.
The distribution of work across employees and teams, the requirements of the clients, as well as the underlying products and service scope change relatively often and your spreadsheets have to constantly catch up.
Even when scrupulosity is in your company culture manifesto, it pays off tremendously to get a department-wide or company-wide view on Excel file systems and data flows.
5. Spreadsheet Jenga: lack of improvement is regress
Think of your company’s use of spreadsheets as of using a watch that is running late every day. Little by little, every day a bit further behind, 10 more seconds late each day. Initially, it’s not a big deal, you can take that extra effort of getting to the train station 5 minutes earlier (or manually adjusting that benchmark data).
But next month, your watch (spreadsheet) deviates from accuracy by 5 minutes (of work). The problem won’t be solved without action and your time is leaking in a compounding way. If your colleague borrows the watch (spreadsheet) while you are on the sick leave, they inherit the problem. In all embarrassment, you have to tell them about it, and they have to deal with the deviation and record its growth.
You may continue to patch it up with some extra time allotted to the underlying problem, but sooner or later the workarounds will defeat you.
That’s what I call the spreadsheet Jenga, a process of constant workarounds patching up antiquated template systems until they disintegrate. When it happens, deadlines are missed, incorrect reports are sent and wrong decisions are made. Often all three at the same time.
6. How can Excel work be improved?
Let’s see what areas of improvement can benefit your company or team when it comes to spreadsheet work. Creating new Excel files with functionalities you need is just the tip of the iceberg. To achieve integrated and sustainable process improvement you need to consider the broader picture that goes far beyond just the .xls deliverables.
See the following dimensions and examples of their implementation.
Removing “waste”, such as unnecessary tables, old notes
Untangling workarounds, to do everything in a concise manner
Eliminating guesswork by revising the current needs, communication channels and data formats.
Automating Excel work with VBA macros:
Moving all manual, repetitive and easy to define processes to Visual Basic environment
Including diagnostic messaging to support the work of file user
Adding automated error checks to detect data anomalies quickly.
Optimising people’s involvement:
Defining the file users and project stakeholders and their decisional powers
Eliminating non-actionable participation
Minimising idle time and project cycle length.
Preparing for smooth project takeover in case of a key person’s absence
Enforcing alignment between the procedures and actions
Sharing and building know-how base through simple & precise language.
Standardising and parametrising work:
Listing task execution time to improve control over work planning and scheduling
Merging tools generating similar outputs to scale up their production
7. When do I need Excel Experts or VBA developers for my company?
Four basic motivations prompt the need to hire full time or external Excel & VBA developers:
Putting out the fire started by errors. Often very time-sensitive matter, stressful for the system users.
Continuing business as usual on the interim or outsourcing basis when some colleagues are no longer available.
Creating new tools and systems:
Enabling business transformation with the right capacity and sophistication.
Improving and recreating existing file structures:
When you dare to improve processes and business efficiency while not being in a tight corner, but for the sake of cost savings and quality improvement.
As you may see, all the motivations are closely tied to business processes and needs.
That clearly indicates that the scope of work to be done involves process analysis and expertise on top of technical skills.
Ideally, you could have both delivered together.
If not, you have to carefully control the work development to make sure that the new solutions are flawlessly integrated with your existing business environment.
8. Which company departments can benefit from improving Excel tools, solutions & processes?
Any department comprised of employees that use computers and record or process data wouldn’t suffer from some more structured spreadsheet work. It’s the matter of estimating the total volume of work and the importance of its efficiency and accuracy. Here’s a list of departments and examples of the most popular Excel-based solutions they deploy:
Timesheets | Periodical reports | Bulk email sending | User-friendly databases | Invoice generators.
(Data Analytics, Business Intelligence, Controlling, Reporting):
Dashboards | Management & client reports | Business metrics trackers | Benchmark & competition reviews |
Periodical & ad hoc business performance reviews | Operational forecasting models | ETL files |
Power BI reports | Dynamic work scheduling systems.
Automated client deck generators | Dashboards | Top-bottom data presentation systems |
Benchmark analysis | Bespoke branded presentation generators.
Financial & forecasting models | Financial reports | Invoicing & quotation templates |
Accounting software integrations with SAP, Oracle, Sage and others.
Valuation models | Financial investment metrics | Portfolio optimisation calculators |
Financial mathematics models (IRR, NPV, duration, Greeks, etc.) |
Stress and scenario testing models | Dashboards.
Wage budgeting systems | Data entry systems | Flexible staff demand forecasting systems |
Payslip generators | Pay review & intelligence systems.
Optimal allocation finding systems (solver-based & bespoke) | Searchable databases | Invoice generators | Labelling and barcoding systems | Warehouse inventory templates.
Logistics & Transportation:
PPC and conversion tracking report templates | Keyword strategy & pricing templates |
Campaign metrics trackers | Marketing spend & results projections.
Sales forecasting models | Pricing models | Quoting calculators | Sales pivot table reports.
Lean templates | Project metrics calculators | Resource allocation scheduling systems.
Click on the boxes to read more about Excel & VBA tools and solutions for each department.
9. What types of deliverables can Excel programmers create for me?
Using MS Excel with VBA macros, they may create the following 5 major categories of deliverables.
Single or multipurpose calculators
ETL (extract, transform, load) spreadsheets integrated with other files
Report, dashboard & document generators.
Stress testing models.
Multiple input/output workbooks
Collaborative file structures.
Dynamic and non-standard deliverables:
Auto-refreshing Power BI reports
10. What different Excel & VBA Professionals are there?
There is a number of different types of specialists that work with spreadsheets and VBA macros for Excel. Their technical specialism and scope of provided services vary. Read our article to find out which job titles to look after for different Excel & VBA projects.
11. Desired non-technical skills of Excel & VBA Developers
When sourcing spreadsheet experts, their Excel skills and VBA coding abilities are just the tip of the iceberg. Ideally, you would like your colleagues to use the systems created for many years, without excessive maintenance. Here is a list of five skills of Excel & VBA experts that allow them to bring you tangible business results.
12. Should you hire an Excel Consultant or delegate project internally?
Depending on your needs, you may choose a skilled analyst or developer to create spreadsheet tools for your company or hire an external consultant. To make the right decision, you need to take into account more factors than just hourly employer cost. Make a better-informed decision going through this checklist.
13. Spreadsheet development cost: rates, fees & more.
When hiring an Excel Consultant, agreeing on their hourly rate might seem an easy way to keep cost under control. There are, however, many other methods allowing not only to put a price tag on the project but to achieve much more. That way, you can pay for the results and mitigate the technical risks of tools developed for you. See this overview of pricing and cooperation models to choose the most appropriate one for your project.
If cost reduction and process improvement are your goals, focusing on Excel is a great move. It is not only
low-hanging fruit but also something inevitable. Driving this ground-level change is a great opportunity to get
a long-term advantage over competitors and strengthen the company.
Accurate and user-friendly systems foster cooperation between departments and decision making by upper management. They also empower your colleagues to do only what's important, instead of fixing errors or copy-pasting.
When planning projects involving Excel & VBA development, include experts that also specialise in process improvement to not get left high and dry with the tools hard to integrate with your systems.
If you think you could benefit from better spreadsheets, we invite you for a free assessment or just an informal conversation you can book here.
Follow us on LinkedIn to see more articles like this one. If you are looking for MS Excel Experts or VBA developers to automate and improve your spreadsheet work or help you repair Excel files, contact us now.
Michael Sena. The founder of SENACEA
– MS Excel consultancy & training services provider, based in London, operating in the entire UK.