December 2020 - Striven

Still Doing Sales Reports in Excel? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t.

Excel may have been around for over 30 years and is a well-established staple for many businesses, but like most pieces of archaic technology and data management methods, it may be time to put it behind you. 

Excel is still relevant, which is why so many companies rely on it, but it’s better for use with developing spreadsheets as opposed to in-depth sales reports and other more complex applications. 

Don’t count on it to serve as the main database for all of your data, especially if you’re gathering too much data for it to handle.

While Excel may still be useful for basic calculations, scheduling, setting budgets, charting, and planning, it’s not as ideal for analyzing or visualizing data, keeping your reports updated, or sharing information with colleagues or clients. 

excel document

If your business is still dependent on Excel to develop a weekly or monthly sales report, there are several reasons why you’re better off turning to a more efficient solution.

Kicking the Habit of Using Excel

Excel is like many other bad habits.

It begins innocently until it becomes a problem and the person becomes dependent on it. For example, that one-cup-of-coffee-a-day habit can develop into multiple cups, until even missing a single cup on schedule can result in a headache.

Bad habits can quickly go from beneficial to downright hazardous before you know it, oftentimes after the damage has been done.

The same goes for Excel, which may have begun with a single employee using the platform to create a comprehensive initial spreadsheet. 

That spreadsheet, or several of them, may have been invaluable in managing many pieces of data to help develop sales reports. 

However, over time, that advantage may have developed into a disadvantage as those spreadsheets collected more and more data, and various errors may be overlooked until they become a hindrance.

If you find that you’re still depending on Excel for financial management and completing sales reports, this software may be hurting your business in ways you’re not even aware of, much like other bad habits.

There are several reasons why Excel is potentially more of a detriment to your business than a help.

Excel Doesn’t Function as a Reliable Database

Spreadsheets can be helpful in keeping data organized in the short-term and in smaller quantities, but they’re no substitute for an accessible and secure database. 

It’s best to avoid using Excel spreadsheets to manage large amounts of data, as the platform is basic at best and potentially dangerous to use at worst. 

Excel is capable of handling many entries, but you’re likely to start experiencing performance issues with your operating systems if you don’t have the hardware to handle substantial amounts of spreadsheet data. 

In fact, the more formulas you use in your spreadsheets, the sooner you’re going to suffer from sluggish PC performance and crashes, which can seriously hurt your business.

There are multiple problems you can experience with Excel that make it less than ideal for use as a database.

Data Errors Can Put Your Business at Risk

One of the biggest problems with relying on Excel spreadsheets is the potential for various errors. 

cascading error messages

Unfortunately, Excel is error-prone and far from the ideal software for building and maintaining a complete and accurate database. In fact, MarketWatch found that even the most exhaustively checked and tested spreadsheets contain errors in one percent of all formula cells

The larger the spreadsheet and the more numerous the formulas, the more likely your sheets are to have multiple errors. 

As a result of these errors, large businesses have lost billions. 

Even perceivably tiny errors such as a faulty copy-paste have culminated in millions lost for some of the largest corporations. 

If big, well-established companies can make mistakes with their spreadsheets, so can you.

It’s important to keep in mind that human error is always a factor when people are counted on to manually enter and manage data. 

You could be the most thorough person with an eye for the smallest details, but you just might miss that one typo or miscalculation that could significantly harm your business. 

If you do become aware of the error, it can also take a lot of extra time and effort to identify and address it, which you could otherwise avoid with a more reliable system.

If your sales reports are more likely to contain errors, you’re also less likely to be confident in the data you’re collecting and presenting. 

That uncertainty could also cost you if you can’t pinpoint the best direction to take based on your reports.

You Can’t Trust Formulas to Maintain Accuracy of Data

The nice thing about Excel is that it comes packed with many formulas and functions that you can use to help automate spreadsheets.

However, the caveat is that the accuracy of data calculated with these formulas is only as accurate as the individual entering the initial data points.

Many of the calculations used in Excel are very complicated, with the need to manually enter various figures or program them, through the use of multiple spreadsheets and cascading formulas. 

In the process, you’re probably going to make a mistake at some point.

If you’re great with numbers and have years of experience in Excel, and you know precisely how to set up and manage the myriad functions and formulas, you might avoid most errors. 

Unless this is the case, it’s usually more work and trouble than it’s worth.

Insecure Sharing Can Leave Data in the Wrong Hands

When working with a data-driven sales team, it’s important to be able to cohesively collaborate. 

One of the most important elements of effective collaboration is data sharing, including the ability for entire teams to easily access trends, metrics, financial data, and key performance indicators, among other insightful and actionable data points. 

The ability to quickly and easily share crucial performance data is integral to a healthy, functional sales team, along with teams in other departments. 

While Excel can enable you to share data in a presentable format that’s easy to understand, it’s not the best method to use for data sharing. 

Relying on Excel for sharing sales and other data can lead to lost and forgotten emails, misfiling issues, and in worst-case scenarios, data falling into the hands of people who should never see it. 

Using Excel, you can easily lose track of who has access to your data and what they’re doing with it.

You may also run into other issues when sharing your data. For instance, some recipients of data may experience slowed performance or inaccessibility due to varying operating systems and weaker hardware. 

In other cases, sharing the same spreadsheet can result in overwriting and multiple data entry errors that are harder to catch.

Excel Can’t Effectively Visualize Data

In addition to being an unreliable database, another problem with Excel is that it’s just not useful for visualizing your sales data. 

If you’re considering using Excel spreadsheets to help build a sales dashboard or another type of business intelligence dashboard, consider looking for another option. 

Excel may allow you to visualize data with pie charts, graphs, and other visuals, but it will be difficult to share them with your sales team. 

Too many inconsistencies can arise as people look at multiple versions of an Excel dashboard, and errors are practically inevitable.

Instead, consider opting for business intelligence software to function as a dashboard that offers consistent results.

The Advantages of Using Business Intelligence Software

business intelligence

Through the use of dependable business intelligence (BI) software, you can experience several benefits that you won’t find when solely using Excel for sales reports. 

BI software can effectively serve as a hub for all of your sales data and reports using a centralized platform. 

Instead of working with multiple programs and data sets that you need to balance and manage separately, keep it all together in the same platform with a comprehensive BI solution.

The following are some specific benefits that you’ll get with the right BI software behind your sales teams.

Reduce or Even Eliminate the Risk of Human Error

Good BI software will allow you to connect it to all of your current data, which can help minimize the risk of errors, including issues with improper copy-paste and typos. 

To access and consolidate all data, the right BI software solution will be able to integrate with programs like CRMs, Google Ads, and many other platforms.

Benefit from a Sleek and Intuitive Design

Today’s BI software features better designs than simple spreadsheets, keeping your dashboard and reports visually engaging as well as accurate and accessible. 

Features such as filters, sorting, and zooming can make it easy to navigate your sales reports and visualize them in any way you want. 

You won’t need to worry about getting lost in massive and potentially confusing spreadsheets that are likely to give you a headache. 

Data visualizations can also be far more appealing than what you would get with charts and graphs on Excel and other basic platforms. 

Securely Update and Share Your Database

data security glowing

Using a safe BI solution, you can send sales dashboard data securely through the use of formats like live links, PowerPoint presentations, or PDFs. 

You may also be able to integrate your dashboard with another platform used for collaboration among internal teams. 

You can even schedule report updates to ensure everyone regularly receives the latest sales report.

Stay Consistently Up-to-Date

One potential source of inconsistency among sales teams is using outdated spreadsheet data, as you often need to refresh the sheet once you make any changes to data points. 

You don’t need to worry about constant manual refreshing with the latest BI software. 

As soon as you make any changes, your sales dashboard can automatically update to the latest version, which everyone on your team will see. 

Subsequently, you’ll never inadvertently work with outdated dashboards and reports. 

Perform More Accurate Calculations with Formulas

You don’t need to be a math or economics whiz to work with formulas thanks to today’s BI capabilities. 

The right software will also be able to provide you with the modules and tools you need to make accurate calculations with the right formulas. 

You no longer need to balance all of those functions and formulas in your head when they’re at the tip of your fingers.

Review Analytics Remotely

Regardless of where you and your team are located, you can make sure you have access to the sales dashboard from any access point

remote cloud access

Using secure mobile devices, your sales team can use an equally secure app to access the dashboard and make any changes or view real-time data. 

At the same time, everyone will be able to see the same sets of data, as the dashboard automatically updates with the latest information if your team makes any changes. 

Have Complete Control Over Accessibility

Apart from being able to safely and securely share data internally or with remote access, you can also make sure the wrong people never access your dashboards and reports. 

BI software can help ensure that only those with explicit permission to view your data will be able to see it, and you can optimize security by controlling individual access to dashboards, reports, or pieces of data. 

You can even make sure that specific groups of people have access to specific relevant data sets. This eliminates the need to create separate dashboards for different users, saving you even more time and effort.

BI Software Can Give You Everything You Need from Your Database

Excel hasn’t completely outlived its usefulness, but it’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution for sales reporting and data management. 

As your business grows and you need a system that can handle the accumulating data, you will need to adapt by implementing a more reliable solution. 

While Excel can help you get started, consider using business intelligence software to maintain the integrity of your data, eliminate errors, improve security and shareability, and keep your data consistently accurate. 

Using a complete BI platform, your sales teams will be fully equipped to measure performance and meet your business goals.

Here’s Why Your Cloud Software Will Be Free In 2021

When it comes to setting expectations for 2021, the bar is admittedly low. But, after what seemed like an eternity for small business owners, more help is arriving.

As the second coming of the PPP prepares to roll out, provisions have been made that will bring your dreams of upgrading your technology and software to life.

While the new PPP still requires that payroll costs must make up 60% of forgivable expenses, there’s a new twist—cloud computing costs and services will now be considered a forgivable expense.

To put it simply, any cloud computing service will be FREE for your business courtesy of Uncle Sam. (AND it’s tax deductible now, too!)

President Trump has delayed signing the bill citing a desire to send larger, one-time stimulus checks to all citizens, but we assume that the provisions provided for small businesses will not be altered.

Here’s What’s New This Time:

  • New covered operations expenditures – “means a payment for business software or cloud computing service that facilitates business operations, product or service delivery, the processing, payment, or tracking of payroll expenses, human resources, sales and billing functions, or accounting or tracking of supplies, inventory, records and expenses”
  • Expenses applied to PPP loan forgiveness are now deductible for federal tax purposes. 
  • If you didn’t get your money from the first PPP, you can ask for more this time.
  • A “necessity test” is still part of the application process.

How to Build a Better Construction Hiring Process

Typically, during periods of economic turmoil, the construction industry takes a hit. Fewer families take the plunge into home ownership, businesses halt their expansion efforts, and new projects hit the pause button. But this recent economic downturn has been anything but typical.

In terms of projects and revenue, the construction industry is in the midst of vast success. Large businesses such as Tesla, Oracle, and HPE are breaking new ground in Texas which could portend a large scale commercial migration out of densely populated—and more importantly, heavily taxed—areas, namely Silicon Valley. 

In terms of housing, many believe the next American housing boom is already underway. In July of 2020, new home sales surged 55%, largely in part due to the millennial generation entering the housing market for the first time. With some lending companies having their best fiscal year ever, many believe the wild events of 2020 have ushered in a new era for the construction industry.

Identifying The Problems

So this all sounds great, right? What could possibly be the problem?

The truth is, the number of qualified, capable adults in the construction industry is trending in the wrong direction, and has been for some time. Just like in most industries, the pandemic has underscored and exacerbated the severity of the problem. Older workers are seeking alternative employment over virus fears, and the pipeline bringing young, new workers into the industry is, for lack of a better phrase, running dry. 

To make matters worse, even if you hire someone with a superb skill set, keeping them under your employ throughout the slow winter months can often prove too costly for small businesses. Large companies can lure talent away, leaving you back where you started—frantically looking for the next candidate. This vicious cycle doesn’t have to last forever.

The construction industry isn’t for everyone, but with competitive pay and benefits in a country struggling to stay employed, opportunity is aplenty. Let’s take a look at how your business can keep up with demand by demanding the best out of your hiring process.

Invest in Recruitment

Your hiring process may still resemble how it looked in the early days of your business. Sure, technology has evolved, but the core tenets of how your organization has scoured for talent has essentially stayed the same. With material costs rising as much as 50% this year, it can feel difficult, and almost irresponsible, to justify a total revamping of any facet of your business—especially the hiring process. 

According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 81% of construction firms are reporting difficulty filling both salaried and hourly skilled labor positions. To make matters worse, 25% of firms surveyed said they “have not done anything” in terms of investing in the recruitment, training, and development of skilled workers.

So what can you do to buck this industry trend? To start, seek out organizations that look to lend a helping hand when it comes to procuring and training talent. 

Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) offers education, hands-on training, and mentorship programs to both individuals and organizations. Similarly, many schools have increased their vocational training, providing viable alternatives to those not seeking to pursue a traditional collegiate education.

The point here? Look to invest in the services of organizations that are forward-thinking in their methods of attracting young talent. As you continue to grow your network and hiring pipeline, the goal is to position your business as the gold standard for what employees can expect in the construction industry. 

Competitive Pay & Custom Benefits

One way to hire great talent? Pay them—a lot. The good news here is that “a lot” may not actually be all that much, relatively speaking. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary in the construction industry is about 20% higher than the median salary for all jobs. 

Seemingly in a semi-permanent state of “under construction” since 1776, American construction workers have no shortage of hours—especially given that the coronavirus related project delays have begun to pick up steam again. 

Competitive pay and availability of hours are obviously huge variables that employees consider when seeking work. The other substantial piece of the financial hiring puzzle is your company’s ability to offer benefits. 

Employee benefits, on their own, are necessary. Most construction workers wouldn’t think of accepting an offer from a company that wasn’t able to them (especially health). One way to stand out? Offer benefit packages that are customizable. 

According to MetLife’s 15th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, 74% of employees say that having the ability to customize benefits to meet their individual needs is important when exploring a new job opportunity. Enhanced benefit customization goes beyond attracting new talent—72% of employees say that loyalty to their current employer would increase if offered customizable benefits packages.

The Future Is Female

Throughout the hiring process—in pretty much every industry—a decent amount of pigeonholing takes place. Our hubris inhibits us from seeing that our process could be flawed. When we think we know exactly what we want, we put up our blinders and disregard whatever else may be in our path, even if that path is riddled with valuable, young talent. 

Now, don’t misconstrue the point here—confidence in your process is a positive trait. But when it comes to hiring, it’s important to keep an open mind, even if you think you’ve found “the one.” 

To start, there’s one major area that the construction industry is lacking in—the number of women in the field. In 2019, women comprised just 10.3% of the construction industry workforce. While this number represented an uptick of .04% compared to the previous year, it is still a far cry from equality.

It’s certainly not fair to assume that construction companies turn away women—that’s far from the case. The issue begins much earlier, and is much more innocuous. Young women simply don’t seek careers in construction. Organizations such as the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) are looking to change that. 

In the short term, they aim to be a viable resource that any woman interested in construction or contracting can turn to. Whether it be for education, networking, or career development, they seek to empower women in a field dominated by men. In the long term, they hope to make the current “boy’s club” of the construction industry a thing of the past. 

Enlist Construction ERP Software 

A plan is just a plan without the proper tools to see it through. When it comes to the jobsite, you know exactly what tools you need. But when it comes to the hiring process, do you know what should be in your toolbox?

Like everything else, it starts with organization. Between material costs, subcontractors, and winning bids, there’s a lot to think about before the thought of hiring is even mentioned. One of the most crucial assets you need to keep organized? Your list of desired candidates that you weren’t able to hire previously. Construction ERP software can manage all of this and more for your business.

Whether it was a down year, the offseason, or you simply didn’t have the payroll, there’s likely some candidates that you saw joining your business down the line. Too many times have those high quality job leads slipped through the cracks, getting lost in the shuffle over the years while their application gathered dust. Keep their resume, your notes about them, and all of their pertinent certifications in the same place the rest of your business runs.

While your new hires don’t necessarily need access to all of your business’s silos right away, it would make sense for all of your new and potential employees’ information to operate in the same space that the rest of your business does. 

This type of all-in-one platform improves efficiency across the board. You can immediately see how the qualifications of your new hires mesh your existing team, and how they can best contribute. While you pride yourself on maintaining an injury free workplace, you know all too well how things can go awry during a first day. Using technology to keep your new hires close and informed will help you mitigate the risk of any first day jitter-induced accidents.

Wrapping Up

As your business prepares for the work the coming year will bring, take a minute to think about what the years after that will look like. How much will your company grow? How will you empower the next generation of employees? How do you know where to invest your hard earned revenue?

During this self-reflection, remember to look at the facts. The demand for new projects—both commercial and residential—are abundant, but the employees—namely women—are not. Technology is here to help you along the way, but ultimately it will be you and the people you employ that continue to make your business successful for years to come. The future doesn’t wait for anyone, so make sure you go out and do something about it today. 

6 Methods Every Successful Manufacturer Needs to Know

Efficiency is always the name of the game. Every business owner tries to accomplish the same thing—to create a sustainable and reliable stream of income without overextending resources. How does this process begin? For manufacturers, it begins with planning and setting the stage for things to come. 

Brought to life in Japan during the 1960’s, the 5S method was first utilized in automobile production. Allowing manufacturers to substantially reduce workplace waste and distraction, the 5S method quickly expanded into other industries, such as government, finance, and education.

Since its inception, technology has changed. Well, more accurately, saying “technology has changed” in the last 50 years is like saying “the universe is large” compared to Earth. Though the original proprietors of the 5S method surely could not have foresaw the colossal changes that modern technology has ushered in, they would certainly stick to the original principles of the method to get things done.

Let’s take a look at how the 5S method can be modernized to fit 21st century manufacturing—and how 2020 has made the 6th S possibly the most important of them all.

Sort (seiri 整理)

The first “S” will be one that’s familiar to you. Basically, it’s taking inventory of your business. No, not just the raw materials and finished products, but everything.

Take time to carefully look around and inspect your surroundings. Account for every detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Tools, machines, computers, desks, decorations, pencils—yes, everything. Ask yourself what value each object holds. Does it serve a purpose, or does it simply take up space?

The goal here is to remove clutter, distraction, and anything else that will hamper efficiency. If you have less items clogging up your operation, the less time it will take you and your employees to accomplish your tasks for the day. Certain technologies will facilitate the finding of inefficient processes within your organization, but it begins with you taking stock of all of the variables located in your physical workspace.

Set In Order (seiton 整頓)

At this point, you’ve taken stock of everything. You know where to find all of the spare box cutters, that the plants on the second floor surely haven’t been watered enough, and that the accounting department has seemingly taken control of your business’s pen supply. 

Taking stock of your office is great. You even managed to get a lot of old equipment out of the way that was just piling up dust. But now, ask yourself this—is everything arranged in a way that facilitates optimal efficiency?

For example, are all of the machines used to manufacture your most popular product grouped together on the floor? Are your accountants searching through jumbled spreadsheets in order to find accurate numbers? Are areas and objects appropriately labeled so that the efficiency of their use can be maximized?

Odds are that you’ve recognized—and possibly have tried to solve—many of these issues in the past. Instead of continuing to use band-aids to remedy a gunshot wound, set aside time to dive in and fix the issues at their source. It’ll be messy at first, but you’ll come out healthier on the other side.

Shine (seiso 清掃)

Finding the right place for everything wasn’t easy, but you think you’ve done it. Your employees are starting to notice the improvements, and you’re noticing improvements on their end too. There’s just that little extra pep in their step that comes with a renewed sense of professional pride and purpose.

As it always goes, the only thing harder than getting to the top (in terms of success, organization, building good habits, etc.) is staying there. You got rid of clutter, synced up your operations, and even put a dent in some things you’ve been putting off for a while. You can’t help but ask yourself  “how long can this last?”

Getting organized is a lot like driving a brand new sports car off the lot. Your endorphins are rushing, your confidence is soaring, and the world is at your fingertips. Then reality sets in—your gas tank hits E, your check engine light flickers on, and you find out your insurance company is upping your premium quite a bit compared to your Honda Accord days.

The truth is, you have to work hard to stay efficient and clutter-free. It won’t happen naturally. You and your employees will naturally stick to what you know, but don’t fret. Start each day by tidying up your processes and finish each day by sticking to them.

Standardize (seiketsu 清潔)

For a process or procedure to become truly standard, it needs to be consistently and thoroughly reinforced. This starts from the top down, but it takes a team to make it happen. 

How have you enabled your employees to stick to the system? What is their role in maintaining and upholding the standard? What will keep this all going smoothly?

The goal here is to establish protocols and procedures to keep the 5S method on track. The best way to do this is to keep everyone involved and to be transparent. Make it very clear to your employees what their roles are. The more empowered they feel, the more they will buy into the process you are implementing. After all, the success of your manufacturing operation lies within your employees.

As you continue to optimize your processes, positively reinforce the things that are done successfully and very clearly acknowledge the things that don’t. Ask your employees their thoughts—they could recognize an improvement to a process that you didn’t catch. Don’t let bad habits become the norm.

Sustain/Self-Discipline (shitsuke しつけ)

Your employees have gotten pretty good at following the new procedures you have in place. Heck, it seems they may be starting to like it. (As much as they can like something at work, anyway.) You’ve gotten into a good routine, made progress in areas that you’ve been lacking in, and have seen your employees follow suit.

As your company grows, you will have to continue to trim the hedges. Make sure that you organize training sessions—not just for new employees, but for existing employees to stay sharp, too. On the floor, your veteran employees are your ambassadors. You may not always be visible to new employees, so make sure that your experienced employees are setting the tone.

Your company won’t be immune to issues, but fear not—issues give rise to opportunities. Each procedural flaw that comes to light also brings with it a chance for improvement. Learn from your mistakes and make sure that they don’t happen again. Share your successes—and your mistakes—with your employees, too. Learning and growth happens as a team.

Safety (anzen-sei 安否)

Yes, workplace safety has always been a relevant concern, but it’s taken on an entirely new meaning in 2020. You’ve probably experienced your fair share of issues maintaining safety standards this year.

As you continue to streamline your business, personal safety needs to be at the forefront of that process. If your employees don’t feel as though they are being cared for, they won’t care about their work. It’s as simple as that. So in addition to hardhats, make sure that masks and sanitizer are sorted and set in abundance around your workplace.

This entire article has been focused on the importance of efficiency. And rightfully so—an efficient business is a profitable one. But this sixth “S” is about much more than the bottom line, it’s about the people who make your business a reality. Without taking care of them, you can’t take care of your business.

So, sometimes efficiency will take a little bit of a hit when you are abiding by necessary social distancing guidelines, or when your budget has to include a literal metric tonne of hand sanitizer. It’s ok—people come first. Efficiency and profits will follow close behind.