I have been doing some jobs lately that require building some Excel software in the process; software I now think a lot of people might have a need for and I could make a commercial version of.

image: talk.payloadz.com
This week has been a crazy busy week for me. Not slept well and going from one client deadline to another. I did a job for a client that involved taking lots of phone numbers and converting them into a text file format that is compatible with Bulk SMS tools. Rather than do this manually, I built a software for it and did the conversion with it. I have a belief that many people face the same problem of having phone numbers in a format that they can't import into a Bulk SMS tool and they would like a tool that can do the work of putting the phone numbers in the right format and as a text file. My tool can also handle millions of phone numbers and generate text files with a specified amount of phone numbers per file (e.g 20,000 numbers per file). Do you think it will sell?

I spent Thursday night building an organization/club members database software in Access. It allows you to handle the common tasks done on a database list. And all in a very cool and life easing way. I did it as a volunteer job for an NGO and they were very happy with the tool. Now I'm considering making a commercial version. Do you think enough people will have a need for such a tool and be willing to pay to have it?

About 4 months ago, I built another Access tool to manage the examination and test records entry and processing for several schools and students, as many as 90,000. I did it for a client who has a good taste in software aesthetics and after many reviews I was able to build one of my most beautiful and complex data entry software. Now I am considering taking time to modify it and build a commercial version of it. Again, what do you think?

Those are the software ideas I have now, besides the investment analysis web application I want to make. Do you think any of these ideas are good enough or you have an idea of how I can make them good enough. Or you have a completely different idea of what I could build that people will need and be willing to pay for. Please do share with me. I promise to give you a significant portion of my first sales.

Starting and running your own business is a lot like schooling. The day you begin operations can be likened to the day you began nursery school. From that day forward what matter most are your determination to continue, even if you have to repeat some classes, and the high goal you set yourself, maybe to become a professor. The journey is such that even if you perform very poorly and struggle through nursery school, things could change for good for you in primary school (like it did for me after I did Nursery 2 twice and had to change school to not retake Primary 3; yet I jumped from Primary 4 to JSS 1). And if not, there is still secondary school and university. The people who go on to become university graduates, after close to 20 years of schooling, did so because they did not give up regardless of their performance at any point in those 20 years. And it is the same with business. You will be successful in the end if you hold on and keep giving it your best.

When you have a business idea, giving life to that idea is like taking your first exam in school. It's going to shake you to your core. But once you go through with it, you will find out that it's just one of many. It will always take more than one idea. In fact, how well you executed that idea is not going to matter much by the time you go through the other ideas you have to come up with. You are going to get better as you go from one idea to the next, and soon you'll find yourself less disturbed by the need to keep finding more ideas.

image: proecclesia.net

Every business goes through a life-cycle which begins with be born from an idea, then the survival race begins and once survival is comfortably established the business focuses on expansion. Then as the entire business landscape changes, the business will have to be born again to remain relevant and profitable. When a business gets to a stage where it bothers more about remaining relevant and profitable, then it is at a maturity stage. The stage every new business wants to reach.

So how do you take your business idea, turn it into a living business and ride that business to maturity stage? The answer is simple. Perhaps, simpler than you expect. You've done it before, with your schooling. All you have to do is not give up. Even if you fail a class, don't drop out. If JAMB is blocking your way, don't quit. If a lecturer is victimizing you, keep you eyes on the final goal. No matter what happens on your path to business success, don't quit. And that is the way to take a business from idea to maturity.

image: pinterest.com

Ever wondered what our best movies and role models have in common? Well, the answer is tough times. Most of us love action movies. Some love horror movies. And others love romantic comedies where one character faces an unending streak of tough times.

And when we pick role models, we don't pick sons of billionaires. We pick someone who faced very tough times on his way up. We value people who worked through typhoons and earthquakes to get to where they are than people who had it very easy. We want to pattern our live after that of people who went through tough times. Maybe it's that we want to be like the heroes of our best movies.

The unfortunate part is that in reality, things happen much slowly than in movies or biographies. We all praise Mandela for his heroic efforts and even wish to be as greatly honored worldwide as he was, but I don't think there is anyone of us that will want to spend his middle life, 27 years of it, in a jail and not knowing if he will come out alive. I don't even think some pastors will even want to do that to get to heaven with a honor that will equal that of the first Apostles and Paul.

In reality, when you are going through a tough time it doesn't come with an expiring day label or reward sticker. Even though you know people who were in worse situations and came out better, you still won't feel good or happy. What you will be thinking of are what you've brought upon yourself and how to get of it quick. The inspiring feeling you always have when you listen to people's inspiring story of turning tough times to steps to glory and the secret longing for your own glorifying tough time will no longer be there. 

We all know that there is a light at the end of a dark tunnel. But when you are in one all alone and without a torch, that light is like eternity away. You will be too busy doing damage control, and not bumping into too many things in the dark than to even remember that there is a light awaiting you at the end.

Someone put it this way: Every cloud has a silverlining, the trouble is that it can't be minted. Even when we say there is always a rainbow after the storm, we all know that rainbows don't restore what the storm has damaged. And when you are under a very dark cloud facing your own storm, your loses are real and painful, and you worry about them and not some feel good quotes about silverlinings and rainbows.

So are there any real benefits to facing tough times? Yes, there are. They bring you closer to being a hero. To being someone others will get inspiration from. Like the Chinese say, there is no diamond without some cutting and polishing. You can't be truly great without tough times. Tough times are definitely good when viewed from a large picture frame of mind.

The one thing I will advise is that you try to choose your tough times. Go after the life you really want even if it will take you through a hurricane. Don't let it be that people drag you through their own storms. Find your own storm. And trust that you will come out okay at the other end, because tough times never last.

For a lot of us Facebook takes more of our time than we would like to give it. A couple of us don't seem to be getting much value from our intensive twitter activities. And for those in love with Instagram all the love they get back are the laughs the funny pictures they frequently come across induce. We all spend time on websites that give us little value in return.

Today, however, I'll be sharing with you the websites you should spend more time on this year.

1. Wikipedia
If you ask me to rate all websites, Wikipedia will get the top stop. It is a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a book of biographies, a science journal and a research companion. Whenever you've got serious work to do online you will often find yourself visiting the website more.

2. LinkedIn
If you are serious about your business and career then you have to be on LinkedIn and be very active. I have gotten jobs and clients from LinkedIn than from adverts or any other channel. It has given me visibility in the field of expertise I focus on and gotten me a lot of high value connections.

3. Google
You should be doing more Google searches this year. Learn more about everything that interests you.

4. Maps
There is a pleasant feeling about going somewhere you've not been before and just being guided by a map. And this time I mean an online map. Google Map, preferably. I once went to meet a friend/client and when I asked for the meeting venue he sent me a Google map link. I also delivered a training participant's e-class materials to her place by following Google Map directions.

And those are the four websites I think everyone of us should use more of this year.

Yesterday I saw an advert by FCMB that it now does Saturday banking and I jumped to the conclusion that it will use its regular staff and they are not going to get paid overtime. Increasingly, more jobs are requiring more than the standard 8am to 5pm weekdays. Jobs at small companies do and now even the big prestigious companies are following suit. And some companies who pay overtime to their staff who work beyond the regular work hours are now finding clever ways of avoiding that payment. The only way to not be exploited as an employee is to work for a big multinational that treats its staff in Nigeria the same as it treats its American staff. 

The absence of government policies and laws to prevent exploitation of employees and the very small jobs to qualified seekers have made it very easy for companies to make unreasonable and exploitative demands of their staff. They want you to resume before the agreed resumption time and close later than the agreed closing time, and you still have to respond to emails from home. Then when the work grows beyond the capacity of the current staff, they want you to come to work on Saturdays rather than hire more people. So when you join, your workload increases at a rate multiple times that of any salary increase you get.

But there is a good side to this situation. It creates a lot of hidden opportunities. Once you can break free from the corporate group thinking and keep your eyes and skills ready for the wind of opportunity, you can be sure to encounter many. It wasn't only MTN who made a killing in the early days of GSM in Nigeria; the recharge card guys did. Many regular people became silent millionaires because they had their eyes and skills ready for the opportunity. And it's the same for the guys making it big in computer village; most of them started with just one tiny corner floor and ended up becoming Slot and others. 

image: think29.com
When everyone goes after the same jobs and the same old companies, there will always be not so obvious opportunities for the person who decides to be an outlier. I recently added a lot of people working with Konga, the online retailing startup, and almost all the senior staff left Etisalat for Konga. Sim Shagaya spotted an opportunity others weren't seeing and started Konga, now it's big enough to entice people working with a big telecoms company like Etisalat to come join it.

There are many needs that no one is currently meeting in Nigeria. There are job types that are yet to be popular and already have a market. There are things you can do on the side to take advantage of hidden opportunities. The corporate business world is no longer friendly. There is no more job security and full-time work is fast becoming full-week work. Until the government does something about the dearth of well structured companies in Nigeria, we have to seek out the hidden opportunities.

Last week Friday and Saturday were very busy days for me. We had our January Excel training class. One of the participants flew in from Abuja. And as expected the feedback was excellent. There were many "Wow! So that is how those reports are done." moments and "Oh my God! I spent an entire day trying to do just and still didn't get it." moments.

And the participants all loved the practical and interactive way the training was conducted. All their questions were answered and even questions they should have asked were answered. I had to spent most of Sunday resting.

The next month's class will be on the weekend after presidential election which is also a week before the state elections. The two elections are two weeks apart: 14th and 28th February, 2015. While our training is on 20th and 21st February 2015. You can read more about it the training here: UrBizEdge Excel Training. And you can reserve a slot on our Eventbrite page. We also have adverts running on Google already, if you search for Excel training related keywords, you will see our advert right there above or beside your search results.

Again, there will be just 10 slots and at a discounted price.

Last month I got an opportunity to be on TV for the first time and to talk about something I'm passionate about - volunteering. It was in celebration of the International Volunteers Day. I couldn't make it. And now another opportunity has presented itself. Next week Tuesday I will be on Radio, Nigerian Info 99.3, and will be talking on something I live on -- Data. And big data, specifically. I will be helping the everyday Nigerian and the small business owner understand how they can benefit from the ongoing data revolution.

It's going to be my first time on radio and I will be needing your helpful suggestions on how to be ready for it, from preparing for my talk content to making sure I don't have a terrible cold that makes me sneeze on that day. The program is a 30 mins ICT for business talk show.

Also if you have a tip on what aspects of big data the average Nigerian or small business owner will find very valuable, please do let me know. So I don't sound like someone talking rocket science on radio.

I know I still owe you the appreciation and report post on how the 1 hour 45 mins talk I was invited to give on Entrepreneurship last year went. It went excellently well and I owed that to the so many valuable advice I got from some of you. I will make a proper report someday. Recently, I'm finding it very hard to write the things I plan to. I write at past midnight, when I am very tired and feeling sleepy. I get inspiration fast in that mode with the drawback that I often have little control over the choice of what to write. I simply write whatever comes to my mind. This has been making it very hard for me to plan a blog post, like the proper report of that my talk on entrepreneurship. When I get inspiration at 4am it's usually to write something I never planned to.

I will be waiting for your valuable advice. I know that once again, you will all help me do a remarkable job. Thanks.

There is this advert that runs on CNN about a meeting of global business leaders and in the advert they get someone up there in the business world to talk for about 1 min on the future of global business. One of them said that what will give the developed countries an edge over the developing countries is their knowledge driven economy. Anyone can replicate a manufacturing business and even do it cheaply, as we have seen China and India do. Anyone can improve on already existing business models. But the one thing that developing countries trail the developed ones at is in the use of their brain for something novel. Coming up with something entirely new. Being innovative. Being knowledge driven.

Facebook began a project called internet.org aimed at making everyone, especially those in third world countries, have access to the internet. Their main claim is that the future of the world economy is a knowledge economy, and internet will be its backbone.

This week The Economist did a special report on how it is becoming increasingly hard for the rags to riches story that characterized the lives of the men who built America to be replicated now. You can read it here: America’s new aristocracy. And its main point is knowledge is now playing a bigger than ever role in the path to wealth. The real asset is now intellectual capital. Knowledge is the new currency. Gone are the days when you could acquire wealth by being very hardworking, regardless of your educational background. Nowadays, if you are not lucky to have a parent who value education and are rich enough to start you bright and early, you have an extremely slim chance of working your way to wealth.

Globally, we now live in a knowledge economy. What you know now matters extremely more than what you do with your hands. Wealth and power is increasingly shifting into the hands of the geeks, the entrepreneurial professors and the eggheads. People who use only their heads.

As usual, Nigeria is still not reflective of global happenings. We are always slow to catch up. It was decades after the world began using ATMs that we caught up. Same with mobile phones. We are always late to the party. We may still have people who do not value knowledge dominating our economy for some time, but it won't be for long. As the world becomes smaller and closer through globalization, the new currency of knowledge will soon become widely accepted in Nigeria and those short of it will lose a lot.

Next month, we will be picking or admitting a new President. Picking, if our votes are not substantially rigged. Admitting, if the rigging is massive.

image: olosho360.com.ng
And today, I want you to share with the rest of us who you will be voting for next month and why.

For me, I choose Buhari. Not really because of any of his agenda or that I believe he would make a great President, but because I don't want Jonathan there for another four boring years. The truth is that the impression I get every time I see the picture of Jonathan or listen to him talk is that of someone who is already very satisfied with having become a President and is not bothered whether he makes a good President or a bad one. More like someone who has already surpassed his wildest dream and whatever happens under his presidential watch are just extras. With him I see the past and not a future. I see another four years just like the last four years or worse. And he is my reason for choosing Buhari.

Buhari is not a great choice either. Just preferable to Jonathan. That you are not corrupt is not enough reason to be handed the presidency of a country like Nigeria. We need technocrats more than just clean politicians. And I don't even consider him clean; I see him as just less corrupt that most. We need a President who really understands how a country should be run, who understands the economics of governance, who will make the deep surgical changes we need. Someone who will trim the public service and make it effective. Someone who will pump more money into fixing our educational system and not just claim to create jobs. Someone who has a deep knowledge of economic policies. Someone who is going to steer us in the right direction and not trying to get at old or new enemies. We need a competent leader and not a clean leader (which I don'r even think we have).

And that is my own reason for picking Buhari, Now your turn, who will you pick and why?

The internet has put into the hands of everyone a vast amount of information. The same level of information the rich gets is also what the poor can affordably (usually, freely) get on the internet. It has improved the upward social mobility likelihood for the ingenuous poor. You can get a Ph.D online. You can earn a living online. You can read news daily, online. You can learn about anything that interests you, online. You can access the powerful tools that were only available to the very rich a few years back, cheaply/freely now online. 

For the very creative and internet savvy person, the internet is like a portal to wherever he wants to go. Yet there are a lot of people who still are missing out of the real value in accessing the internet. They use it more like the TV in a doctor's office -- always tuned to the terrible stations. They can't seem to get a good enough value for the time they spend online. They frequent just a couple of low value websites daily and feel that the internet is a place for one to waste time and check on friends. They miss out of the huge relevant value that is available to them on the internet. In fact, I see them as someone who went to the museum but spent the most time checking out the restroom there rather the main things that make museums a tourist attraction.

So how do you get value for the time you spend online?
The answer looks very easy for tech freaks like me. I feel no inhibition online. I have all my details scattered everywhere online. I have my ATM/Debit card details on over 30 websites. I even think on over 100 websites. I prefer to buy things online than offline. I try out everything I can online. I am currently doing an online MBA despite never wanting to go back to the University; I saw an advert online someday and clicked it, and it looked so cheap and application was fully online. No sending of hardcopy transcripts or hardcopy reference letters or hardcopy certificates. I applied in one day. Got two friends to send in a reference letter for me by the next week. And I got my admission the week after submitting my reference letters. It was way easier than opening a bank account. Or even registering for PayPal. And that was what lured me into completing my application. I started out of curiousity and was hoping they would make a request for something I would need to send physically which is the same as telling me to stop. I never finished any academic application since getting my B.Eng (except one Stress Consulting Diploma program that had a super easy application process) because I hate filling a form I can't finish at one sitting in front of my computer. And once they request for anything hard copy or test of English or GRE or GMAT I don't bother anymore even if they were offering a full scholarship with salary-like monthly stipend attached. But put up anything online and even ask me to pay and I will give it a try. I seem to always know where to go online.

But if you are not an internet native like me, there are still some tips to help you increase the value you get online.

  1. Join the online equivalent of the communities you are a member of offline. I am a member of a public speaking community offline, and used to be a member of a community of French language learners. I went online and searched for online ones too and joined them. And I didn't stop there, I also joined the online versions of communities I loved to be a part of -- data analysis community, book writing community, professional networking communities and technical communities. When you join communities, you surround yourself with people doing what you want to do and benefit from the peer pressure effect it will have on you. Giving you the confidence to do the things you want to do or achieve. It's one of the best ways to get value for your time online.
  2. Overcome your online fears. I have a friend who for years dreaded being on Facebook. He had genuine concerns about his privacy and fear of someone hijacking his account for a malicious purpose. The internet is like Lagos, there are many dangerous places and dangerous people there. But when you decide to sit at home because of fear, you are doing yourself more harm than good. I am very active online but what I engage in are activities that I will love people to find out about me. I put everything about me that I am not ashamed of online. It earns me people's attention, friendship, business opportunities and trust. And my life has changed in ways that an online hacker cannot reverse. 
  3. Start small. When I began buying things online, I started very small. I bought low price things that I wouldn't cry about if they weren't delivered. Gradually, I progressed to buying more expensive things online. And now my most expensive phone, an iPhone, I bought it from an individual seller in the US. We even communicated via email. Now I buy things online like I do in a traditional/offline market. Some knowledge come only with experience. I get the best deals on anything I can buy online, from software to physical goods.
  4. I use Google a lot. I search for anything that interests me. I increase my chances of stumbling on new things daily and finding possible sources of value online.
And those are my 4 simple tips to getting value for your time online. 

This is the final part of the series on VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP and the combination of INDEX & MATCH. You can read the first part here and the second part here.

In the previous parts, I broke down in a very easy to understand way how to use VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP, and also when to use them. In this post, I am going to show you the amazing power of INDEX & MATCH and how easy it is to use. You can download the practice file here.

As usual, we need a situation. A business need. And we will continue with the HR Employee table in the practice file we've been using. You are the company's HR Manager. You woke up this morning to see an email from the CEO with a list of phone numbers that he says are for employees he didn't save their contact details properly on his phone. So he wants you to provide him their details from the employee database you manage.

The first thing you did when you got work today was to create a table to house the details you want to send him. The table looks like the one below:

And below is a screenshot of the Employee database you manage.

You are not ready to start typing the details you need to send the CEO or do multiple copy and paste. You want to use a formula you can input in the first record row and drag down to do for the other records. A formula that will look for the phone number in the Employee table and give you the corresponding Employee Number, First Name, Last Name and Email.

You might be tempted to use VLOOKUP since this looks so much like what we used VLOOKUP for in the first part. And I will say you should give it a try. Seeing things for yourself is better than just having someone tell you that VLOOKUP won't work in this case. And the reason is that VLOOKUP only picks records that are to the right of the lookup value. In this case, the Employee Number, First Name and Last Name that we want to pick are to the left of the Phone Number that is our lookup value. Hence, VLOOKUP won't work.

You will have to use INDEX & MATCH. And they are very easy to understand and use.

INDEX works like a cabinet with many rows and columns of drawers. Each drawer holds one item or record. And to reach a specific drawer you simply provide the row position and column position. And this is very similar to having an Excel table with rows and columns of data. Using INDEX on such a table, you can pick the record in a particular row and column. For example, row 1 column 1 for the first record in the table.

So in this case, you will be using INDEX to pick the records the CEO has requested for. You already know that in the Employee data table, Employee Number is in column 1, First Name is in Column 2, Last Name is in Column 3 and Email is in Column 5. What is left is the row number. Unfortunately, the row number will depend on where the phone number you are looking for is in the Employee data table; the row it is on. And this where you will need MATCH.

MATCH is a very simply Excel formula that tells you the position of a record. It is what will tell you the row the phone number we need the details of is on the Employee data table. And that is what we will give to INDEX to provide us with the corresponding Employee Number, First Name, Last Name and Email.

Now you know the logic of what to do. It's time you began inputting the formulas. Your CEO is not a patient man.

 And here is the formula: (It looks long because the tables are in different sheets)

=INDEX('HR Database'!$A$1:$I$201,MATCH('Urgent Request'!$B$3,'HR Database'!$D$1:$D$201,0),1)

And here is the explanation of how to input it and the logic flow.

Remember I said INDEX gives you what is in a specific row and column of a table. So INDEX has the following formula syntax:
=INDEX(table, row number, column number)

In this case the table is 'HR Database'!$A$1:$I$201
The row number is gotten for us by MATCH('Urgent Request'!$B$3,'HR Database'!$D$1:$D$201,0)
The column number is 1 (for Employee Number)

Now you understand the INDEX logic.

Next is MATCH.
MATCH gets you the position of a record. And its syntax is
=MATCH(record, record_field, exact_or_not_exact)
And in this case, the record is the phone number you know, the record field is the phone number column in Employee Data table and you tell Excel to give us exact match by typing 0.

And that's what you did with MATCH('Urgent Request'!$B$3,'HR Database'!$D$1:$D$201,0)
You told Excel to look for the record 'Urgent Request'!$B$3
in the record field 'HR Database'!$D$1:$D$201
and give an exact match, 0

This will make MATCH return the row position the phone number is on. Which INDEX will use to get us the Employee Number (Column 1). And we simply do the same to get First Name, Last Name and Email, just by changing the Column number INDEX should pick from.

Now try doing for the other records.  And a tip: change Urgent Request'!$B$3 to Urgent Request'!$B3 to be able to drag the formula down and have it work for the other records. Don't forget to download the practice file here.

In a subsequent post I will explain the difference between $B$3, B3, $B3 and B$3. In that post you'll learn to build a Multiplications Table simply by dragging one formula. It's the one activity that makes the brightest participants in my training classes go on a long meditation.

Till then, keep Excel-ing!

I remember my Excel genius Indian senior colleague telling me in 2011, "Michael you are too slow!" I couldn't understand. I never felt faster. I was moving the mouse furiously and pounding on the keyboard. If I was faster it would look like I was on drugs.

So I asked him, "Why? I am working really fast."

"Nope, you are not. You are using the mouse. In Excel, if you use the mouse then you will be very slow. Use keyboard shortcuts."

That advice changed my Excel life. In a few weeks I had memorized enough keyboard shortcuts that I could be on Excel making complex reports and switching between eight different Excel files without touching the mouse. I even close Excel files without clicking on anything, I use CTRL + W.

Today, I will be sharing with you my most used keyboard shortcuts.

I will start with a list of the ones we all know and move to less known ones.

  • CTRL + C => Copy
  • CTRL + V => Paste
  • CTRL + X => Cut
  • CTRL + F => Find and Replace
  • CTRL + B => Make cell entry bold
  • CTRL + U => Underline cell entry
  • CTRL + I => Make cell entry italic
  • CTRL + A => Select all (within current region). Do CTRL + A twice to select entire Excel sheet
  • CTRL + O => Launch the file opening dialog box. To open an Excel file,
  • CTRL + P => Print
  • CTRL + S => Save 
  • CTRL + Z =>Undo
  • CTRL + Y => Redo (more like undo undo)
  • CTRL + T => Convert your cells records to a table. Tables are more colorful and formula friendly. Try it for any Excel list you have created.
Now to the less known.

CTRL + down arrow key
This will enable you jump from the top of an Excel table to the bottom.

And the cool thing is that it works with the other arrow keys. If you want to jump from bottom to the top, just press CTRL + up arrow key. Also try it with the left and right arrow keys.

CTRL + SHIFT + down arrow key
This will enable you select everything from top to the bottom of an Excel table. Saves a lot of precious time clicking and scrolling.

The one thing every new user of Excel finds very frustrating in Excel is making a correction to what you've typed in Excel. It's not like Microsoft Word where a backspace will let you correct OPENE to OPEN. In Excel doing a backspace will wipe out the entire cell entry. And this is where F2 comes to the rescue. Pressing on F2 lets you work with the cell record like you would in Microsoft Word, and pressing a backspace will now work as expected.

F2 is one of the function keys at the top of your keyboard.

Sometimes I need to drag a formula down. You can use the mouse to drag the formula down or simply select the cell with the formula and all the cells below that you want to drag the formula down to, and do CTRL + D.

The great thing is that you can drag formula to the right too, by doing CTRL + R

ALT keyboard shortcuts
In Excel (and other Microsoft office programs) if you press the ALT key, you will see a bunch of letters at the menu bar. Pressing one of the letters you see will make Excel act like you've clicked the menu option the letter represents.

In the screenshot below I pressed ALT and the letters came up. Then I pressed letter P, which is for Page Layout. Notice what happened, in the second screenshot.

If I press another letter for the options under Page Layout, I will be doing the same thing as clicking that option with my mouse.

And that's the magic of using the ALT keyboard shortcuts. Try it. Remember that you shouldn't press the keys at the same time. Press ALT and wait for Excel to catch up and show you the set of letters available, the press the letter you want and wait again. 

My favourite ALT keyboard shortcuts are 
  • ALT, H, V, V => To paste what I copied as values
  • ALT, H, K => To format number as comma style (10000 to display as 10,000.00)
  • ALT, H, 9 => To remove decimal points (change the 10,000.00 to 10,000)
  • ALT, H, E, A => To erase everything in the cells I selected, including borders and color formatting. The usual Delete only removes content not borders and colors. So I use this a lot.
  • ALT, A, M => To remove duplicates
  • ALT, N, V, T => To insert a Pivot Table. It's ALT, N, V for Excel 2013
  • ALT, A, F, T => To import a text file into Excel
  • ALT, H, V, S, V, D => To add one cell's value to another cell's. Equivalent of copy, paste special, paste as value and add to existing value.
  • ALT, H, V, S, E = > Paste as transpose. I use this a lot too.
  • ALT, H, V, S, V, M => To multiply a cell with the value of another cell. Same as copy paste special, paste as value and multiply. I use this to convert numbers stored as text to numbers by multiplying them all with a cell I typed 1 into. 
And those are my most used Excel keyboard shortcuts.

There is one more, it is ALT + TAB. I use it to switch between different opened Excel files.

Unfortunately, there are no Easter eggs in Excel. I'm still hoping to find one. In Linux, the debian version, if you type sudo apt-get moo in the command line, you will get an Easter egg joke which gets better when you add -v ( turning it to sudo apt-get moo -v). Then, another v (sudo apt-get moo -vv). And another v. Then a final v. If you ever come across a Ubuntu Linux try it and you will never forget those commands.

I hope you have got a plan for this year. It doesn't have to be very elaborate or even written down; it just has to be in your working memory. A plan of how you are going to achieve one or more strategic goals this year.

There is a helpful extra push planning gives you. Your chances of achieving what you want greatly increases when you think out a plan of how you will do it. Planning helps break down your goals to smaller steps arranged in the order you will take them. Planning gives you a heightened sense of responsibility towards your goal. Planning often help you to go beyond achieving your current goals; when you plan your way to success, you can more easily come up with a bigger goal and have a bigger confidence in yourself. And for some goals, planning is necessary.

I have already come up with my plans for this year. Plans that will help me achieve my goals this year, starting from my new year resolution to be fluent in reading French to my business goals. It's just three weeks into the new year and I am already having trouble sticking to my plans. It happens. If what I wanted was very easy I wouldn't need a plan. No one plans brushing his teeth or any other trivial activities. It is the big activities we plan. And sometimes, we struggle with our plans and even have to remake them, But we are always better off with a plan, even a weak plan, than with no plan.

So if you haven't come up with any plan for this year, then take some time off today to think about what you would like to achieve this year and come up with a plan of how you will achieve them. Have a 2015 plan.

I may be terrible at running a business in the real world but I am very good at business analysis. My knowledge of business economics is excellent. And it's mostly because I worked hard on it. Till I started my business and pooled my financial resources, all my savings were in investments I manage by myself. I ensured that I converted my theoretical knowledge to a practical one. I follow the world economic and financials events like football. Even the bulk of what is my MBA class materials are what I already know.

image: the-faith.com
In my optimistic moments, I see myself as someone who has spent too much time at a driving school and is now moving on to the real roads. That the troubles I'm having are normal and success is just a matter of time. And today, I am in my optimistic moments and have taken up a self-bestowed task of giving you a business advice.

In the business economics world there is what we call absolute advantage and comparative advantage. If you are Usain Bolt then you have an absolute advantage in the 100m and 200m racing business. Why? Because you are the best in the world at it. No one runs faster than you. And that is called having an absolute advantage. Then if you are Nigerian Railway Corporation, you have a comparative advantage. You are very terrible at what you do but everyone is busy going after more juicy businesses than trying to compete with you and you have government legislative help. It's like having a househelp; you can take care of your house/children way better than her yet you still keep her. She has a comparative advantage over you. You would rather spend more time doing revenue generating activities like going to work and hanging out with business partners than competing with your househelp.

Every business or entrepreneur starts with what he's got a comparative advantage in. He starts by making his service or product the most accessible or affordable. He attracts customers who find him their most convenient option. Just like the mallam whose store is opposite your house. Even though his toothpaste costs way more than what Shoprite sells one for, you will not rush out on a Monday morning to get one at Shoprite when the mallam sells one. Shoprite can even do a promo of buy one toothpaste and get one free, and the mallam wouldn't see any decline in his sales of toothpastes. His location makes him the most convenient option for people on his street who suddenly run out of toothpaste. And it's same for all businesses. The same Shoprite sells a lot of things more expensively than Walmart. Since not everyone can delay their purchase till their next US trip or even can afford a US trip, Shoprite keeps having a huge comparative advantage over Walmart. No business starts as the best in the world, they only grow into becoming the best in the world. They, with time and superior efforts, convert their comparative advantage to absolute advantage. If your househelp puts her mind into her work, she would someday become better at taking care of your house than you.

So when you are starting a business, choose a narrow field where you have a big comparative advantage. And aim at building an absolute advantage in that field. That's also my business strategy. I started by entrepreneurial journey in 2006 when I started an NGO, Student Career and Carrier Agency. I went from one secondary school to another setting up career counselling programs for students, especially those in SS2. I spent my life savings then to come up with my unique materials and proposal letters to school principals. Since then I have been an independent CCNA instructor, written FORTRAN program for money, consulted as a Linux trainer, worked as a photographer, started a desktop publishing  business, earned money as a Mathematics private tutor and fixing computer issues. Then I also have more professional skills I acquired working in over 5 different companies. I began my professional job career as a CyberCafe assistant administrator in 2006.

There is clearly a lot that I have a comparative advantage in. I could set up a computer networking training institute and succeed. I could go back to being a professional photographer. I could be a Linux consultant and earn big bucks. I could re-energize my NGO and apply for funding from government and international bodies. But I chose to be an Excel consultant instead. I know that I have the my biggest comparative advantage there. I can more easily go global, creating an absolute advantage there.

When you chose a narrow field and aim to be the best at it, you won't end up building a conglomerate and miss cashing in on all the business fields you have a comparative advantage. But you will end up surviving and flourishing for many generations to come. You will become like those Swiss luxury watch makers and centuries old banks.

It seems the one aspect of life I have been very lucky to get right is knowing myself; who I really am. My strengths and weaknesses. And like every useful skill I have, I started from below the surface.

image: evolllution.com
I don't think anyone could have grown up more confused that me. I had such a very unremarkable childhood that I remember only very few people and events I encountered till age 13. They were my dark years. I had trouble fitting anywhere besides in the pages of the books I read. But there was a special advantage to it. I read all types of books, as long as there were written in English. I read novels, my dad's medical books, my mum's sociology books, the books my mum bought off the school she was teaching when the library was closed, and the books I could borrow. 

Two categories of books had the most profound effect on me. They were novels and philosophy books. As a child, I had a very imaginative mind. After reading a novel, I would do a remix of the novel that swapped out one of the main characters with me. So I became very introvertive, mentally remoulding myself into a fictional hero. And since the more you think about yourself the more you know yourself, I was already laying the foundation of a deep self knowledge. Then when writings of Aristotle and Plato got into the mix, things shut up to a new level. At age 14 I was obsessed with finding answers to questions about my life and the world around me from the perspective of a philosopher. Like every other childhood obsession, I outgrew my obsession with philosophy but the seeds it sown in me lived on. It helped me form a habit of thinking hard about everything and from an impersonal and long-term platform. Like there are two "me": one "me" is the one in the situation I am analyzing and the other "me" is the objective judge looking in from outside. And that way I found it much easier to identify my weaknesses and my strengths. 

I sometimes regard the world as one giant laboratory and I am both a specimen and a scientist in that lab. That it is my duty to identify all the unique features of this specimen, me, and to give it features I would like it to have. And that my entire life is an experiment. 

The merits of my approach to knowing my strengths and weaknesses are debatable. But some things about it are not. I don't expect you to unfit yourself in the society and acquire a child-like creativity. And not everyone would like to regard his own life as an experiment. However, if you want to know your strengths and weaknesses, you will have to start with an empty list. You will need to put aside your preconceptions. You will need to objectively evaluate yourself. You will have to be creative enough to describe yourself in your own words, and not in the words of another person. And you will need to stare your weakness in the face like an unemotional judge, and letting it reveal itself fully to you. Knowing your strengths is very easy and you, most probably, already do. The tricky thing about strengths is learning to not use them as a cover up for your weaknesses. No one removes the effect of a rotten egg by mixing it with a lot of good eggs.

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses makes a lot of major life decisions easy. You will find the erratic winds of life more manageable and you won't be anyone's pawn. It also makes you a more daring and dear-ing person.

I can feel myself close to a burnout. Though I have been turning down many job and non-job requests and already freeing up my Sundays, but I have severely overworked in December till New Year's day that what I most need is to take time completely off work, like a full week or two. It's now inevitable that some of the job and non-job requests I have taken up will not be done as soon as I intended. I will have to slowly shutdown for some days and let deadlines speed by.

image: hijabiblog.com

I have lots of emails I have not replied or even completely read. Lots of phone calls I have been missing. I have even stopped looking through my BBM chat. It is not unusual, just that this time I won't be in a hurry to reply them once I find the time. I will deliberately be spending the time I can squeeze out, even by postponing jobs, to rest. I will be slowing down and permanently implementing a speed limit. I will be taking fewer jobs, partner with others more and have two fully free days a week (my own Saturday and Sunday).

I will also spend a larger share of my working time on things that will get easier with time, like setting up a monthly Excel training. I will also use my charging more to pick jobs to do. For the type of jobs I don't like, I will give a very high charge. I will also let the financial/payment part of my jobs be completely agreed on before I start or even finish the technical specifications part.

I will end up becoming much less accessible for the next few weeks: not picking most phone calls, delaying replies to emails and working more strictly within the terms of the jobs for clients (I have found out that I end up doing way more than what was agreed).

If I am owing you an email reply or BBM reply, please bear with me. A clean shutdown is always better than a system crash. If I don't slow down to a halt now, I will experience a burnout.

With special thanks to the new business development manager who came on board, the training is now standardized and will now be done every month. We already have a training center in Ikeja and working on having another on in Lekki soon. So people will be able to attend the one closest to them.

The Training days are:

Friday 23th January 2015 to Saturday 24th January 2015.

Friday 20th February 2015 to Saturday 21st February 2015

Friday 13th March 2015 to Saturday 14th March 2015

Friday 10th April 2015 to Saturday 11th April 2015

Friday 22nd May 2015 to Saturday 23rd May 2015

Friday 12th June 2015 to Saturday 13th June 2015

Friday 10th July 2015 to Saturday 11th July 2015

Friday 21st August 2015 to Saturday 22nd August 2015

Friday 11th September 2015 to Saturday 12th September 2015

Friday 23rd October 2015 to Saturday 24th October 2015

Friday 13th November 2015 to Saturday 14th November 2015

Friday 11th December 2015 to Saturday 12th December 2015

The training is designed for people who already use Microsoft Excel in their jobs and want to become Excel Ninjas, greatly boosting their work productivity and innovatively solving business problems using Excel. It is a hands-on training and because of our selectivity in enrolling participants, it is not at all a large class and everyone get the maximum value for their money. I get to share my practical knowledge, productivity hacks and Excel tricks I use daily in my consulting work for companies and across accounting, sales analysis, report automation, procurement/inventory management and employee leave and training management.

Participants also get our entire online training content, which we use for distance students and they now pay heavily for, so participants can easily keep the knowledge they acquire fresh till it becomes indellibly part of them.

Past participants of our training are:
Business Analysts at multinational companies who needed to make standardized Excel reports for their HQ and are heavily evaluated for their analysis and reporting skills.
Accountants (and one CFO) who work a lot with large Excel reports and are interested in becoming extremely fast, able to automate some analysis and improve the templates they already use.
Sales Managers who have to make strategic sales reports and come up with data-driven business cases.
Business owners who want to use technology to improve their business processes. Most even request custom Excel programs and still go ahead to attend the training because they want to be able to build the Excel models and programs themselves.
Project Managers who want to automate project milestone tracking, make automated forms for their teams to fill easily without errors and rebuild the templates they inherited from past PMs to a better more business natural one.
And bankers. The ones who are ambitious and want to be as productive as possible.

Finally, as we are a Microsoft Partner with a high dedicated expertise in Microsoft Excel for business, your certificate is not like any other trainer's. Anyone that runs a background check on it will be certain of the high quality training you got.

You can register for this month's own here: January Class