Recently, an idea came to me to plan a conference for women entrepreneurs here in Atlanta. It’s to celebrate the 40th anniversary of an organization near and dear to my heart, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).
There are lots of moving parts to such an undertaking, needless to say. And planning a conference needs to be effective and easy to see these moving parts. So where did I turn? A spreadsheet.
It doesn’t matter if you use MS Office Excel, Google Docs Sheet, or Apple’s iWork Numbers as I do. All of these programs permit saving documents in multiple formats, with Excel being the most common denominator.
Spreadsheets are an amazing tool for organizing a great deal of data into information. They are easily sharable — who doesn’t have a spreadsheet program on their computer, or use something like Google Docs?
This isn’t so different really from what business owners do (or should be doing) with their own budgets and plans. If you have an idea for a new product or service, how do you put forth the details to allow you to make decisions about pricing and sales? How do you project upside and downside outcomes to see what your exposure might be?
My starting place for this conference plan was a budget. Revenue and expenses are both critically important components of any event. At the planning stage, revenue is likely to be difficult to project. I like to look at a range of options, and the spreadsheet allows me to set up one scenario and then try out different factors — for example, different registration fees for different constituencies — and see the immediate impact of changing a price or the projected number of registrations.
Spreadsheets terrify some people but I think they’re fun. OK, I’m odd. But really, they CAN be a great tool with myriad uses if you have just a few basics down. Then you’ll find all sorts of other things, if you’re the curious sort, to live into the remarkable functionality. (A fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer posted a query on Facebook the other day, asking for a quick way to create a pictorial directory of all her volunteers with their pictures and contact info — guess what I suggested? This is kind of what I imagine it could look like.)
How do YOU begin planning? Where do you brainstorm your next new business product idea and look at its economics? How about trying a spreadsheet?