A decade ago, it was very difficult to complete a mail merge between applications from different vendors' software packages. Don't miss out on one of the most compelling benefits of Microsoft's stronghold over desktop office automation software. Be sure to take advantage of the tight integration across Microsoft products.

Don't Retype It. Merge It!

What are some easy ways you can begin putting this integration to use? Two examples immediately come to mind: mail merge and financial statement tables.

Do you need to create automatically, some customized mailing labels, envelopes or form letters, but often end up settling for some low-tech, tedious, scissors-and-glue approach?

The Mail Merge Helper wizard in Microsoft Word makes it very easy to pull in address lists, or similar data, from such programs as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Access. Don't even think about having your clerical staff retype the information!

Preparing Tables: Just Say No to Spaces and Tabs

Another small-business redundancy has to do with preparing financial statements within documents. In most companies, a CFO, accounting manger or controller prepares various financial statements in Microsoft Excel, and then passes the information over to an executive assistant to incorporate into regulatory documents, lender and investor updates, and annual reports.

Make sure your company isn't falling into this huge productivity trap. Be sure your executive assistant, or whomever is charged with pulling together these documents in Microsoft Word, is aware of simple, enormous timesaving shortcuts such as the Paste Special command on the Edit menu and the Object command on the Insert menu. All too often, I see the executive assistant retyping these financial statements from scratch in Microsoft Word, either by using the Insert Table feature or, even worse, by aligning text by using spaces and tabs. Ouch!

Be Diplomatic and Tread Gently at First

Not all companies will suffer from these same redundancies. But someone needs to take the time to go on a fact-finding mission in your organization to spot and remedy at least some of these inefficiencies.

Because of the sensitive nature of this, you may be better off leaning on your accountants or auditors for this task. In other cases, there's no reason a PC savvy office manager, controller or CFO can't preclude or successfully manage this exploratory work.

Discussion Points

  • Do you have a hunch that employees are retyping the same information over and over again?
  • Do your administrative staff members know how to fully exploit the mail merge features in the Microsoft Office suite?
  • Does your financial and publications staff understand how to easily take data prepared in Microsoft Excel and seamlessly place it into Microsoft Word documents?
  • Is there anyone in your company who's in a natural position to spend some time with each department or job function and look for opportunities to streamline workloads through more efficient use of Microsoft Office applications?

Joshua Feinberg (joshua@smallbiztechtalk.com) helps small businesses save money on computer support costs. His latest book, What Your Computer Consultant Doesn't Want You to Know ($19.99, Small Biz Tech Talk Press), exposes 101 money-saving secrets of expensive techies. To order Joshua's new book, visit www.SmallBizTechTalk.com or call 866-TECH-EXPERT (866-832-4397).

© Copyright 2002, Joshua Feinberg Small Biz Tech Talk is a registered trademark of KISTech Communications