Why I will never re-use an old Excel spreadsheet again!


It doesn’t really matter what size your business is, if you use excel chances are you’ve probably made a mistake when re-using an old spreadsheet. I wanted to share with you my own experience when i did exactly that, which luckily enough didn’t end in any catastrophe, but it could have. If you have recently found yourself clicking “File” then “Save As”, you should keep reading!

So, we are doing well with our marketing using Google AdWords lately, in fact I think we have “cracked it”. We started using AdWords in 2020 and as I had heard horror stories of massive bills from Google based on clicks that don’t even have any relevance, or even create a lead I decided to manage the budget very tightly. Naturally, I created a spreadsheet to manage the spend and I called it “Google AdWords Budget Tracker 2020”. Every month I would input the AdWords costs and subtracted it from the budget we allocated to, and it worked great.

All good so far right! So no prizes for guessing what I did in January this year! Yes that’s right, “Google AdWords Budget Tracker 2021” was born, and all was good in the world. As it was a clear winner in our marketing efforts in 2020, this year we decided to invest more in AdWords. So off I go, file, save as “Google AdWords Budget Tracker 2021”, and update the figures with our new budgeted amount.


So, roll on 6 months, and I’m busy tracking the monthly AdWords bills, praising the sales team on all the new leads coming in, and then I get asked the question at a recent board meeting. “How come we have only spent 16% of our AdWords budget and we are halfway through the year, should we not have roughly spent 50% already?”

So, I did what we all do, looked at the spreadsheet on the screen, stared at it, squinted at it, then started investigating, looking at the calculations inside the cells, and there it was, staring me in the face.We had decided at the start of 2021 to double our google AdWords budget for each quarter which was fine. However when I went into my 2021 tracker in excel instead of doubling the quarterly budget and multiplying by 4 for the annual budget, I manually multiplied the quarterly budget by 12!

I was proudly presenting a total planned budget for the year which was 300% more than we had budgeted, and it all came down to a basic formula error. Inevitably, formula mistakes are very common when we don’t do data validation.It is critical to make sure that everyone who touches an Excel spreadsheet is putting the right formulas in the right places even when you create a file explicitly for your own use. We all trust ourselves to use the right formulas in the right place. But what if like me a year later, you manually change the formula within a certain cell.

Lesson learned, validate and check your formulas even for simple spreadsheets you don’t expect to share.

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