By: Anwuli Chukwurah

All you need to know to navigate Excel and Google Sheets as a business owner with little to no experience in spreadsheets.

At some point in your business, you’ll need to open up a spreadsheet to do some calculations, build your financial model, answer questions about your sales, analyze your expenses, determine how much to pay your employees and determine how to price your product.

Before you can use any functions, all formulas start with the equals (=) symbol at the beginning. Once you have this, you’re letting Excel or Google Sheets know you want it to calculate something. You can use many different functions in Excel and Google Sheets, but you only really need to know how to use the following functions to do everything.

  1. Basic Math Functions: Plus (+), Minus (-), Multiplication (*), Division (/)
  2. SUM
  3. COUNT
  5. IF

Basic Math Functions

Like any calculator, you can use basic math functions such as Plus (+), Minus (-), Multiplication (*), and Division (/) within any cell in your spreadsheet. Once you start with an equals sign, you can reference any cell by clicking on it and then going forward with the basic math functions. If you don’t have a cell you want to reference, you can always type in the numbers you want in the cell and then press enter. The result will show in whatever cell you choose to put the formula in.


Instead of manually using the plus sign for every cell you want to add up, you can use the SUM function to add up a row or column of cells quickly. The SUM function can add your total annual sales and expenses.


If you have an inventory list in a spreadsheet and want to count how many of a particular product you have left, you can use the COUNT function to show the result automatically. This way, you won’t have to count it yourself manually!


You can use the AVERAGE functions to see, on average, how much you spent on expenses this year or how much you sell monthly. Once you know your average, you can use this number to forecast for the future months what you can expect to make.


The IF function is the more advanced function on this list. It’s unnecessary for you to know as a beginner, but it is necessary if you want to use logical formulas. If your business gives out commissions to employees based on sales, you can use the IF function to tell your spreadsheet to calculate the commission amount if sales reach a certain amount. You can also use the IF function to calculate referral fees based on the number of new customers you closed that month.

As your business demands grow, you may need to use even more advanced functions, but the goal is not to show how much advanced Excel knowledge you know; it’s to analyze what story your financials are saying about your business. As long as you can get to the answer, it doesn’t matter if you only use basic functions. All that matters is what answers you can get to determine your next steps in business.

About the author:

Anwuli Chukwurah is a versatile finance professional with a track record of starting new finance organizations and scaling them for growth in fast-paced entrepreneurial environments. She has over 6+ years of experience working with small business owners, startups, and nonprofit organizations to help connect finance with their business goals. She aims to ensure her clients become comfortable and adept at navigating their numbers. She works with clients at Woolichooks and writes a newsletter for non-finance folks.

Find the Spanish version here.