Basic Spreadsheet Functions You Need to Know as a Business Owner

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
  4. AVERAGE
  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.

SUM

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.

COUNT

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!

AVERAGE

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.

IF

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.

Most Common Taxes & Filings for a Business

By Anwuli Chukwurah

It’s a lot better to prepare for them than to get a surprise tax bill.

Taxes. They’re a necessary part of doing business, and you need to make sure you’re aware and are planning for when you’ll eventually have to cough up the money you owe the government. Tax planning is an essential part of running your business, and you need to ensure you save a portion of your net income every month when the payments are due. This post is not for non-profits — except for your annual 990 filing to let the government know you’re still alive as an organization and you won’t owe the government money.

Here are the five most common paid taxes by small business owners:

  1. Income Tax
  2. Sales Tax
  3. Payroll Tax (includes Unemployment Tax)
  4. Franchise Tax
  5. Property Tax

Income Tax

  • Frequency: Annual
  • Mandatory: Yes

This annual tax is due in March (for corporations) or April for everybody else. Work with a CPA to ensure you’re paying the right amount and you’ve taken advantage of any deductions. If you’re an LLC, your business income tax is filed with your personal income tax. Yes, just because you have a business doesn’t mean you get out of filing your own personal taxes. I’m not a tax accountant, so I always refer clients to a CPA.

Sales Tax

  • Frequency: Annual/Quarterly/Monthly
  • Mandatory: Depends on the business industry

For sales tax, I suggest you call your local sales tax office for answers. If you have no idea if you’re supposed to pay sales tax, call the local office to get a quick answer. It will save you hours scrolling through Google. This can be a cumbersome thing to figure out, depending on where you make sales. The last time I called the local office, they were very helpful and answered all my questions — no matter how stupid I thought they were. If you’re a bigger corporation, you can also work with sales tax firms or use software that tracks sales tax payments to make sure things are aligned and filed correctly.

Payroll Tax

  • Frequency: Quarterly/Monthly
  • Mandatory: Yes

If you have full-time W2 employees, you must file and pay payroll and unemployment taxes. A payroll system such as Gusto will remove the stress from these filings. Make sure you’re registered with your state’s Workforce Commission so you can connect your tax account number with your payroll system so all payments can be correctly allocated.

Franchise Tax

  • Frequency: Annual
  • Mandatory: Yes

Everyone is required to file the Franchise Tax report. The threshold for Texas is $2,470,000 in revenue, and even if you don’t have that revenue, you’re still required to file the Public Information Report or Ownership Information Report. If your company issues shares, your franchise tax report can use your share counts and amounts—this is easier, especially if you use a cap table software such as Carta.

Property Tax

  • Frequency: Annual
  • Mandatory: Depends on if you own property

If you owe any property, you’re required to pay property tax. Properties include land, buildings, and any improvements you’ve made. It also includes tangible personal property used in the “production of income,” such as furniture, inventory, machinery, supplies, etc. Due dates vary based on county, so call your local office to confirm the date.


So, if you don’t want to be hit with a tax bill that the government thinks you owe them, be proactive with your filings. There’s nothing more shock-inducing than getting a bill for $100K when you know that number couldn’t be right. Also, form a relationship with a CPA (Tax Accountant) at the beginning of your business so they can make sure you pay the right amount of taxes and show you how to achieve that as a 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.

How to review and read your balance sheet as a business owner

By Anwuli Chukwurah

The Balance Sheet is also known as the Statement of Financial Position (nonprofits), and this shows you the balance between how much you own (assets), how much you owe other people/companies (liabilities), and the book value of your company (equity). Like the income statement, you read it from the top and then move down the report. It tells you the ending balance of your accounts at a singular moment in time. Most business owners ignore this report and focus on the income statement, which causes you to be short-sighted with your business. If you can’t tell how much debt you have, how often you can turn your assets into cash, and any other future payments you may have, then you will always feel behind. Your balance sheet should always balance—Assets always equal liabilities plus equity.

When you’re reading your balance sheet report, you’re looking for months that break the trend you see. What’s weird? Why’s one month significantly lower or higher than the rest? Why are your total assets lower? Why are your total liabilities higher? Why is your total equity higher? You should be able to determine the answers to these questions as you review your balance sheet. All three financial statements are connected, and you shouldn’t favor one report over the other. Your net income from your profit and loss statement is connected to your balance sheet in the equity section. A monthly review of all three financial statements helps give you a complete picture of your business.

There are three main sections to a balance sheet:

  1. Assets
    1. Current Assets
    1. Long-Term Assets
  2. Liabilities
    1. Current Liabilities
    1. Long-Term Liabilities
  3. Equity
    1. Owner’s pay & investments
    1. Investments from others
    1. Retained Earnings

Assets

Your assets are divided into current and long-term assets. Your current assets include your bank balances, accounts receivables, and inventory. Your current assets mean that you can quickly access your cash immediately, or if you need cash within 12 months, it’s possible for you to sell more inventory and call on your customers who owe you money (accounts receivables). Long-term assets include purchases such as equipment, vehicles, and properties. These assets will take longer than 12 months to turn into cash. It’ll be harder for you to access cash for immediate needs quickly.

Liabilities

Current liabilities include your credit card balance, lines of credit, and accounts payable (vendors/contractors that you owe) — bills/debt you must pay within 12 months. Long-term liabilities include your larger loans and other long-term debt you may have. These loans usually don’t need you to pay the full balance within 12 months. Some debt is good to help you grow your business, but being over leveraged (having more liabilities than assets) will cause you to constantly be scrambling for cash to keep up with your interest and principal payments and may eventually go bankrupt. So, be careful when taking on debt, and always have a plan of how you’re going to pay your debt back while growing your business.

Equity

Equity has three main sub-sections: owner’s pay or investments, investments from others, and retained earnings. As the business owner, any dividends or transfers from the business account to your personal account will be recorded here. Unless you legally turn yourself into an employee, all the money you pay yourself as the owner is recorded on the balance sheet, which doesn’t show up as an operating expense on the income statement! Also, if you invest in the company with your personal money, it’s recorded in the equity section, as well as any other investments you receive from others. Retained earnings are the cumulative net income from starting your business. So, if you’ve lost money from the beginning, your retained earnings will be negative, and if you’ve been net positive, your retained earnings will be positive.


The balance sheet reports help you see your business as a whole, while the income statement only shows you one portion of your business. Having a positive net income means your retained earnings increase, which in turn means you have more cash in your bank. But you may have to use some of that cash to pay your liabilities. Next week, we’ll talk about how reviewing your cash flow statement will help you confidently see if you have enough cash to pay your expenses for next month.

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.