A Little Reminder on Backwards Compatibility

Microsoft is at it again, releasing new versions of its Office suite of products. So new users will have Word 2019 and Excel 2019, for example.

And on the Excel side there are a few exciting (to me, because I’m a nerd) changes they’re making. A lot of it around IF functions. Here’s the link to what’s new in Excel 2019 and the link to what’s new in Word 2019 for the curious.

The key issue here, though, is backwards compatibility. Just because you may have the latest and greatest does not mean anyone else does. And using one of those new functions if you’re going to be sharing your files with someone who isn’t upgraded to the latest version is going to mean they can’t use what you send them.

So by all means, upgrade and try the new functions in Excel. But if you intend to share that document with clients or counterparties, be sure that they can use the file you send them.

Let me give you a personal, very painful example of how I learned this lesson the hard way.

Back during the big mortgage crisis I had a consulting client who had a large residential and commercial loan portfolio. And I ended up in a role where I was helping someone who was an expert in calculating a bank’s allowance for loan losses automate that process using Excel. The goal was to create an Excel workbook we could then hand off to the client so they could make that calculation going forward whenever they needed to. When we were done, all they’d have to do is put their current data into one or two worksheets and everything else would be calculated for them.

It took about a week for me to put the workbook together because there were a lot of moving parts, but I finally had it ready to go and handed it over to them to test.

(Now, I should add here that for a long-term solution Excel was not an ideal choice. But for something they could have up and running in two weeks? It was probably the only choice. And this was at a point in time where bidding things out and taking six months to build a technology solution were not options.)

So, anyway, I handed it off.

The client came back and said they couldn’t use it. Because it relied, in part, on using the SUMIFS function, which was available in my version of Excel but not their version. And getting a large corporate client to upgrade their version of Office is not a simple process, especially during the midst of a financial meltdown where it was very possible that company wasn’t going to exist in six months.

So I had to spend a couple days rewriting that whole workbook to remove the use of every SUMIFS and replace it with multiple IF functions in multiple columns that could accomplish the same result.

It was not fun.

Thankfully, I worked for the type of boss who didn’t blame me or yell at me for my mistake, just told me to fix the issue. If I’d been working for a different client or a different boss that whole situation could’ve been much much uglier than it was. As is, it was bad enough.

So remember: keep in mind who you’re working with when you create an Excel workbook (or even a Word document or PowerPoint presentation) and make sure that they’ll be able to use what you give them when it’s done.

(I should add here that all of my current Office guides are written using the 2013 versions of the products–so Excel 2013, Word 2013, and PowerPoint 2013–and with most of it compatible back to the 2007 versions, partially for these reasons.)

Consulting Services…

So I just added a page to the website that covers consulting services. I’ve debated about doing something like this for over a year now, but there were some reasons I hesitated.

First was that the people who’d approached me about this generally were looking for someone to manage their AMS ads and I just don’t think that’s feasible for most authors. I love AMS and I would have very few sales without them, but they just are not that predictable. And, honestly, not all books sell well with AMS. So I could never see how to charge for that and have it be fair to both the author and myself.

(What I can do though is help find keywords for a new ad or give feedback on an existing sponsored product ad, for example.)

Second was the pricing issue. I knew that what I charge for regulatory consulting and so am used to receiving for “consulting” is far more than most people would be prepared to pay. And even though I’m willing to accept very low hourly income while I get my writing business launched I wasn’t sure if I could do the same for consulting. So I compromised. You’ll see that the rate I’m charging is not low. ($100/hour) But it’s also not even close to what the financial institutions I’ve consulted for have paid. I’ve also carved out regulatory and compliance consulting from that rate because of the legal implications involved with that kind of work. I’m not willing to do that kind of work without a team that includes at least one lawyer who reviews everything I do even if I do the bulk of the work.

Third was the “who do I want to be” issue. I want to be a writer. I want most of my time to be spent on creating new material whether that’s a non-fiction book, a novel, or a video course. I don’t want to become one of those people who gets sucked into doing classes and teaching others and stops doing the creative work themselves. So I’m going to be limiting the amount of this work I do.

There were a lot of reasons I hesitated to do this, but at the same time…

I see so many people who could use just a little bit of help to get unstuck. One thirty minute conversation could save them hours of research or keep them from going down the wrong path.

Or maybe they’re like me when I first started and they just want someone to take a quick look at their writing and say, “Is this good? What mistakes am I making?” I don’t want to be an editor, but I’d be happy to spend 25 minutes reading something someone has written and then giving them my honest (perhaps brutal) feedback. When I was getting started I spent $1,000 to get an edit on my first novel to get that kind of feedback and I honestly think it was way too much money spent for what I got. But there weren’t a lot of good alternatives. And peer critique is only as good as your peers.

(Now, you could argue I’m no better for that than anyone else. And that’s fine. Don’t use my services if you don’t think I can provide value.)

So we’ll see where this goes. It’s possible no one will want my help and that’s okay. But I look at, for example, Excel for Budgeting or Excel for Self-Publishers, and I think that there are people who could benefit from what’s covered in those books but who just don’t have it in them to wrestle with Excel that much. This is my stop-gap attempt to fill that void. (Without getting so busy consulting that I have no time left for the writing.)

If you want to see more about the nitty gritty details, click here. And if you think I can help, reach out.

Also, don’t think this means I won’t answer questions via email anymore. I most definitely will. This is for when we get beyond “How do I X?” to “Can you walk me through how to do X?” or “Can you do X for me?”

Why I Should Never Walk My Dog

First, I have a new release out if anyone is interested in learning Microsoft PowerPoint. Paperback available here and ebook available all over the place.

That meant that yesterday I sat down and asked myself what to write next. I had a total of fourteen non-fiction ideas, nine fantasy series or book ideas, five romance series or book ideas, and a thriller idea.

By the end of the day I’d settled on one of the romance novels and a non-fiction book to work on over the next two months.

And then I took my dog for a walk this morning.

By the end of the walk I had realized I could actually tweak a non-fiction title I’ve started and finished about ten times now and probably finalize and publish it in the next week. So I’m probably going to do that instead.

(This is how I have managed to work almost exclusively on non-fiction for an entire year now. Because non-fiction is so much easier for me to write.)

I really should know better by now…