Where the Excel Groupies Go for Microsoft Excel Solutions
Every 30 seconds someone has a Microsoft Excel meltdown. They've trial-and-errored and torn their hair trying to make sense of megabytes of ugly data criss-crossing their desktop. The tech department may toss them a quick-fix … until the next report is due.
Then it’s back to data hell again.
For the lucky ones, the IT department puts them on a waiting list for months on end. After all, what’s one "lowly" monthly report to the well-worshipped technician with so many clamoring for his or her time.
For millions, the daily torture spills time and money. Jennifer Holley, owner of WebSitesAndMore.com, a hosting and design company in Vermont, was creating websites from one custom designed template system, and had to change a each of the 380 individual worksheets every time she made a change to the Master Excel File. Holley was spending 35 minutes saving all 380 sheets until she looked on the Net for solutions and found www.mrexcel.com.
She found a haven of information, including custom consulting (which she purchased) and a message board staffed by 20 volunteer techies that she accesses regularly. The website is hosted by Bill Jelen, Excel consultant and author of MrExcel ON EXCEL and Guerilla Data Analysis Using Microsoft Excel, both found on his website, with other CD’s and other informational products. Jelen’s land office is in Uniontown, Ohio.
Jelen created a Macro for Holley that saved all 380 sheets as a .csv (comma separated variable) file whenever any piece of data was changed. Holley estimates Jelen's ingenuity saved her at least 10 hours of work each month and untold frustration.
"I was able to make changes in a few seconds rather than a half an hour. I asked if he could do the same thing and save them as a text by changing one line of code. He did that, and now, I can apply that macro to the same project as a text file," Holley said.
MrExcel.com saw 10 million page hits last year and logged 20,000 regular visitors. Like personal “Excel Genies," the unofficial techies answer on demand, replacing expensive help desks. No one pays to use the message board and no one is paid for answering questions. “We have 20 dedicated regulars who spend time at the board regularly. This board is like the "take a penny, leave a penny" cup at cash registers. Anyone can post a question or an answer. We track how many answers have been given and know who the regulars are.”
Jelen’s unique Excel-help community is competition for: 1. traditional corporate programmers who may have the prowess but don’t have time for individuals wanting to shave off useless computer time and 2. traditional computer consultants who unnecessarily contrive long-term projects so they can consume your bagels and doughnuts along with your cash.
“Anyone who is besieged with data and yearning for information can use MrExcel.com. I program for the sake of the user, not for the sake of programming. I get my jollies from measuring how much time I can save my clients,” Jelen said.
Microsoft’s message boards for technical support are similar to MrExcel.com’s but for one major downfall: the boards require a piece of software called a NewsReader. “ It is really hard for non-technically-proficient people to use a NewsReader, so the Microsoft support groups are not accessible to most of the population.”
At least a third of the questions on the message boards require some Excel VBA programming for the solution, which Jelen estimates might cost several hundred dollars in tech support at a major computer software firm. “The people who can answer the $35 non-programming questions would have to refer it to a programming person, so you are bouncing your question between two people. Many times, the questioner does not know that their question will require VBA programming to solve it, so they think they will be paying $35 when in fact they need $199 worth of help. At MrExcel, all answers are free.”
Jelen’s Excel community is global and self-policed, staffed by people who consume Excel like it’s dessert. Many are working professionals who, because of their professions, are precluded from doing consulting -- so they offer expert advice on message boards for free - and for the self-satisfaction and admiration that the mrexcel.com community bestows upon them. At the end of 2001, Bill found all the people who had answered over 100 questions and gave them the title of MrExcel MVP. Qualifications are strict. To become an MVP, you must answer over 750 questions.
Why would valuable Excel technicians hang out online to dole out free help? “A few of them are Excel consultants or trainers who hope to capture new clients. There are a couple people at the board who have foreign government jobs who are prevented from doing outside consulting, so they hang out and answer questions for free. Others are at the board to learn. One simple fact, though - if you hang out at the board in order to help others, you get really good yourself. You basically have 20 of the smartest Excel people in the world at MrExcel.com,” Jelen said.
Jelen consults via email, writing application-specific code for companies around the globe.