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Software vendors offer hundreds of specialized programs designed to simplify much of the complexity of running a business with your personal computer. But you can usually do as much--and do it more cost-effectively--with your simple spreadsheet program than with all of these more specialized applications.

What's more, running a business with your general spreadsheet can be extremely simple, because you won't have to load or learn a new program every time you want to crunch numbers a new way. Instead, you can simply load one of the hundreds of commercially available "templates,"
"add-ins," or supplemental software packages that enhance and expand the already hefty power of your general spreadsheet software.

The difference between a "template," an "add-in" and a "supplemental" software product is quite simple. A "template" (or pre-existing worksheet requiring only the addition of your unique data) is a standard data file you load into your spreadsheet program. It then uses the spreadsheet's own functions and key sequences to perform a specially programmed task. In contrast, an "add-in" is extra code that actually joins with the spreadsheet's original code to create a totally new program. The spread-sheet itself may disappear from your display. Once you load the "add-in," your computer may be able to do all sorts of work that stretch far beyond anything you could do within a standard "worksheet." Finally, "supplemental" software remains entirely separate from the spreadsheet, but--like a printer control program or a Lotus tutorial--provides new features and capabilities that make the original spreadsheet program better or easier to use.

Some of the best templates, add-ins, and supplemental software products are delivered as "shareware." You can get it from a local spreadsheet user group or a mail-order "shareware" distributor for less than $5 per disk. While "shareware" is fully operational when you first get it, the original developer often requires that you pay a "registration" fee (usually between $20 and $100) which gets you a manual, access to future updates, and (most important) the legal right to use the software.

The most obvious category of spreadsheet add-ins and templates create a whole accounting system on your PC. There are many such systems available. Most contain a set of templates that work together to provide the accounting functions and features a small business typically needs. But some of these systems are designed for specific businesses, such as general contracting, retail sales, manufacturing, trucking, consulting, a medical office, or the like.


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