Happy Birthday! PDF2XL is 5 Years Old

Posted on October 11, 2010 by hadar 
Filed Under Uncategorized | 180 Comments

Dear Friends,

This month Cogniview is celebrating the 5th Birthday of PDF2XL – our flagship product.

It’s not that we always had PDF2XL, the truth is that Cogniview started as an Enterprise software company that aimed to sell its Enterprise-Level software products to IT departments in large organizations.

We spent a lot of money on flamboyant marketing campaigns, well-dressed sales people and a variety of other time/money wasters.

After 5 years of struggles that created a huge hole in our bank account, we woke up and realized we had to survive. So we turned to our customers that said…Make us a decent PDF to Excel converter. So we thought – why not, let’s give it a try … and this how PDF2XL was created.

Since then, PDF2XL licenses were bought by more than 20,000 companies in a variety of industries all over the globe.

We are thankful to our customers, our employees, our partners and our blog readers who have contributed their time, energy and resources to help Cogniview achieve so many successes.

So, Let the party begin. And here are the party gifs…

We would be overjoyed if you would consider leaving PDF2XL a birthday greeting on this Blog post. And to make the birthday even more festive, we are also giving $20 Amazon Gift Cards to the authors of the 10 nicest greetings.

And the best greeting will also win a Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device!

So, we invite you to share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment on this post.

Sincerely,

Yoav Ezer

CEO

How to Create Personalized Invitations Using Word and Excel

Posted on April 8, 2010 by Chris Garrett 
Filed Under Excel, Excel Template, Excel Tips, Productivity | 98 Comments

If you have ever had to hand write a whole bunch of invitations then I am sure you have had the thought “There has to be an easier way”. Well, if you have Microsoft Office then you are in luck!

Here is how you can create and print your own personalized birthday party invitations in Word from a list of your friends compiled in Excel.

First, create your friends list in Microsoft Excel. It does not need to be anything fancy, just a straight list of names, but make sure you split the first and last names so you can address people by their first name if you want to add a personal note.

OK, the characters in Futurama aren’t really my friends, but you get the idea, heh.

Start creating a new file in Word and select the template you wish to use. Word will download any templates you select that you haven’t used before.

The template I selected allows you to print a folding invitation, so part of it is upside down. This feels a bit weird to edit but you can trust that it will come out ok on the printer!

Now go to the “Mailings” ribbon, press “Start Mail Merge”, and choose “Step by step mail merge wizard”

The mail merge side bar will open on step 1 of 6. Choose the type “Letters”, then click the link “Next” at the bottom

Now hit the radio button “Use the current document” and, again, click “Next”.

We want to “Use an existing list”, the list we created earlier in Excel, so browse for the file where you saved it on your machine and select it.

When you have browsed and found your Excel spreadsheet containing the names of your friends, choose the sheet from excel (sheet1), and click OK to load up the names into the Word “Mail Merge Recipients”.

If you look at the screen grab below, this is how Word sees our friends list. We could remove some of them if we don’t want to invite them to our party, by un-checking the box next to their name. Click OK when you are happy with the guest list.

To add a greeting line right before the invitation text, put your cursor above the text, and click “Greeting line” in the panel on the right of the screen.

You can customize the greeting line with various options and you get a preview before you commit yourself.

Before you complete your invites, you need to do some additional text modifications. There is some place holder text you do not want to publish (I don’t know who this “Stephanie” lady is, and it’s not 2004 anymore!). Click Next when you are done.

At this point you will see what the final product will look like. We can browse through the different invitations for each friend. If everything is all right, click “Next” again.

All that is left now is the final step, which is to print all the invitations!

Obviously we used an example that will be applicable to nearly everybody, but the same principle applies to all mail merges, from sales letters to other kinds of invitation.

Do you use Word mail merge? Please share your experiences in the comments …

Your PDF to Excel Conversion Story

Posted on February 24, 2010 by Yoav Ezer 
Filed Under Uncategorized | 722 Comments

Thank you again for your willingness to share your PDF to Excel conversion story with us. We would love to hear why you were looking for a PDF to Excel converter and how using PDF2XL worked for you.

We only ask two things:

1. No foul language please. If your feedback is not positive – that’s OK. In fact it’s more then OK, we learn a lot from feedback. But please… no foul language.

2. If possible, please write your story in English.

And that’s it. Just scroll down to the end of the page and leave your comment there. I am really looking forward to your feedback.

Announcing Cogniviews Excel-to-PDF-Converter (and a bribe)

Posted on November 30, 2009 by Yoav Ezer 
Filed Under Cogniview | 27 Comments

I am very proud to announce that we have released the beta version of Cogniview’s Excel to PDF converter.

The ‘Excel to PDF Converter’ is the first out of several open source projects we will be releasing in the coming months and it is the only free Excel-to-PDF converter that supports hyper-links.

here is the official Excel to PDF Converter product page.

Plus… we need your help to make ‘Excel to PDF Converter’ better. That is why we are offering the following ‘bribe’:

We will be giving away 10 Amazon Gift-Cards, worth $15 each, to people that will download ‘Excel to PDF Converter’, play around with it and post their feedback as comments on this blog post.

The gift cards will be given to 10 most helpful commenters.

I know that you’ll find Cogniview’s Excel to PDF Converter useful and I hope our little bribe can convince you to get involved with this project.

PDF2XL is 4 Years Old!

Posted on October 5, 2009 by Yoav Ezer 
Filed Under Cogniview, Excel, Excel Tips, PDF, Productivity | 198 Comments

Dear Friends,

This month Cogniview is celebrating the 4th Birthday of PDF2XL – our flagship PDF to Excel conversion product.

It’s not that we always had PDF2XL. You see, Cogniview started as an Enterprise software company that aimed to sell its Enterprise-Level software products to IT departments in large organizations.

We spent a lot of money on flamboyant marketing campaigns, well-dressed sales people and a variety of other time/money wasters.

After 4 years of struggles that resulted in a huge hole in our bank account, we woke up and realized we had to survive. So we turned to our customers who said: Make us a decent PDF to Excel converter – and that was how PDF2XL was born.

Since then, PDF2XL licenses were bought by more than 15,000 companies in a variety of industries all over the globe.

We are thankful to our customers, our employees, our partners and our blog readers who have contributed their time, energy and resources to help Cogniview achieve so many successes.

So, let the party begin!

And what’s a party without party gifts?

First a special Excel Productivity Guide that can help you save even more time when working with Excel.

Click here to Download the Excel Productivity Guide

PLUS…

We would be overjoyed if you would consider leaving PDF2XL a birthday greeting as a comment on this Blog post. The best 10 greetings will entitle their authors with a $15 Amazon Gift Card.

The best part is that the best greeting out of the top 10 will also win a Flip Mino camera!

Amazon Gift Card Camera

So, we invite you to share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment on this post.

And once again – thank you!

Yoav Ezer, CEO
Cogniview Systems 2002

Excel Data Mining: Measuring Customer Support Costs

Posted on February 6, 2009 by Chris Garrett 
Filed Under Excel | Leave a Comment

This entry is part 3 of 1 in the series Excel Customer Data Mining

In this series we have already looked at Recency, Frequency and Monetary value as metrics for data mining and ranking your customers in Excel. RFM will tell you who the most rewarding customers are, but it will not tell you who is most-likely to be a tough customer, nor will it tell you how expensive those customers are.

To work out these additional factors, you need to record more data, and that is what I will reveal in this article.

Customer acquisition costs are familiar to any business but many companies do not track individual customers support costs and instead see customer service as an aggregated expense. This is a mistake because certain customers could be costing you more money than they bring in, meaning gaining more of these customers would actually hurt your business rather than help it. Another reason why “make it up in volume” is often a bad approach!

Depending on your systems you might be able to record support incidents either by counting “tickets”, or you might even be able to record time spent. Again, just like with the customer value, you want to use recency and frequency, although in this case high recency and frequency are “bad”!

What would you use instead of monetary value or margin? Well, in some cases you can place a cost on the total support a customer required. It’s not just a factor of time, although that is a cost worth recording, but also there may be additional expenses incurred such as travel, postage, returns, waste, custom work or additional purchases. A customer who demands you turn up at their offices hundreds of miles away with a brand new custom widget is going to be more of a financial burden than one who sends one email and receives a stock answer.

Along with customer ID, you will want to record the type of customer or the product/service the support was against. If customers have multiple products then do the exercise against customer initially but also run through another process for product or service.

Often, but not always, you will find the customers with the best RFM scores are also those who cost you least in customer support. The top 20% really are your best customers overall. Over and over the customers who pay you least are also the ones who cause you the most bother. Of course there is always the high-roller exception who is just demanding because, well, they can.

A friend around the millenium had a software product with service levels. Together we turned the business from a net loss into a hugely profitable company by first systemizing customer service, and then by removing the bottom rung of the offering entirely. We found the cheap product attracted customers who were both more likely to circumvent the copy protection, but also generated the bulk of the distractions in the form of groundless complaints, returns, support problems and bad PR.

You do not need fancy systems to keep this information. Using Excel you can record your customer service data very easily. Just make sure you record at least:

You might well have suggestions or requirements for additional data, but essentially you want to know what the problem was, the cure, how long you spent solving and who for.

Once you have your data you can see if there is a way to make these problems go away, perhaps the issue is with documentation or customer expectations rather than product quality. If the problems can’t go away entirely, you can then work on making your customer service as easy as possible, with stock responses, procedures, and other systems. Of course failing all that, you are left with dropping the product, customer (or type of customer) or raising prices.

Bottom line, without data you would only be guessing. So long as you have actionable information then you can actually make some decisions. If you are not recording support information, you had better get started!

Got Microsoft Excel Questions?

Posted on December 4, 2008 by Chris Garrett 
Filed Under Excel | 33 Comments

Our Excel cheat sheet seems to have been a hit with readers so far. If you haven’t grabbed it yet, you can still download it for free.

So many people told me that they struggle and fight with Excel I thought I would offer you the opportunity to decide what should go in the next one! I will do my hardest to get answers for all the best or most popular questions.

Just add your suggestion, question, idea or problem in the comments.

Also if you particularly like a suggestion anyone else makes, just point it out in the comments too!

We have Excel experts on hand to supply me with the answers, so get asking your Excel questions in the comments :)

Free Microsoft Excel Cheat Sheet to Download and Print

Posted on November 20, 2008 by Chris Garrett 
Filed Under Excel | 20 Comments

I don’t use Excel very often so when I do I have to remember or research all the keyboard shortcuts and functions that I normally use, even the most basic ones.

Rather than keep writing and losing post-it stickies I thought I would put this cheat sheet together, and because I figured I wouldn’t be alone in this, I thought I would share it with you too.

This cheat sheet shows the major keyboard shortcuts and a list of useful formula functions. Stick it up near your monitor so you will never need to Google that keyboard shortcut again!

Download the Free Excel Cheat Sheet

Excel Design and Usability Tips

Posted on October 23, 2008 by Chris Garrett 
Filed Under Excel Tips | 25 Comments

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Excel Design Tips

In the last part of this Excel Design series I offered some basic tips so you could avoid the most common Excel spreadsheet design horrors.

Spreadsheet design is not just about aesthetics, usability is an important aspect to take into account as well. If you are creating spreadsheets for other people to use then you absolutely need to make your spreadsheets easy to use. For a start, you don’t want filling out your sheets to be more of a chore than they need to be, but also to prevent data entry errors.

For this article I turned to an Excel expert, Debra Dalgleish, who is an independent computer consultant who specializes in Microsoft Office programming and development. As well as being awarded the Microsoft Office Excel MVP award each year since 2001, Debra is the author of three brilliant Excel books.

  1. ValidationMany data entry errors can be avoided by reducing the amount of actual typing, or decision making on the part of the of the person doing the inputting. Debra recommends “Create data validation drop down lists so users can select a valid item instead of typing.”
  2. “Use colour only as a guide for users. For example, type data in light blue cells and select from a list in light green cells.”
  3. Consider also the readability of your spreadsheet when printed. “In the Page Setup dialog box, on the Sheet tab, add a check mark to ‘Black and white’. If a user prints the sheet, it will be easier to read, and will use less toner”.
  4. Another printing tip that I snatched from Debra’s site is to selectively turn off cells when printing.
  5. I asked Debra about her use of images in spreadsheets. Many people seem divided on if they add or detract from a layout. “I will sometimes add a client’s logo on a report that will be printed, or on their data entry page but I will rarely use any other pictures.”
  6. You can shade alternating rows to make dense tables figures more readable using conditional formatting.
    1. Click the Select All button, above the Row 1 button, to select all the cells on the worksheet.
    2. Choose Format|Conditional Formatting
    3. From the first dropdown, choose Formula Is
    4. For the formula, enter    =MOD(ROW(),2)
    5. Click the Format button.
    6. On the Patterns tab, select a colour for shading
    7. Click OK, click OK
  7. Debra recommends you use lines and borders sparingly, and to choose appropriate line colours. “In a data entry form I’d use lines as borders around data entry cells, in addition to colour in the cells. If the data entry form is long, lines would separate the sections. In a report I’d use lines to separate the totals from the report body. For separating data in a long list, white space is preferable, but if lines are necessary I’d use grey, instead of black.”
  8. Excel Comment ImagesHere’s a nice trick Debra uses for adding a picture to a comment which keeps the sheet from looking cluttered
    1. Right-click the cell which contains the comment.
    2. Choose Show/Hide Comments, and clear any text from the comment.
    3. Click on the border of the comment, to select it.
    4. Choose Format|Comment
    5. On the Colors and Lines tab, click the drop-down arrow for Color.
    6. Click Fill Effects
    7. On the picture tab, click Select Picture
    8. Locate and select the picture
    9. To keep the picture in proportion, add a check mark to Lock Picture Aspect Ratio
    10. Click Insert, click OK, click OK

I certainly learned a lot from Debra and I hope you did too! Be sure to check out Debra’s blog for more Office tips.

If you have any tips of your own, please share in the comments …

Excel Design Tips – Make Your Excel Spreadsheets Look Good

Posted on October 9, 2008 by Chris Garrett 
Filed Under Excel | 19 Comments

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Excel Design Tips

Excel Design

Excel is a powerful numbers tool, no question. Most of the time when we talk about spreadsheets we are focusing on the mathematical side, rather than how the results look.

Thing is, spreadsheets are a tool for creating content to be read also. In fact, I would go as far as to say a spreadsheet is an influential tool of persuasion, when used correctly.

On top of that, many business rely on Excel for their business forms, such as invoices, expenses, time sheets and all kinds of paperwork.

It is possible to not only have your spreadsheets make you more productive, but also look good.

In this series I want to show you how you can beautify your spreadsheets without requiring any real design skills.

Formatting Reports With Spreadsheets

Although the features available in the latest software surpass anything that came before, this use of spreadsheets is not a new thing, can you remember the old Lotus 123 and Supercalc days?

Even back then, spreadsheets were used to make data more presentable, more professional, and less, well, like it had come straight off a music-ruled dotmatrix report, which was often the main alternative.

Of course back then a lot of the data was retyped, causing inevitable transcription errors. Now Excel can read in data exported from numerous systems natively, and also understand common open formats, even down to interrogating live databases directly through ODBC.

So this is not just about spreadsheets you create form scratch, Excels presentation abilities can help you with presenting any kind of data that Excel can import.

Things have come a long way. In the past you were pretty much restricted to having lines, boxes, bold and italic. If you were lucky. Now Excel has features only previously found in desk top publishing packages.

Excel’s graphic features are both a blessing and a curse.

Yes, you have a huge amount of freedom and functionality to create the look you want, but the downside is a lot of people over use these features and make their spreadsheets look like a Nascar, and reports appear to be a page from a comic book.

Let’s focus on some basics!

10 Tips for Avoiding Excel Formatting Horrors

Excel Design Tip 1: Less is More

When working with the formatting and design features of Excel please do not treat it like a kid in a candy store!

Restraint is important if you want to provide the best possible result.

Excel Design Tip 2: Comic Sans has no place in business

Sometimes I wish I could build a time machine so I could go back to whichever lunatic was presiding over the meeting when Microsoft decided to bundle Comic Sans with their operating system and give them a sound thrashing.

Ahem.

If there is one thing that will reduce the professionalism of your spreadsheet it is the inclusion of any kind of comic font, but in particular Comic Sans. Just don’t.

Excel Design Tip 3: WordArt can kill your design

WordArt is a nice and flexible feature that has been an addition of Office for years. Many people are comfortable with it. But does it ever look cheesy! Just look at the header image of this article – geeky, no?

You know where we agreed restraint was important a few paragraphs ago? That goes one hundred fold for when using WordArt. In fact, if in doubt, leave it out!

Excel Design Tip 4: Clipart Clichés

Photography or illustration can bring a page to life and stop it being a sea of text and numbers, but if the clipart looks over-used, out of place, hackneyed or just plain BAD, then you are only doing damage. I would recommend instead of the default clipart to look to outside sources such as Istockphoto, but there is a similar risk in using those also!

Excel Design Tip 5:  Careful with colors

Color is essential in aiding clarity of your data, providing of course you are going to view the spreadsheet on screen or your printer can output color. What often happens though is people get carried away and the end Invoice in excelresult is a rainbow mess of clashing, garish, neon. Excel is not the best at allowing color flexibility, so make the best of a bad set of colors by selecting muted tones that go well together, such as grays and blues.

Excel Design Tip 6: Templates are your friend

Rather than starting from scratch, especially if you are design challenged like me, consider trying one of the many freely available pre-built templates out there. You can find everything from invoices to timesheets. There is a great list in our Excel Wizardry article.

Excel Design Tip 7: Use grid lines selectively

Just because you are working in a spreadsheet does not mean you have to show your grid lines. In many cases it is easier to only add the lines that aid legibility, and switch off all othes. In Windows you can find the option to turn off gridlines in the view tab, or in older versions tools, options. In Mac, look in the preferences.

Excel Design Tip 8: Background images can lift or distract

A tasteful background image can work well. Unfortunately all too often the images used are busy, detailed and when combined with columns of numbers, just make your eyes water. Go for something plain and delicate, such as a subtle graduated tint or a slight drop shadow..

Excel background images

Excel Design Tip 9: Align your text

Another legibility tip is for you to not just accept Excels defaults when working with your text. For example did you know you can format your cells and select to align your text at the top and to wrap around?

Excel Design Tip 10: Use appropriate font sizes

Your basic font needs to be large enough to be legible without an electron microscope, plain enough to read (step away from the “handwriting” font!), and there should be a clear visual hierarchy. What do I mean by that? While most people in their wordprocessor will use headlines and subheads, for some reason fewer people think to do this in a spreadsheet, but breaking up a report in this way can really help get your point across. So if you are using 10-12 point body text you might make your subhead 14-16pt and your main headline 18pt.

Summary

Yes, much of this will be seemingly obvious, but if you go into any Excel using business I guarantee at least one and probably more of these excel formatting crimes are being committed right now.


Got Excel design tips? Please share in the comments, and look out for part 2 of this series!

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