If you're self-employed, it's likely that the decision to go into business on your own wasn't motivated by a love of finance. Of course, it might well be that you have a knack for the numbers, but we could all still do with a little help, particularly if the rationale for going into business by yourself had nothing to do with managing accounts. Yet those accounts still need to be managed, and your business cannot grow unless you stay in control of incomes and expenditures.

Brian is an amateur inventor, in the classic Sunday-afternoon-in-the-shed sense. Having created many interesting but fundamentally useless devices, he's struck upholstery-maintaining gold with a new solution to the problems of pet hairs and soft furnishings. Production levels of his invention are modest, but sales have been quite impressive and Brian has able to turn a profit. Despite having no prior knowledge of accounts, he's been able to keep a tight grip on the money coming in and going out, and he's been able to identify where changes need to be made to optimise profits. However, he hasn't stumbled upon a long-buried talent for managing his figures - he's been using Microsoft Excel 2010.

Of course, Brian starts with entering all the necessary numbers, from which any sums that need to be done are calculated automatically. Beyond merely collating and calculating, however, Excel can help Brian to expand his business with a wide range of tools for analysing his data, to better understand where his company is heading, what aspects are succeeding and which are impeding progress.

A number of different stores are stocking Brian's product, and it's important that he can see which are proving to be more or less successful. Conditional formatting in Excel gives him this information at a glance. Individual entries can be highlighted or marked with symbols (such as stars or traffic lights) in order to show immediately where all is well and where there is a concern, such as falling sales or increasing costs. Similarly, Excel 2010's Sparklines technology can automatically create miniature graphs within the spreadsheet data, allowing Brian to see how sales of his product from any one store have changed over a period of time, without needing to create separate charts.

However, this at-a-glance assessment has inevitable limitations. Sometimes, Brian will need a deeper level and thoroughness of analysis, and Excel certainly won't let him down in this department. An enormous range of charts, graphs and diagrams can be created from whichever aspect of his data Brian chooses, ensuring that he fully understands the nature and progress of the key figures - and he can easily combine charts and data on a dashboard, bringing all the most important details together in a single location. And should he wish to illustrate his creation's potential for a store that's considering carrying the product, he can share (electronically or in print) the dashboard and charts, making sure they include all the information that he could need to convince the potential seller.

Of course, meeting with the managers of these stores means that Brian spends ever more of his time away from his office (which, aptly enough, is also his shed). Fortunately, he can access his Excel spreadsheets from anywhere. The Excel Web App allows him to log on to his data from an ordinary web browser, and view it from any computer, wherever he may be - and with that, he can be confident of always being aware of how his nascent company is doing.

Brian may be an amateur inventor, but with Excel, he can be sure of managing his business as a professional. To this end, it would certainly be worthwhile for him to consider a short training course, to ensure that he can get the most benefit from the program's range of powerful and versatile tools. After all, he's finally come up with something that works - and Excel can help ensure that both he and his invention can fulfil their potential.