It's nice to know that the best things in life are free - as we've always been told - but sadly, the most important things in life frequently cost money. Food, shelter, clothing, warmth, light, all have a habit of carrying a price and eating their way into our bank balance. Inevitably, the same is true in business, only more so - whereas many of those best things by which we might judge our personal lives are free, few if any signs of success in business come without a cost.

So, if the best for your organisation isn't free after all, it's bound to be useful to ensure that you have the very best tools to hand when it comes to looking after the company's money. And the very best tool in question is Microsoft Excel. Excel offers a huge range of techniques to manage and analyse your business's key figures, from insightful reports, to clear and appealing charts, to conditional formatting that lets you identify a change - for better or worse - immediately within the data. That data itself can be stored in literally millions of records, yet identifying just the data you need is easy and accurate.

However, given that Excel provides quite so many tools and techniques for the perfect results, can you be sure of getting the very most out of the application? The most effective solution to this is a short training course, converting a few hours of your time (or that of your staff) into a long-term understanding of how to make the software give your business just what it needs. Yet this raises a further quandary: with so many training providers offering such courses, how do you pick the one that's right for you?

It's easy enough simply to go with the first that you come across - easy, but not at all wise. Training should be looked at as an investment, and as with any investment, it's important to ensure that your money and efforts are being put to the best possible use, with reason to expect the best possible results. That may seem a complicated suggestion - identifying the best training isn't the same as picking out high quality fruit or well-made furniture. However, that's not to say that it's impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff - far from it - but rather that finding the perfect training provider has its own specific set of criteria.

Foremost amongst these is the standard of the training itself. Anyone can claim that they know their way around Excel, but that isn't enough; Microsoft provide training qualifications for their software, and there's little point in putting your company's time and money into training if the teacher is lacking these qualifications. And those qualities shouldn't be lost the moment you walk out of the door at the end of the course; make an effort to find a training provider who'll continue to offer support long afterwards, and you'll find that the lessons learnt will sink in far more thoroughly.

Another key guarantee that a provider should have in place is that they will never cancel a course. Not having that freedom might be a nuisance for the training company - but then, you're not committing to a course to make life easier for them. Whatever it might require of the training provider, you should expect that the course will go ahead as and when you need it; if it doesn't, then you're investment is worthless. Of course, though it may seem contrary at first, the training company should be willing and able to reschedule should you need to cancel and find a new date - again, for your investment to be worthwhile, the needs of your organisation should always be paramount.

This may seem like asking a lot if you're not familiar with the training sector, but given the importance to your company of developing Excel skills, they are entirely reasonable expectations. Your business and your investment in skills must always come first. Put those demands first, find the ideal training, and you'll also find that a brighter and more prosperous future for your organisation.