Making the most of Microsoft for business

(I will highlight here that my references to Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, Entourage and PowerPoint will directly related to the 2008 version.

Like many graphic designers I have in the past regarded the creative capacity of Word and PowerPoint with a little disdain. But times are changing! I have come to recognise that the Microsoft Office Suit offers many great tools for small businesses. My wish to see small business make the most of the opportunities they have and to embrace good design means that I now see the task of getting the best from these tools and the other Microsoft products as a challenge.

My aim here is to highlight opportunities to integrate these tools with good design to deliver communications that stand out, define your business and which give your business as much control as possible at low-cost.

Microsoft Mail Merge Manager

(Previously known as Data Merge Manager)

For those small businesses out there that are already familiar with this aspect of the Microsoft tool set there are no great insights to follow. However, how many of you small businesses are still manually creating standard letters, envelops, labels and other communication to multiple addresses.

Lets look at an example. Suppose that you have to send a form letter to 1,000 (or even 50) different contacts. With the Mail Merge Manager, you can write one form letter, and then have Word merge each contact’s information with the letter that you created. You can also create mailing labels, envelopes, and catalogs. It’s simple, and faster than the manual alternative.

The Mail Merge Manager combines, or merges, information from a data source with information in a Word document so that you don’t have to create multiple versions of the document by hand. To get started, you open or create the main document.

There are lots of free templates available to get you started direct from Word so cost is no barrier. If you already recognise the benefits of a strong visual identity to your business communications and need help creating a template that fits your business need and delivers the capacity to use the power of the Mail Merge Manager. Then simply talk to your current creative resource. Make sure your clear about what you want to do and the task and cost need not prove an obstacle. Once you have your document, you tell the Mail Merge Manager what type of mail merge that you want (such as, a form letter, mailing labels, envelopes, or catalog).

A data source has the unique information for each mail merge recipient. For a form letter, this might include the person’s name, address, and other personalised information. If you don’t already have a data source (such as, an Excel sheet, Office Address Book, or FileMaker Pro database), you can create one by using the Mail Merge Manager.

Again this is simple and can be completed by anyone competent at inputting data. Obviously if you don’t already have a database of addresses setting up the data source will take a little time. But once complete it can be used for multiple documents and projects so the time will be well spent.

Placeholders decide where the Mail Merge Manager inserts information from the data source into the main document. For example, the Mail Merge Manager inserts the contact’s first name into the First Name placeholder when you complete the mail merge. Adding placeholders is easy. Simply drag and drop them into a text box you have created on your page ensuring the correct spacing and punctuation between each. Mail Merge Manager will do the rest.

You can use the Mail Merge Manager to send letters to a smaller group of recipients, such as those that live in a specific city or postal code. You can filter your data source by several criteria to choose the recipients that you want form your data source.

Before you complete the mail merge, you can preview your letters to make sure that they look the way that you expect them to.

To complete the mail merge, you select a format for the merged document. You have three format options: a new Word document, Entourage e-mail messages, or printouts.

I have deliberately not included any detailed screen shots or walk through in this article because the Microsoft Word Help presents a detailed walk through of how to use Mail Merge Manager under the Learning road map for Word. No point repeating what is already an excellent introduction. Why not take a look and add the power of Mail Merge Manger to your business tools.

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