What can you do as an Excel developer? Can you make a living out of it? Is it worth anything in the job market? Here’s my take…
What Kind of an Excel VBA Developer are You?
You might be surprised this question is even raised. Intuitively, once you’re an “Excel VBA Developer”, then you’re an “Excel VBA Developer”. Right?! Well, let’s look closer.
Consider Joe. Joe is an accountant in a large corporation. He is an avid Excel user, really stretching the grid and built-in functions. Joe started recording some Macros to automate some tasks. These Macros were not generic enough, so he searched for some examples on how to make some changes, and successfully applied these changes. His Macros seems to run smoothly, in most cases, and they do save a lot of time.
Consider Jane. Jane has 20 years’ worth of experience working for financial consulting companies. Jane started her own business recently and is now a financial analyst working as a freelancer. Jane was pretty good with Excel, but was never required to go beyond Worksheets, into VBA code. She now realizes her portfolio can be strengthen with VBA. She just finished an extensive course learning VBA, including an impressive project at the end.
Consider Mor. Mor has formal education in Computer Science, Information Systems and Databases. Mor has developed business software solutions for businesses for 30 years, in a variety of computer programming technologies, Excel VBA included. This includes analyzing the business requirements, planning, designing, developing and deploying mission-critical software solutions, both as a freelancer and while serving other employers. Mor also developed a couple of Excel-based products.
If you ask me who’s an Excel VBA Developer, I’d say Mor and soon enough Jane (after some real-life projects she will deliver to her first customers). I wouldn’t consider Joe to be an Excel developer, but rather an advanced Excel user. He could, of course, also learn computer programming with Excel VBA, but that’s currently not part of his game.
Notice the “Developer” in the title: Excel VBA Developer. Yes, you need to be a developer, in your heart and mind.
As a matter of fact, Jane and Mor are beyond just Excel VBA developers, they can be regarded as Excel consultants.
I elaborated on how to become a successful business software consultant in another Blog post, here. This of course holds true to Excel VBA as well.
Career Option One: The Chef
Some large companies with many professionals using Excel, appreciate the business value of adding Macros to their Excel models. However, it is not economical to train all Excel users to become Excel VBA developers. It is also not their focus or “forte”, thus it doesn’t make sense to divert their attention and time to developing code.
In these companies you may find an Excel VBA developer that supports all Excel users with their Excel projects. This is a smart use of a shared resource serving all needing consumers.
You can be an Excel VBA “Chef” as a full-time employed, or as a self-employed consultant. These positions are not very common, though.
Career Option Two: The Grocery Store
The principle here is that you sell Excel-based projects as a self-employed consultant (or freelancer).
A project delivered requires far more than supporting other Excel users with their needs. A project typically starts with a business requirements and blueprint document you receive from a systems/business analyst, and ends with a delivered solution based on that document. You have full responsibility on delivering an Excel program that fully meets the business requirements as detailed for you in the document.
The main advantage here is that if you have great technical and rational approach, you can learn how to program Excel VBA in a relatively short period of time with a reasonable investment of a couple of hundred dollars.
The challenge here is to explain the customer that he still needs another person to do the business analysis part. Most customers just ask for an “Excel solution”, without realizing it is a two-step process. One way to handle this is to partner with a good business analyst capable of writing these documents for you to develop.
These jobs may also be available in companies already serving complete projects to customers, where others handle the business part and you are the developer in the team.
Career Option Three: The Full Catering
Here you take full responsibility for the complete process: business requirements analysis, planning, developing, delivering and deploying a full solution that has a business impact. You can be a freelancer, or even grow to be a small company doing projects for other companies.
The upside here is that you can be a “one stop shop” for the customer, leading the process to meaningful business impact your customer may have not even thought of himself. You have more business opportunities and can expand existing projects as you point to additional business benefit the customer may be getting. Another plus here, is you usually become sort of a trusted advisor for your customers, maintaining long-term relationships and referenced for advice and additional projects.
The main challenge is getting there. The technical skill of developing with Excel VBA can be relatively quick and easy to gain. Becoming a business leader is another story. Typically, business experts are those who worked for years as managers in their field of expertise (e.g. manufacturing, sales human resources). Other experts are those who have implemented business software solutions (such as ERP) in one or more field of expertise.
This tier is where the pay for your hour gets a good boost!
Problem is, one rarely develops a career as a business expert AND as a software developer. It is either this, or the other. In other words, you must consciously invest in both channels (or in the one you’re lacking) to conquer this position.
Career Option Four: The Food Factory
As a factory, you develop and distribute software PRODUCTS.
Products are a totally different game than projects.
A project is designed to meet specific needs of a particular customer, needs to run in a given landscape and environment of that customer and personal support service is required over time.
A product, on the other hand, is a standard package, designed based on an educated guess (or market analysis) of what its future customers will value and pay for. A product must be highly “tight” and robust to run in multiple settings (at times unforeseeable), offer flexibility in configuration and be visually attractive. In short, it needs to SELL (to many).
So, unless you plan to develop small tools or gadgets, becoming a product shop required a new set of skills, on top of what is required from a projects-serving consultant. Among those skills I can mention: product management, market analysis, legal and licensing, IP protection, standard processes for buying, installing, deploying and learning the product, offering support & maintenance service and one more “small” must: marketing your product. You don’t have to do all by yourself, of course.
The main challenges here, on top of the impressive list of skill-set required, is financing and marketing the product before it starts making sales. The more help you buy from others – the higher your investment.
The up-side, of course, is a scalable income channel that may grow to be very profitable, unlimited by your two hands and 24 hours a day can offer.
Career Option Five: The School
You can become a teacher, a coach, a guide. You can offer on-premise trainings (in your school or at customer location). You can devise online courses. You can accompany other Excel VBA developers as they’re making their first steps.
The more upstream you have grown your career – the better you’d be as a leader of others.
If you’re an experienced technical developer – you can train and support others in their VBA challenges.
If you’ve mastered a specific business field along with developing Excel VBA – you can also lead others to become such business software consultant in your field of expertise.
If you’ve developed software products, you can teach others what it takes to deliver a successful software product to market.
The more diverse and extensive experience you have on record – the better leader of others you’ll be. Solid formal education to support you as a leader is also highly valuable.
Career Option Six: The Spices
This career option is not really an Excel VBA career, but I included a short mention as well. It is relevant to so many professionals and may potentially make you stand out nicely.
You may be a business analyst, an accountant, a data engineer, a mathematician, statistician, or any other professional (in most job categories). Adding an Excel VBA developer to your resume, will definitely help.
Excel is everywhere. Many jobs call for extensive use of Excel. If you also program VBA – you have an edge.
So, Can I make a Living with Excel VBA?
And the more up the stream you travel – the better paid you will be.
When I offer business requirements analysis service, I charge about $100/hour. This is how I also price the projects I deliver – once I have the analysis document ready and I can estimate the time it will require for me to plan, develop, write the user guide, deploy and support the first 3 months (before I charge for support separately on a regular basis).
To learn how much Excel VBA is in demand, consider the Udemy statistics for VBA courses (no business courses with Excel VBA there, only technical VBA from various angels). Last time I checked:
- There were 98 courses in which Excel VBA was the main subject
- Excel VBA represent 98% of all searches for courses in Udemy
Can you start with a high-paying job, or a $100/hour income? Probably not. As with any other high-paying career, it takes consistency, learning, experience and sharpening a unique value proposition. But can you get there? Absolutely!
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