Gordon McComb

Plan, Create, and Maintain a Cost-Saving Macro System

Save time and money with WordPerfect and Word Macros


It's All About Saving Money

Macros for word processors were originally designed to reduce the number of keystrokes required to perform simple repetitive tasks, like formatting text in boldface or changing margins. Macros became handy and time-saving tools because word processors were -- and still are -- the most common application program used by businesses, schools, court systems, and other organizations.

Saving time is the key to macros. Which really means saving money. The less time it takes to perform some job with a word processor, the less it costs. Businesses can survive or fail on the amount of money they spend, and a savings of a few dollars here and there can add up fast. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of companies and organizations have developed macros to augment their word processing chores, and have saved considerable sums of cash in doing so.

Developing Macros That Pay for Themselves

Cost savings is an important aspect because it determines the "return on investment" you will enjoy when using a macro to reduce your word processing work-load. However, like all investments, there is a point where the cost of the investment exceeds what you are likely to get out of it.

For a word processing macro, you must balance the cost of developing that macro with the amount of money you will save in using it. Learning how to achieve that balance is the aim of this white paper.

The best macro investments tend to be those used for common, repetitive formatting and document assembly chores. The more repetitive the chore, the more likely a macro will benefit you. For these tasks you must attach a dollar amount to the cost of doing the work manually with the word processor alone, then compare that with the savings you can realize with a macro. The difference, calculated over several months or a year, reveals how well the macro will pay for itself.

An Example of a Macro That Saves Money

Suppose you must prepare detailed meeting notes, in a specific format, once a week. It normally takes you three hours to prepare these notes. By using a macro you can prepare the notes in one hour. That's a savings of two hours a week, or roughly 8.6 hours per month, or 103.2 hours per year. Calculating only for base salary (which is inaccurate; I'll get to this subject in Calculating Savings, below), the macro can save you $825.60 per year, assuming an administrative assistant paid at $8 per hour. And that's just for one year; most macros have a useful life of as long as you use the software, generally several years or more.

With the cost savings calculated, you can consider the price of the macro investment. A reasonable development cost for such a macro is equal to approximately the one year savings, or $825. After the first year, the macro will begin paying for itself, and you'll enjoy increased savings as long as you use the macro.

Keep in mind that most macros save considerably more time and money than the example I've cited above -- savings of thousands of dollars per month are not uncommon. But the above example gives you an idea of the concept of "investing" in a macro system for your business.

The Best Tasks for Macros

More than likely, there are a lot of repetitive or mundane word processing jobs that a macro would make easier. Not all of them are ideally suited for a macro solution, however. You should consider the following criteria when judging if a macro system is appropriate for a given task.

Highly repetitive tasks (more than 10 percent of any weekly or monthly work load) offer the largest return on your investment. The more time your office staff spends on preparing certain kinds of documents, the more a macro system can save you.

Less repetitive tasks (under 10 percent of work load) should not necessarily be ignored, especially if they are complex or prone to human error. Macros can simplify these tasks, and increase accuracy.

Tasks that must be completed in a certain amount of time (medical, legal, or police report transcriptions are good examples) can be greatly benefited by a macro. The macro helps an operator to complete the task in the allotted time. This can reduce stress and overtime, both of which can be costly to any business.

Calculating Savings

Calculating the exact cost of a given word processing task is an inexact science. And unless you can determine how much a word processing chore costs your company, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to accurately determine the savings a macro system is likely to provide you.

However, some basic rules and formula can be applied to arrive at a fairly good estimate. Over time and with more experience, you can adjust these rules and formula to better gauge the cost savings of your macro systems.

Start first with an accurate calculation of labor. Calculating costs on an hourly wage or salary basis is grossly inaccurate, because other direct and indirect expenses can greatly increase the actual costs of an employee. There are two computation factors commonly used in business to determine the actual costs of an employee:

  • Direct personal expenses (DPE) consider medical and dental benefits, employer FICA contribution, insurance, paid holiday, and other expenses. DPE is often calculated at about 1.75 times the employee's actual wage or salary. For example, given a wage of $10 per hour, the actual cost to the employer for that worker is $17.50 per hour.
  • Indirect expenses (IE) consider the cost of providing office space, parking space, equipment (e.g. a computer and a printer), and other material and overhead costs. Indirect expenses can vary greatly from company to company, but are often estimated at about 0.5 times the employee's wage or salary. Combined with DPE, the overall cost of the worker becomes 2.25 times wage or salary. If the worker is paid $10 per hour, the actual cost to the company, with both direct and indirect expenses factored in, is $22.50.

When calculating possible savings when using a macro system, it is important to add in DPE (and when necessary DPE+IE) costs. This allows you to more accurately determine, on an hourly, weekly, or monthly basis, how much an employee costs. The net result of Salary+DPE+IE is the amount you should use when calculating the cost of performing some word processing task. For your convenience, here is a table that shows the DPE and DPE/IP costs at several hourly wages, from $8 to $35 an hour.

Hourly wage Wage+DPE Wage+DPE+IP
$8 $14.00 $18.00
$10 $17.50 $25.00
$12 $21.00 $27.00
$15 $26.25 $33.75
$20 $35.00 $45.00
$25 $43.75 $56.25
$30 $52.50 $67.50
$35 $61.25 $78.75

Factoring Overtime

Over the past several decades overtime has become increasingly common in business. Some businesses view an employee's willingness to "put in overtime" as a sign of loyalty. Regardless, it's important to remember that overtime is expensive, whether the employee is non-exempt or salaried. Macro systems can often help reduce or eliminate unnecessary overtime, thereby saving a lot of money.

First consider the non-exempt (hourly) employee. Most states continue to restrict regular working hours to 40 hours per week and eight hours per day, or some reasonable combination of the two. Work that exceeds these limits must be paid at time-and-a-half. As the take-home wage to the employee increases, so does the direct personal expenses borne by the employer.

For a general estimate of the cost of overtime, multiply wage times 1.5. Then multiply the result by 1.75 for DPE, or from 2.0 to 2.25 for DPE+IP. As an example, a worker getting $10 an hour will receive $15 for overtime work. That increases the actual outlay of the employer to about $26.25 per hour for Wage+DPE, and approximately $33.75 per hour for Wage+DPE+IP.

The costs of overtime affects salaried (exempt) workers as well. Though employers are not required to pay exempt employees overtime, excessive or constant overtime is fatiguing, which results in overall lower productivity. Additionally, many exempt positions are "priced" considering the overtime expectations. The employer pays for overtime as part of the regular negotiated salary to the employee.

Timing Word Processing Chores

With a fairly accurate estimate of the hourly cost of an employee, you can determine the reasonable savings a macro system will offer you. In order to do that, however, you must time how long it takes to perform a given word processing chore when done manually. You can then use some common yardsticks to estimate the likely time savings you will achieve when using a macro.

Use a stopwatch to time how long it takes for a reasonably competent operator to perform the task. If an operator must perform the same task many times during the day, use the total amount of time spent, and divide by the number of finished output documents created. For example, if the operator completes 12 documents in an eight hour day, it takes an average of 0.66 of an hour (or 40 minutes) to complete one document.

Considering Human Input

The amount of time savings enjoyed when using a macro will depend on the amount of user-interaction required by the operator when the macro is running. Tasks that require a high degree of manual input will not result in as much time savings as those tasks that can be run almost automatically from start to finish.

The amount of human intervention during macro playback is dependent on the degree of uniqueness of each output document. The more varied the document, the more input is required by the operator. With this in mind, use the table below as an estimate on how much time a macro system is likely to save you, given the amount of human interaction required to build each output document.

Calculating Overall Savings

You now have all of the factors needed to judge whether a macro system will truly save money. To recap, you have the following information that you can use to determine the typical costs savings by using a macro:

The actual hourly cost of the employee, considering wage, overtime (if any), direct personal expenses, and indirect expenses.

The time it takes to complete a word processing task.

  • The amount of time (i.e. per day or per week) required for the task.
  • The typical time savings, considering the amount of user interaction, a macro may provide.

    Use a calculator or spreadsheet to calculate the actual cost savings. Here are some sample values to work with:

  • Hourly wage of employee: $12.50
  • Wage+DPE of employee: $21.88
  • Wage+DPE+IE of employee: $31.25
  • Average overtime hours per week: 7
  • Average time to complete task manually: 1.25 hours
  • Total time per week for task: 13.25 hours
  • Degree of user input for a macro: minimal.

Start by calculating the hourly cost of performing the task manually (we'll consider Wage+DPE only to keep things simple). In this case, the cost is 1.25 hours times $21.88 per hour, or $27.35.

Next calculate the hourly cost to perform the task, this time using a macro -- considering an overall time savings of about 80 percent (minimal user input). Instead of taking 1.25 hours, with a macro it takes 0.3 hours. Calculating Wage+DPE that amounts to $6.56. The difference is $20.79. The worker performs this task approximately 10.5 times per week, for a total weekly savings of $217.98.

Calculate if overtime hours will be reduced by using the macro. This worker spends an average of seven hours per week on overtime. The task consumes 13.25 hours per week; by reducing the task by 80 percent, the worker will expend only 2.65 hours per week when using a macro, a savings of 10.35 hours.

Not only will the worker no longer need to put in overtime (for this task), but additional time will be available for this worker to perform other duties during a normal 40-hour work week. The savings, factoring Wage+DPE, of eliminating overtime is an additional $229.69 per week, for a grand total of $447.67 per week (217.98 plus 229.69).

Now extend these savings to per month and per year:

  • The macro may save $1,924.98 per month.
  • The macro may save $23,099.77 per year.

These figures may sound incredible, but they are not at all uncommon. The more time a word processing chore takes, and the more a macro can shave off that time, the greater your savings will be.

Considering Macro Development Costs

Now that you know how much a macro system may save you over the course of a year, you can determine if the cost of developing it is worthwhile to you. A macro that costs more than the amount it will save you in a year is probably not a good investment, unless there are extenuating factors (i.e., the macro drastically reduces the complexity of a job; the macro allows a job to be performed by lower-wage employees; the macro allows a task to be done on time, every time, and so forth).

The cost of development will depend on these primary considerations:

  • Complexity of the macro. Many macro systems are fairly straight-forward, and do not require extensive "coding." Others are software programs in and of themselves, and need weeks or months of development.
  • Development resources. Some companies have one or more individuals on-staff with the training or knowledge needed to write word processing macros (or individuals with a desire to learn how to write macros). These companies can undertake the development work internally. Other companies must contract with a consultant to develop some or all of the macro.
  • Conversion requirements. A number of macro systems contemplated by companies are revisions of macros written for earlier versions of their word processing program. Drastic changes between some versions of word processors require complete rewrites of the existing macro system, as well as revisions to companion documents. All conversion issues must be considered when adapting an existing system.

Sadly, there are no magical tables that can be used to determine the average cost of macro development; each macro system is unique, as are the special requirements of your company. Some macro systems can be developed in just a few hours -- assuming it is written by someone who is competent with both the word processor and its macro language -- while others require a week or more of development.

That said, here are some general averages, gleaned from my experience: Most single-function macro systems require between 4-18 hours of development. More complex macros that must perform multiple functions can take from 20-60 hours, with the majority being on the lower end of this scale. A very few highly complicated, special-purpose macros may need upwards of 100 to 200 hours or development time. Macro systems requiring more development time than 200 hours can often be better addressed as small-scale applications, written in a general-purpose language such as Visual Basic.

Ways to Save Money When Developing Macros

There are numerous ways to save money when developing macros, including the following:

  • Buy a book on the subject. You'll get insights to writing macros, and sample code you can use in your own projects. Macro books are hard to find, however. For starters see Word Macro Book Review for reviews of several commercially-published Word macro books.
  • Start with ready-made macros. Don't reinvent the wheel if someone has already done the hard work for you.
  • Examine other people's macros. Many Web sites provide free macros you can look at and learn from. Download a few from respected sites, and see how they tick. One source of free macros for WordPerfect is the Free Tools section here.
  • Hire a consultant for some or all of the job. Hourly fees vary depending on factors like experience and location; expect to pay more for a consultant in New York, for example. Compare fees, but don't forget to consider experience. A consultant with more experience can often perform the job in less time, saving you money.
  • Depending on your time and skill level, it may be necessary to have a consultant do all of the work. The consultant can be used to "fill any gaps" and answer questions for in-house developers.
  • Attend a macro-writing seminar. Some macro consultants (hint, hint - like us!) can provide one- or two-day seminars on how to write macros. One or more employees can participate for the same price.

Feel free to save, print, and/or distribute this white paper throughout your company or organization.