How Small Businesses Can Improve Reporting
Reporting is an important element in most businesses, and it exists in multiple areas. For example, you’ll need to create and send reports to clients, notifying them of your progress. You’ll make reports for internal operations, reviewing them with your team. You might even report on your own personal progress to a boss or superior, as a way to justify your existence or ask for more funding.
In large companies, there are entire roles and divisions dedicated to reporting, with access to practically unlimited resources. But how can small businesses improve their reporting procedures?
A good reporting system will have a few main qualities. These will serve as our underlying goals for improvement:
- Easy. Your employees will be stressed and, eventually, overworked if it’s challenging to put together reports.
- Comprehensive. A good report will cover all the necessary data, presenting it as efficiently and streamlined as possible without cutting any corners.
- Understandable. Most reports function as a form of communication; they’re designed to convey a conclusion or insight to another party. Accordingly, they need to be easily understood by a large number of different parties.
- Fast. Finally, reports should be created, shared, and read as quickly as possible; the less time you spend on this operation, the more you can spend in other areas.
How to Improve Reporting
So what can small businesses do to improve their reporting systems?
- Invest in the right reporting software. First and most importantly, invest in the right reporting software. There are hundreds, if not thousands of online reporting software choices for small businesses, but not all of them are equal in performance or efficiency. Some will be easier to learn, faster, more automated, and more intelligible—and you might get all of those features for a lower price than a competitor. If you choose the wrong software, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure, no matter how educated, efficient, or experienced your team members are. Spend some time reviewing the different types of software available to your business, and choose the best possible model.
- Report at regular intervals. Some reports are better reviewed on a monthly basis, while others should be reviewed daily. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it’s important to report as regularly as possible. Instead of running a report on demand if and when you think about it, set dates in your calendar to remind you when to issue a new report. This will make your insights much easier to follow, and allow you to compare results apples-to-apples.
- Automate whatever you can. Any automation you can integrate into your process is going to be a good thing; it means you’re allowing a machine or program to do work that a human would otherwise have to do. For example, you might have weekly reports automatically generated and sent out to the people who need them. Depending on which software tools you use and how much automation you employ, you could save hours of time every week.
- Implement visuals. Data visualization is one of the best communication tools for small business reports. It takes dense, sometimes confusing data, and distills it into a form that can be almost instantly interpreted, even by non-experts. Charts, graphs, tables, and other visuals make any report more inviting, and can help you showcase your insights much more fluidly.
- Understand your KPIs. Comprehensive reporting may provide your audience with thousands of metrics, but they probably don’t need thousands of data points to form a conclusion; instead, your most actionable variables are probably limited. Know the key performance indicators (KPIs) and the most important variables associated with each of your reports, and find a way to highlight them. Otherwise, they could get lost in the white noise of the rest of your data.
- Document your processes. Even if you’re relying heavily on automation, it’s a good idea to document your reporting process. Which reports are you generating on a regular basis, how often are you generating them, and why? How can you create a report manually, from scratch? This way, you’ll be inclined to follow a more consistent process, and new people can learn it easily.
- Work around your audience. Different people will have different reporting needs. Understand these, and present your reports in different ways to appeal to those individuals. Ask yourself, what are this person’s goals? What is this person’s level of expertise?
With a little bit of time, effort, and money, any small business can overhaul its reporting system. And with better reports, you’ll have more data, better conclusions, and improved communication at all levels. Experiment to see which software platforms and procedures work best for your organization, and don’t get complacent with inefficient strategies.