‘Reporting’ is just a code word for getting the information you need to be in control and make smart decisions. Elliot Cooper says even the smallest business has the power to generate reports that deliver profit-boosting insights.
Effective reporting drives your key performance indicators (KPIs), which is a fancy way of saying ‘things you could really benefit from knowing’. In essence you want to track your KPIs; identify trends; and find any outliers.
Reporting is the single biggest pain point for businesses. It is important to base your business decisions on the best science you can muster. Doing it badly represents lost money and lost opportunity. Here’s how you can get the reports you want – without needing a degree in statistics.
Three steps to get decent reporting quickly and cost effectively
- Get clear on what you want to know. Retailers may want the average spend per customer through the door; Manufacturing firms the cause and quantity of downtime. Data comparisons are essential to understanding your own data – common examples are company sales vs. total industry sales; and comparisons of your data vs. industry standard.
- Capture the data before you can report on it. To report on sales per metre of floor space, your system needs to know floor space quantity.
- Find your most cost effective delivery method. If your business employs less than ten people, the best options are usually either the in-house reporting engine in your accounting system; Microsoft Excel; or Microsoft Power BI.
You may have to change the accounting platform you’re running to make your data available to a variety of different reporting tools. Making your data more accessible can deliver rich reporting gains. If you’re lucky, you are already running an accounting system that can make your data available to a reporting tool that suits you. If your accounting system runs on SQL Server you can connect to almost any third party reporting tool. Some cloud accounting products – like MYOB Advanced – use O-Data feeds that are easily accessed by third party reporting tools.
Third party reporting tools for all budgets
At the top end of town you have third party products like Cognos, Halo and Theta. They are generally not suitable for very small businesses. Small to medium-sized businesses may be better off looking at products like Alchemex, which are faster to implement.
Cheapest of all? Use the in-house reporting engine contained in the accounting system you’re running. Microsoft Excel is another reporting tool you have probably already used. Microsoft Power BI is a pretty decent third party tool that’s cheap as chips at around $12 per user per month.
Making it happen
- Create a mock-up of the report(s) in Excel or on paper. This allows you to play around with the layout and gives insight into potential issues with readability. Choosing the correct chart type is key to understanding data and drawing accurate conclusions.
- Talk to your accounting system service provider. They should be able to create the report you require or direct you to a suitable standard report.
- Validate the data. Is the data presented correct, and is it meeting your objective for commissioning the report? Does additional information need to be presented, or do you need an alternative report to interpret the information presented? Rome wasn’t built in a day and the best reports often require tweaking before they’re 100 percent. If you make a change to your system, ask yourself if this will affect your reports.
Elliot Cooper is CEO, co-founder and executive director of listed company Enprise Group (NZAX: ENS). He’s a chartered accountant who has worked on many capital raises, as well as multiple trade sales totalling more than $50 million.