It is extremely difficult to know how successful your business is unless your Business Reporting and success metrics are defined and tracked. To improve your business performance you must identify, maintain, manage, and measure your essential business data. 

Your data sources may include a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or client database, marketing software, website traffic, sales software, and payment systems.  

So, with all these data sources and so much data at your fingertips, how can you use reporting to drive your business performance?

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Step 1
Business Reporting Data is your most critical asset. SMEs with useable data see a 10% increase in productivity and faster growth year on year [1]. It is therefore essential to understand the problems and challenges your business faces and what data can be measured and improved to improve business performance.  

When you know what you want to measure and what data you have access to, you will be able to use this data to make informed decisions to create targeted strategies, improve customer retention, improve productivity, increase new business and overall, your profit margins.

Step 2
To rely on your data, you need to know if you are recording sufficient, reliable, and relevant data. Throughout data interpretation you will need to cross reference this with what you think makes sense. For example, your data may show that your turnover looks high but you feel like you have been very quiet so you may need to check through your sales invoices or business reporting software. Perhaps there has been an error and some invoices have been duplicated.  

So, it will take some time for you to be confident in what the data is “telling” you and you may need to make small changes, such as customising your software, redesigning your reports to include all the fields you need or upgrading the software you are currently using so that it meets your needs.  

To create projections, forecasts, budgets and to enable business owners or key decision makers to understand the trends and identity areas of improvement, the analysis of reliable and accurate data is essential.

Step 3
Ensuring you have easy access to your data and business reporting is essential. Time should be invested in the initial set up and then interim reliability checks. However, regular detailed analysis of your data isn’t the best use of your time. Setting up predefined reports are a quick and easy way to ensure you have the data at your fingertips. Every business is different, has different data sources and data requirements so there is no predefined list of perfect data tools and software that is applicable to all businesses.  

However, it is beneficial to have software that enables you to export to excel as excel makes it easy to manipulate the data. Within Excel you can have a template set up so you have a quick customised report which could come from multiple sources. With a huge range of online tutorials and explainer blogs, excel is an easy way tool to enable you to extract the information you need and present it in an easy format (or of course there are people that can set this up for you initially). 

Step 4 
Your data should be presented in a simple way that is visual and can provide key insights with ease.  

Dashboards are ideal for displaying your data and to support your business reporting.  They can pull information from accounting software, CRM systems, email, website analytics all in one place so you don’t have to log into multiple systems. Once set up a dashboard will track, gather, and display your data in an interactive and customisable view so you can monitor your key metrics and keep on track with your goals.  

Your data should:

  • Be easy to view and digest  
  • Clearly define performance metrics compared with prior periods  
  • Provide forecasts  
  • Highlight anomalies, risks, and areas of success  

If you focus on these key guidelines paired with your overall data objective, you will ensure you are focused in the right areas and are not overloaded with nice to have but somewhat irrelevant data.  

Step 5 
When you are clear on what you are measuring, your data accuracy, the reports, and dashboards you require, the next step is to consider automation. But is automation worth the investment?  

If you consider 40 hours per week as the conventional working week, research suggested that automation will save business owners 6 weeks of their time per year [2]… as a business owner your time is like gold dust. Data should be an essential part of your business focus however data management and business reporting shouldn’t be time consuming for you or any employees. Automation is a sensible investment, and if you have completed the previous 4 steps, it will also ensure you make a strong return on investment (ROI). 

 When you automate your data and business reporting all of your data should collated and consolidated, reports will run automatically, and distribution of reports can be prescheduled on a time, date and frequency that you desire. Further to this, if you need real-time data, your dashboards can automatically populate so you can then check and analyse data as required.

There is a significant risk that businesses that are not currently using data in a meaningful way to create high quality reports, are working blindly.  

The ability to monitor, maintain, measure, and analyse data will enable you to able to use your data insights to manage and improve your overall business performance and ultimately your business results.  

[1] Xperience Data Group 2020
[2] Forbes 3rd August 2019 – How data automation could save your business £4M per year

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