Are Your Reports Working For You?

If you've ever spent an hour (or more) playing office bingo in yet another useless meeting or struggled to understand why your business isn't making money even though sales are up, then you'll know the frustration that can come with trying to get an accurate picture of a business's position. You can have access to all the data in the world, but without structure and context behind it, you'll be left floundering.

Ever read a report where you couldn't seem to find the relevance? Many businesses today suffer from information overload and get stuck in useless reporting cycles. To counteract that, here are our top three steps to make your reports work for you.

Know what you're working towards

Stop thinking of them as summaries or data dumps, and instead, approach all your reports as a decision-making tool. Rather than trying to twist and turn random facts into something useful, starting with a goal in mind first, will set you off on the right track.
When you know what you want to achieve, structure your reports and research to steps that will help you meet your goals. You've probably put off writing a business plan at least once in the life of your business. No one wants to do it, but writing out your long-term business goals is well worth it in the end. You don't have to spend a year creating a fancy document; a couple of pages will do the trick. When you know what the journey should look like, and what roads you want to travel, you'll know what details are relevant and what's irrelevant.

Use the information

Don't be one of those businesses that bury their head in the sand when it comes to facts and figures. Are you getting good ROI on that advertising? How fast is that stock moving? Which reports are giving you information that you need to make decisions to move towards your goal, and which ones are just useless noise? Is the data coming from something you can influence, or is it controlled by an outside source you cannot control? If you can't change it, do you need to adapt your business or is it of no consequence? Cut down on time wasted with irrelevant facts and figures and focus in on what matters to your business goals.

Act on the facts

So now you know what's going on in your business, and what needs to change (or doesn't). Once you've ascertained your actual position, it's important to set up plans for when you should act on particular ideas, and when it should simply be watched or set aside for now. It's a good idea to set yourself upper and lower boundaries along with recommended steps, so that when you next evaluate the same report you'll have a plan in place ready to go. When you do take action, record what and when it was. Taking notes will help enhance the report's relevance and usefulness and give you direction on how the report aligns with your business goals.

In a nutshell, set your goals, gather the information you need to acquire those goals, and then action with useful steps. Do this and you'll be on your way to a more successful business.