How to write a business report that anyone can understand
Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides
4 min read
Ever wondered how to write a business report for the widest possible audience? It all comes down to structure, and how you use visuals. Here are some practical tips to help you get the balance right.
Types of business report
Small business reporting has typically focused on the big budget items – profit and loss, balance sheet, and cash flow. Performance reports are getting more popular too, now that technology is making key performance indicators (KPIs) easier to measure.
The goal of all these reports is to show how the business is doing. Is it making progress compared to last year? Is it achieving the goals you set? Business reports aim to step back from the weekly ups and downs of the organization and look at these long-term trends.
As the person who’s producing the report, you can show this big picture in broad strokes, or minute detail. A good report mixes the two.
Business report format – the layer cake
It’s good to be precise, detail focused and comprehensive when pulling together a business report. It’s just that not everyone will want to see all of your work.
Rather than force-feeding them everything, make your report a layer cake, where readers can choose how deep to go. For each section of your report, include:
- graphs or charts that tell the high-level story, then
- drill down to the tables and figures that support those visuals, and finish up with
- a written report that digs into the detail.
This layered business report format allows people to get their head around the trends quickly – and go for more context only where and when they need it.
Think about your audience
If you really want to know how to write a good business report, you need to think about who’s reading it. While you might be detail focused, not all your clients will be wired that way. And remember that not many small business owners come from a financial background, so they could be put off by raw financial data.
A layer-cake report format allows you to cater to all types. It will also help your client communicate with their wider circle of stakeholders. They’ll be able to share the report with silent partners, investors, family members, or employees knowing that those people will be able to get what they need out of it.
Showing rather than telling
Top-layer graphs will really make business trends jump off the page for your audience. Adding them used to be an ordeal. You had to transcribe data into a separate piece of software and then copy those graphs back into your main report. You have two far simpler options nowadays:
- You can use the basic visual reporting tools that come with most accounting software.
- Or you can plug a special app into your accounting software for really polished reports.
How business reporting tools can help
A reporting app can pull data straight from your accounting software, so you won’t need to transcribe anything. You’ll see dozens of report templates when you open the apps and that can be daunting, but just start with what you know. You may never need any more than that.
There are three well-known small business reporting tools:
Set up report templates to save time and energy
If you want to take reporting tools to the next level, use their industry templates. They come with standard industry KPIs and, of course, you can add more KPIs if you like. Once you’re happy with the template, you can roll it out to all your clients in the same industry.
Layer-cake business reporting is good for clients and your practice
Layering a highly visual story over the top of your more technical reporting will be a game changer for a lot of clients. It will allow them to look under the hood of their business and literally see what’s going on. They’ll love that.
When you know how to write a business report like that, you’re going to win fans. Clients will actually understand the work you’re doing for them, and they’ll be more likely to act on your insights. It all leads to a happier, more engaged business owner.
You don’t need to turn every report into a visual masterpiece. Start out with modest graphs and charts and see how your clients respond.
Why visual reporting is good for your practice
Data visualization is a game changer for clients. It allows them to look under the hood of their business and literally see what’s going on. Most business owners won’t have seen anything like it, so they’ll love you for bringing them that clarity. They’ll also reward you with more business because they’ll start asking questions about what they’re looking at.
They’ll spot positive trends and ask how to keep them going. They’ll see negative trends and ask how to fix them. Answer the questions you can, and refer them to other experts if you’re getting in over your head. Once you’ve connected clients with the advice they need, they’ll be more likely to try it because they can watch the needle move over time, from one report to the next. It’s a great way to prove your value and expand your role.