When reporting feels like a blunt tool that rarely gives the insights you need, the whole exercise can become a point of frustration. If you want a sharp knife that cuts right to the top, reporting outside the box will not help. You need customized reporting.
Part of the reason why reporting can be so painful for agencies is that it may not feel appropriate. We are all under incredible pressure of time, so we really need to see added value in our activities to justify them.
Out-of-the-box reporting solutions do not give you precise control over your data and reporting, so their use is quite limited. And if all our reports do is surface generic data, measuring metrics that don’t mean much to our business, the time we spend making those reports isn’t the time we’ve spent on good. And, let’s be honest, who really wants to spend their time working on reports that aren’t useful?
But customized reporting can not only be more accurate and business-specific. It’s also a faster and easier way to get the insights you’re looking for.
Custom reporting: what it is and why you need it
Instead of visualizing standard, fixed data points, custom reporting allows you to choose which KPIs you want to see and how you want to present them. The custom reporting tool will allow you to create your own dashboards, specific to the information that matters most to you.
An alternative is ready-made, fixed reporting with tools that don’t offer you extensive customization options. And, truth be told, there are many ready-made BI tools that work great at detecting basic insights. These are common descriptive analytics – showing you numbers that define the basic facts about what happened: how many unique email openings he had, for example, or how many hours someone spent on a task.
And this standard solution can work perfectly well for one element of your operations, such as web traffic tracking. But when it comes to the real details of your agency’s functions – the capacity of resources, the profitability of your projects – it is unlikely that a predefined set of dashboards will really capture the nuance of what is happening. Nor will it be able to go beyond the descriptive.
Custom reporting tool is the only way to get a more accurate picture, access insights to help you get to the bottom why the trend looks the way it looks and suggests the next steps. The real power of custom analytics lies in the fact that it can be diagnostic and prescriptive.
The evolution of your reporting needs
When you first set up an agency, you are unlikely to need advanced, customized analytics, nor are you likely to have the data needed to pay off. Getting the most out of custom business intelligence software is an aspirational, long-term process that requires a wholesale purchase by the agency.
If you start with a fairly small team, you will probably be able to settle for tables. Investing in custom reporting would be an exaggeration if all you do is manage the schedules and projects of a few people.
If you are going to use only a few of its features and functions, there is no point in using a powerful tool. After all, you wouldn’t hire an entire relocation team just to help you move your home office furniture. The scenario is similar. That just wouldn’t make sense in terms of scope.
But as you develop as an agency, especially in terms of the size of your staff and the complexity of the projects you undertake, your reporting needs will change. We see it all the time Forecast. Medium-sized agencies have been coming to us for a few years on their way with a feeling of utter exhaustion: everything that worked when they were a team of ten or twelve is now too weak. The lack of oversight and intelligent reporting is now starting to hurt their business.
Moving to a project management solution that combines resources and scheduling in one place is the first step towards stability. The risk of double reserving any resource comes out the window; you can see who has been overused or underused; you can see if the time followed by the task is actually what you would expect.
However, when data about your project and resources is actually accurately recorded in one place, this opens up a world of possibilities. You have everything you need to gain insights that will encourage you to make strategic decisions. As long as you can extract relevant insights from the data, you can start making suggestions based on predicted outcomes.
This is where customized, customized reporting comes into play.
How to know when your agency needs customized reporting
Each agency is growing and evolving at a different rate, so it’s not enough to simply say that you should adopt customized reporting when you’ve hit an arbitrary number of employees or you’re established at an arbitrary time.
Instead, it is better to look for specific topics and trends in your business that could indicate the need for a more accurate, efficient reporting solution. Here are some of the big ones to look out for:
Reporting with your current tools takes too long
How many hours a week do you spend filling in the gaps left by your current, ready-made reporting tools? Because standard reporting tools only answer predefined questions, overcoming these questions may mean you have to mix up a solution in a spreadsheet. But this is both time consuming and risky. What happens when the only person who knows how to use an awkward table goes on vacation or goes to work somewhere else?
Plus, some of us just don’t like numbers and figures. Not everyone has the skills or desire (let alone time) to spend half a day manipulating data sets, improvising a solution.
If reporting becomes a painful, unfeasible waste of time, it may be time to get something more tailored to do the hard work for you.
Your profit margins hurt, but you don’t know why
Just looking at your balance sheet will not give you much insight into why the numbers look the way they do. But one of the most useful aspects of special reporting and analytics is that it is diagnostic. It can help you really understand the weaknesses in your approach and spot inefficiencies, such as insufficient invoicing for projects and excessive service delivery.
You want to move from “reactive” to “proactive” about the future
The pressure of the “now” can be felt irresistibly in the life of the agency. With constant deadlines and results on the immediate horizon, it can be difficult to find enough space to step back long enough to take a serious look at the future.
But finding space for long-term thinking is necessary if you want to grow stably and sustainably. If you are in the phase of your agency trip in which you are all in all and committed to building as much as you can, you need to be strategic.
As custom reporting can show predictions of future performance, it is natural to help you plan for the future. It can help you make informed decisions that will lead to constant growth, instead of saying “yes” to everything, exaggerating and risking exhaustion.
Want to determine if custom reporting is right for your agency? We teamed up with agency finances and operational leads to investigate just that! Check out our webinar to take advantage of first-hand experience in implementing custom reporting in a creative agency.