When reporting feels like a blunt tool that rarely delivers the insights you need, the whole exercise can become a point of frustration. If you want a sharp knife that cuts straight to the point, out-of-the-box reporting won’t do. You need custom reporting.
Part of the reason why reporting can be so painful for agencies is that it might not feel purposeful. We’re all incredibly pressed for time, so we really need to see the value-add in our activities in order to justify them.
Out-of-the-box reporting solutions do not give you fine-grained control over your data and reporting, so their use is pretty 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 producing those reports is not time well spent. And, let’s be honest, who really wants to spend their time working on reports that aren’t useful?
But custom reporting is not only capable of being more accurate and business-specific. It is also a quicker and more streamlined way to get the insights you’re after.
Custom Reporting: What Is It and Why You Need It
Rather than visualizing standard, fixed data points, custom reporting allows you to choose which KPIs you want to see and how you want them presented. A bespoke reporting tool will allow you to create your own dashboards, specific to the information that is most important to you.
The alternative is out-of-the-box, fixed reporting with tools that do not offer you extensive customization options. And, truth be told, there are plenty of out-of-the-box BI tools that do a great job of surfacing basic insights. These are often descriptive analytics – showing you the figures defining the basic facts of what has happened: how many unique opens an email has had, for instance, or how many hours someone spent on a task.
And this standard solution may work perfectly well for one element of your operations, such as monitoring web traffic. But when it comes to the real nuts and bolts of your agency’s functions – resource capacity, the profitability of your projects – a predefined set of dashboards is unlikely to really capture the nuance of what’s going on. Nor will they be able to go beyond the descriptive.
A custom reporting tool is the only way to gain a more accurate picture, access insights that help you get to the bottom of why a trend looks the way it does, and suggest next steps. The real power in bespoke analytics lies in the fact that it can be diagnostic and prescriptive.
The Evolution of Your Reporting Needs
When you first establish an agency, you’re unlikely to need advanced, bespoke analytics, and nor will you likely have the data necessary to make it worthwhile. Getting the most out of bespoke business intelligence software is an aspirational, long-term process that requires wholesale buy-in from the agency.
If you’re starting out with a pretty small team, you can probably make do with spreadsheets for the most part. Investing in custom reporting would just be overkill if all you’re doing is managing a couple of people’s schedules and projects.
If you’re only going to use a handful of its features and functions, it makes no sense to use a powerful tool. You wouldn’t hire a whole removals team just to help you shift your home office furniture around, after all. It’s a similar scenario. It just wouldn’t make sense in terms of scale.
But, as you evolve as an agency, particularly in the size of your staff and the complexity of the projects you take on, your reporting needs will change. We see it all the time at Forecast. Mid-sized agencies a couple of years into their journey come to us feeling completely frazzled: whatever worked when they were a team of ten or twelve is now just too flimsy. The lack of oversight and intelligent reporting is now starting to hurt their business.
Migrating to a project management solution that unites resourcing and scheduling all in one place is the first step to stability. The risk of double-booking any resource goes out the window; you can see who is over or underutilized; you can see if the time tracked against a task is actually what you would have anticipated.
However, once your project and resourcing data are actually being recorded accurately all in one place, this opens up a world of possibilities. You have everything you need to pull the insights that will fuel strategic decisions. So long as you can get the relevant insights out of the data, you can start making suggestions based on predicted outcomes.
This is where bespoke, custom reporting comes into the picture.
How to Tell When Your Agency Needs Custom Reporting
Every agency grows and evolves at a different rate, and so it’s not enough simply to say that you should adopt custom reporting when you have hit an arbitrary number of employees, or have been established for an arbitrary amount of time.
Instead, you’re better off looking for certain themes and trends in your operations that might indicate the need for a more fine-tuned, effective reporting solution. We’ve outlined a few of the big ones to look out for:
Reporting with your current tools takes too long
How many hours a week do you spend on filling the gaps left by your current, out-of-the-box reporting tools? As standard reporting tools only answer predefined questions, going beyond these questions can mean having to hodge-podge a solution in a spreadsheet. But this is both time-consuming and risky. What happens when the only person who knows how to use the clunky spreadsheet goes on holiday or moves on to work somewhere else?
Besides, some of us just aren’t that into numbers and figures. Not everyone has the skills or the desire (let alone the time) to spend half their day manipulating datasets, improvising a solution.
If reporting is becoming a painful, unworkable time-sink, it might be time to get something more bespoke to do the heavy lifting for you.
Your profit margins are hurting, but you don’t know why
Looking at your balance sheet alone will not give you much insight into why the figures look the way they do. But one of the most useful aspects of bespoke reporting and analytics is that it is diagnostic. It can help you truly understand the weaknesses in your approach and help you spot inefficiencies, such as under-billing for projects and over-servicing retainers.
You want to move from “reactive” to “proactive” about the future
The pressure of the “now” can feel overwhelming in agency life. With constant deadlines and deliverables on the immediate horizon, it can be hard to find the breathing space to step back for long enough to take a serious look at the future.
But finding space for long-term thinking is a necessity if you want to grow steadily and sustainably. If you’re at the stage in your agency journey where you are all-in and committed to building as big as you can get, you have to be strategic.
As custom reporting can surface predictions for future performance, it naturally lends itself to helping you plan for the future. It can help you make informed choices that will lead to steady growth, rather than saying “yes” to everything, overdoing it, and risking exhaustion.
Want to identify whether custom reporting is right for your agency? We’ve connected with agency finance and operations leads to explore exactly that! Watch our webinar to draw on first-hand experiences of implementing custom reporting in a creative agency.