It’s no secret that accounting generates a lot of reports. There are reports that tell you – and any other financial professional – everything you need to know about a business at a glance.
However, even when business owners and managers understand how to read those reports, they aren’t always sure how to apply the information they get from them. Actionable reports are one-way accountants can help make reports more valuable and useful for business management teams who aren’t financial professionals.
What Is Actionable Reporting?
Typical financial reports present the facts about a company’s financial situation, but for most non accountants, that’s a lot like being given a diagnosis by a doctor. You know what’s wrong, but you have no idea what to do about it!
Making actionable reports takes the collection and presentation of financial data one step further, by suggesting ways that the reader can use that information to make positive changes in their business.
For instance, it might say that to reach a particular financial goal, sales need to increase by a certain percentage, or expenses need to be cut by a certain amount.
Actionable Reporting vs. Analytical Reporting
Figuring out how to make accounting reporting actionable for clients starts with understanding the difference between actionable reporting and analytical reporting.
In the simplest terms, actionable reporting provides active suggestions about how to change a particular problem or situation. Analytical reporting presents the data and expects the reader to extract and use the data themselves.
How Do You Create/Prepare an Actionable Report?
When you are trying to not only tell business managers and owners what their current financial situation is, but also what they need to do to improve it, actionable reports are by far the simplest method. Here are a few ways you can make actionable reports that your customers or management team can use right out of the gate:
1. Summarize all of the most important information for them – most business owners and managers don’t want to read pages and pages of numbers just to find one figure that matters, so summarize it all on one or two pages as well
2. Find out what your client or management team wants to achieve – if you know what they want to do over the next year, it’s a lot easier to provide a list of actionable steps that will help them to achieve that
3. Keep it simple – accounting is well known for having its own language of jargon and technical terms, but most non accountants don’t understand them, so stick to plain English and make it easy to read and understand
4. Don’t sugar coat things to soften the blow – if a company is in trouble, don’t try to play it down – this is when companies most need clear, actionable advice to solve a big problem
5. Use visual aids like charts and graphs to illustrate complex ideas – most non accountants find it easier to understand financial data when they have these kinds of visual aids
6. If there are a variety of options, communicate all of them, so your clients can choose the route they want to take with their business
Simply put, the answer to the question of how to make accounting reporting actionable for clients is to tell them what all the financial data means and suggest the best ways for them to change course and achieve their goals.
What Are the Best Practices in Business Reporting, and How Can We Make Our Reports Stand Out?
Sometimes, accountants and finance professionals get caught up in the numbers, and since we can read and understand all those pages of figures and subtotals, we forget that most people can’t.
The best things you can do to make actionable reports for your customers or management team is to simplify the information, and to act as a translator. Because accounting really is a different language sometimes!
Keep your reports clear and easy to read, and if there are variable options, provide a method of trying different scenarios in the form of an interactive spreadsheet or calculator.
How Can We Make Accounting Departments More Efficient?
Accounting is a very focused, rigid process that needs to follow predefined rules. In the past, this could slow the process down, because most things had to be done manually, and there was always an endless pile of filing to be done once everything was recorded and checked.
These days, technology is there to lend a helping hand, and it’s one of the best ways to improve accounting department efficiency, so you have more time to do things like produce actionable reports! Here are a few ways to streamline your accounting department using technology:
· Invest in an accounting system that does everything your business needs to do – the last thing you want is a system that does everything BUT payroll, or can handle sales and invoices, but doesn’t handle inventory!
· Digitize processes like expense claims – allow employees to submit digital copies of their receipts, even if you do get the paper copies at a later stage – this will speed up the process of capturing that information
· Integrate systems – there are software options to track mileage, digital clock card systems and more, many of which can integrate directly with your accounting system, which saves time and reduces double work
Benefits of Actionable Reporting
There are several benefits to making actionable reports, whether it’s management reports for your own company or client reports if you offer third party accounting systems. These include:
· Helping the reader to understand what the financial information they’re seeing means, in real world terms
· Identifying problem areas that need work
· Offering real world solutions that companies can use to change course
· Translating complex accounting and financial information
Actionable Accounting Report Example
Make Actionable Accounting Reports with LiveFlow
One of the reasons we created LiveFlow is to help create a bridge between the accounting office and the managers and business leaders who need to use financial data in the real world.
We know many business leaders don’t have an accounting background, so traditional reports might not be as meaningful or helpful to them.
LiveFlow integrates directly with QuickBooks and has a Google Sheets feature that allows you to map and export live, real time data from your accounting system to your custom reports.
This information can then be used as the basis for scenario simulators and other tools, which can help business managers and owners to understand what the effect of specific changes in their business will be. You can even create charts that are updated as your information input changes.
Since these actionable reports are on Google Sheets, rather than locked into an accounting system or on paper, they’re easy to share with relevant people, and they make it easy to demonstrate how key changes will affect a company. Book a demo today to find more out about LiveFlow.