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  • Rachel Flood

Reporting Should Be EASY!

I get asked a lot how to make reporting easier by the clients that I serve, and it always comes back to one thing...


The very best way to make your reporting easier is to...Stop. Using. Spreadsheets!


No really, it is my belief that you should never, and I mean not ever, use spreadsheets to manage your ongoing business management or reporting. Like never.


Whaaaaaat? You say.

I know it may feel like I'm talking crazy, but it is possible. Let's break it down.


First, what is so wrong with Spreadsheets?


There are a few major issues with spreadsheets

  1. First, there is no way to know for sure if your data is good and free from errors. There are no rules to contain the information in any of the cells in a spreadsheet, nor are there rules for how the information can be sorted or filtered or deleted...Meaning, there is an agent of chaos in every cell in every sheet of every workbook you have ever used! In fact, research shows that about 88% of all spreadsheets have errors in them.

  2. Second, there are no rules about how the information you are looking at, or working with, is sourced. Can you trust that it is accurate? Can you trust where those numbers or other details are coming from? This is especially important for things like forecasting. If you are making key financial decisions based on information presented in spreadsheets you are asking for trouble. Don't just take my word for it, spreadsheet risk has been highlighted in Forbes, The Financial Times, and Fortune to name only a few.

  3. Third, you loose the ability to easily analyze historical data. When you have your numbers and information spread across multiple spreadsheets that are saved in multiple locations, the task of collating and comparing information quickly becomes an overwhelming time suck!

  4. Finally, manual data entry is a soul sucking and morale killing task and you should make it your mission to never have to do it, and ESPECIALLY to never make your staff do it. No one likes this kind of job. It is insulting to one's intelligence and you are missing out on that persons huge and exquisite brain by making them do mindless tasks like copy data from one place to another. Just stop it. Please?

So, how on earth do you do it if you don't use spreadsheets?


⚡Short answer...there is an app for that!⚡


The software you use to complete the work of you business should, by default, also provide you with the reporting you need! And if it doesn't you need new software.


Here are some examples:


Using spreadsheets for your budget development and management?

You want to use actual numbers for this and you want to be sure they are correct! So you should use a budgeting tool like Budgeto that integrates with your accounting software instead. Or if that is out of reach, get started today on moving to the built-in budgeting features of your accounting software. And if your accountant says you can't use it because your accounts as they are setup don't translate well. Tell your accountant that you want them to translate to your budget and you want them to do whatever it takes to have access to this functionality. They work for you remember.


This will ensure that you are using your actual numbers from the previous period to base your forecast and budget numbers on, nothing will be missed and everything is counted. AND you will be comparing apples to apples as your actual transactions are booked and you are doing the work of budget management throughout the period.


Using spreadsheets to track and manage your inventory?

You want each transaction to affect your inventory count, and you want your purchased supplies to be easily added to your stock as they come in the door. So you should use a Point of Sale platform that has inventory management built-in. If your Point of Sale doesn't have inventory management, get one that does, there is no in-between here. The amount of time (and money!) you will save will far outweigh any savings you think you are getting from not having this feature. 9 times out of 10 this kind of POS will also have a purchasing and purchase order features that can support restocking as well. (I like SquareUp.com because of the awesome mobile reader and built-in e-commerce sites that automatically integrate with your inventory!)


Using spreadsheets to collate demographic information and statistics from applications or registrations?

You want your applicants to do this data entry for you! This is easily accomplished if you move your application process to an online form that is either built into or integrates well with your CRM. (If you don't have a CRM yet, you should really get one! I like Nutshell - use alignmentops15 for a 15% discount). This way the data you are collecting can be viewed individually on a profile created for each applicant and can be automatically included in reporting as part of the whole.


Trying to measure your outreach efforts and related impact in specific communities?

You want your actual interventions to be captured by the very act of doing them. If you are having events you should use an integrated online form for ticket sales, RSVPs, and/or waiting lists (or a ticketing service like Eventbrite which integrates with your CRM) that captures key location or demographic information upon sign-up.


You can also use integrated feedback forms for more engaged stakeholders. Ideally you could track the engagement of these individuals from your communications all the way through to attendance by using a CRM or fundraising tool that has a marketing features built in. (Keela does this really well! use this link for a 15% discount!)


In all of these examples your reporting becomes as simple as clicking "generate report" for the specific criteria you need to see, whenever you need to see it. Doesn't get much easier than that!


I recently found this image that was created by Hot Butter Studio and I just love it so much! It beautifully explains the relationship between data management and reporting in 5 simple pictures!


You want your software to collect, sort, arrange, and visually present your data FOR YOU, so you can spend all of your time developing the story to explain it. If you are wasting your time on the first four images, you are not giving your story enough of your time.


And your story is the entire point, no?


Stop Using Spreadsheets Today! Download my step-by-step checklist to start your journey to a more efficient and effective way of doing your work!