Let’s say you’re test-driving a car. It’s top-of-the-range, fresh out the factory, and you’ve heard great things about the model. Even though you have a good feeling about it, you’d probably be hesitant to set off without a clear view of the dashboard computer. No matter how respected the brand, you need to see how the car is running, and if there are any faults.

It's a similar story with business.

You can believe that everything is going well in your small business based on instinct and vox populi, but without data reporting, you're running blind.

With data reporting, you can validate or disprove gut feeling with a meaningful and actionable view of how a business is performing. It connects the dots between disparate metrics and gives a true birds-eye view of individual roles, departments, and the company as a whole.

No matter the size of your organization, reporting is a must-have. It's also easier than ever for small businesses to implement cost-effective and straightforward data reporting.

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Data reporting vs. Business Intelligence

Sometimes data reporting and business intelligence are talked about interchangeably, but that's not always correct. Here's how you can understand the difference:

Reporting shows you what has happened so far and what the status of your business performance is. This can include charts, graphs, tables, and other visualizations of performance on reporting dashboards.

Business intelligence (BI) shows you why things happened and helps to identify trends and risks to improve business performance in the future. With BI tools, you can explore and forecast metrics such as customer satisfaction, changes in demand, and cash flow.

With data reporting and business intelligence apps in your stack, your business can be in the best position to assess current performance, forecast how that will change in coming months, and react to trends and risks.

How Small Businesses Can Implement Data Reporting

Not all reporting tools are equal. Although there are countless fancy analytics apps on the market, the best data reporting app is the one that your business can actually use and gain insights from. For small businesses, this often means simplicity and clarity, not complexity.

Before choosing a data reporting platform, understand what your business really needs from it. Here are some of the most important reporting features for most small businesses.

What to look for in data reporting software

  • Customizable dashboards and reports
  • Simple user experience
  • Ability to centralize data from multiple sources
  • Range of reporting templates
  • Range of chart types
  • Professional design
  • Ability to add notes for context
  • Easy sharing with stakeholders

There are two main ways for small businesses to implement data reporting: as part of a standalone analytics tool, or via functionality that's already integrated with their other apps.

Integrated reporting is offered with most cloud-based apps. This is the simplest way to get started with centralized data reporting.

However, if your apps don't provide sufficiently in-depth reporting, or you want to centralize insights from multiple tools, you can add a dedicated analytics app to your stack. Here are some of the best to shortlist for your business.

Top analytics tools for small businesses

  • Google Analytics — The most popular and straightforward way to track your website traffic and performance. Create custom dashboards or use standard templates to monitor website engagement on all channels.
  • Fathom — A user-friendly app for financial intelligence that integrates seamlessly with Xero, QuickBooks, and Excel data. It's a fantastic choice for small businesses to take their accounting software's analytics further.
  • Futrli — Financial prediction software for a clear, live, and customizable view of your business's performance and cash flow. It also analyzes customer and supplier data to alert you to hidden trends and risks.
  • Mixpanel — One of the top product analytics platforms to help you convert, engage, and retain more users. With built-in behavioral analytics, data science, data governance, and user analytics infrastructure, Mixpanel is a great choice for SaaS, financial services, and ecommerce businesses.
  • Zoho Analytics — A self-service BI and data analytics software that lets you visually analyze your data and discover hidden insights. Like the rest of the Zoho product family, it's optimized for small businesses.
  • Supermetrics — This platform centralizes all of your marketing metrics, including PPC, SEO, social, and web analytics. Supermetrics also integrates seamlessly with Google Data Studio, Google Sheets, and Excel so you present your reports on these platforms.

The Best Small Business Reports

Quality beats quantity when it comes to data reporting, especially for small businesses. You can't track everything, so it's much more effective to stay on top of a handful of metrics that you can be sure are accurate and relevant.

But which metrics are worthwhile for small businesses to track? Here are some of the most valuable basic dashboards for every business to implement.

Business Snapshot

All businesses benefit from having one go-to dashboard that displays a quick overview of key metrics. Some of the best KPIs to include are website traffic, new contacts, new customers, and monthly revenue. With one glance, you should be able to tell how your business is performing, ideally against predetermined monthly and annual goals.

Website Performance

If your small business is like most, your website is a vital sales and marketing channel. It's essential that it's functioning well, otherwise you risk losing valuable leads. You can monitor website performance with a simple dashboard powered by data such as what Google Analytics provides. The most important metrics here are page views, views per source (such as organic traffic, social media, and direct traffic), time on page, and bounce rate.

Marketing Dashboard

It's easy to spend big on new marketing tactics. To identify what offers the highest return on your time and cost investments, create a marketing report to clearly measure performance and which channels drive leads. Ideally, you can tie this to revenue and identify which channels and campaigns bring the highest-value leads that easily convert to customers.

Sales Pipeline Performance

Your business snapshot dashboard usually contains key sales metrics, but it's useful to have another report that digs into more details. This can visualize how many leads are in your sales pipeline and which stage they're at — for instance: first outreach, first sales call, and contract sent. Not only can this forecast sales and revenue, but it can also help locate blockers and the areas that need streamlining.

Service Performance

Service and support is another key area to focus on. After all, if churn rates are too high, your investment in sales and marketing is wasted. Helpful metrics to collect and track include customer satisfaction metrics (such as NPS and CSAT), churn rates, and ticket response times.

Best Practices for Small Business Data Reporting

For the most effective data reporting, pay close attention to the raw data you are working with. You'll have the best results when using data that is:

Since most reports need data from different and disparate applications and databases, integration solutions are a good option. Most small businesses, rather than building in-house integrations, go for integration platforms as a service (iPaaS) or a native integration to have entire databases in sync. 

Once you're sure you have high data integrity, you can choose analytics functionality that effectively processes your data for relevant, timely, and actionable insights on engaging dashboards.

Start Relying on Data Reporting, Not Instinct

Instinct is valuable, but it isn't enough to determine how your business is performing. Data reporting enables you to measure the health of your business, no matter the size or industry, with accuracy and timeliness. With data-driven insights that allow you to fine-tune the areas that matter most, you can be confident that your business is heading in the right direction.

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Originally published Dec 18, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated April 21 2021