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Finding your custom reporting worth: Value, efficiency, and cost savings (in the millions?!)

I love data. Organized, clean, easily accessible data. And then I love to do something with that data! Not for myself, mind you, but for clients.

That something is usually a custom report design, and it has enormous value for my clients. While a custom report also has incredible value for bookkeepers and accountants, it seems rare that this community will delve into the realm of data beyond entering it. But there is a role for you to play here! The first has to do with the quality of the data, and the second has to do with how you use your time.

Accounting software isn’t just for, well, accounting and doing taxes. It can—and should—be a goldmine for measuring just about any aspect of business operations, and a bible for making well-informed decisions. These decisions are usually made using in-app reports, custom reports, and occasionally using sophisticated external tools that extract the data.

Lack of curiosity killed the cat

If a business owner isn’t a curious sort of person, they might not care about the state of their accounting data. And if they don’t, they won’t realize when their bookkeeper enters transactions in ways that are fast and convenient for the bookkeeper, but problematic for extracting useful information.

When I was a young and naive business owner (about 11 years ago), I was so excited to hire a bookkeeper! No longer would I have to do a thing that I just wasn’t built to do. After my new bookkeeper completed the clean-up, I tried to run a purchasing report to investigate my expenses—because I’m a curious sort of business owner and data nerd. Alas, there was almost no detail or vendor information entered! I knew the dollar values were correct, so what was going on here?

My shiny new bookkeeper had entered my monthly purchases on a credit card as a single journal entry. Numerically correct and fast, yes. But detailed reporting and analysis? Impossible.

The lesson? Ask how the data is going to be used—and by whom. Each role in a business may need to use the data in different ways. Keep this in mind before entering transactions. This is a critical first step in adding value as a bookkeeper or accountant. It’s not enough that it’s numerically accurate.

Let’s address the second issue: how to best use your work time.

In my experience, there are two primary issues that lead to a heavy burden of manual reporting processes:

  1. Accounting system reports can’t be everything to everyone, and they often make it hard or impossible to get access to the data.
  2. A back-office team member may be a bit of an introvert, so when the boss asks for something like a new report, the team member may just say yes, and add it to the checklist of work to get done.

In a small business operation, it’s highly unlikely anyone is looking for optimal ways to fulfill such requests, or appreciates the true value of the data.

How much is a custom report worth?

There is a story that breaks my data nerd heart every time I hear it. Ed Kless is the co-host of the top-rated business podcast, “The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy.” During an early episode, he shared a story about the value of a single custom-designed report.

Ed was part of a team implementing an ERP/accounting system. During a meeting, the CEO casually asked Ed if it was possible for the system to do a particular report. Ed, being a super-smart guy, said, “Well, it doesn’t currently exist, but let me create it for you.” He opened up Crystal Reports right then and there, put together an initial layout, and asked if that was what the CEO had envisioned. Yes, indeed, he’d hit the nail on the head.

About a year later, Ed ran into that CEO, who said, “Ed! I have to tell you about that report you made for us. It saved us about $4 million dollars this past year! Thanks buddy!” To this day, Ed can’t even remember if he invoiced that customer for doing something outside the project scope, let alone some of its value.

Ed, and his podcast co-host Ron Baker, are THE thought leaders on value pricing. They talk about the “value conversation” that we need to have with our prospective customers. “What would it be worth to you to have this report?” Perhaps, a better question is, “What does it cost you NOT to have that report available to you at a single click?” If it’s important enough to ask for the report, the report is not a commodity.

There are so many ways to measure the potential value of a report, but we often don’t do it. I try, sometimes. But even the customer isn’t used to thinking that way. They just want to know the price.

The problem with just announcing the price, or even offering two or three options with increasing value, without doing a deeply involved assessment with the client is that it’s just a stab in the dark. And a one-time price neither reflects nor offers the solution’s creator a piece of the ongoing value it provides. The solution? Subscription pricing for the custom report.

The high cost of manual processes

What does that have to do with you, the bookkeeper, or the accountant? Let’s go back to the question, “What does it cost the business owner NOT to have that report available at a single click?”

  • The cost of time. It takes time for someone to:
  • Ask another person for the report (on a recurring basis).
  • Export the various reports with current parameters to Excel.
  • Cobble together the various reports.
  • Send it back to the requestor.
  • Redo the work if an error is found.
  • Archive it.
  • The cost of trust and respected identity:
  • It’s really easy to make a mistake when cobbling things together, even if you create macros.
  • Making decisions on faulty information will cause a trickle-down effect of bad decisions.
  • Reduced confidence in the numbers leads people to create their own data silos outside of your primary business systems, which is a whole other issue.

But there is also something that it costs YOU:

  • The cost of never getting to the important work:
  • When your time and mental energy are used up by recurring manual processes, you can’t discover or contribute your highest value.

These costs are rarely considered, but they can be substantial, especially when compounded over time.

A new way to increase your value

I’m not saying that you should become a data nerd and focus exclusively on custom reporting for your employer or clients. (If you want to, please get in touch!) But I am saying that you could pause.

Don’t just blindly accept a new manual task related to data or reporting. Review all the recurring manual processes that you do for someone else. Ask yourself, and perhaps your employer or client, three questions:

  1. Could there be a more effective way to get this accomplished, and are you willing and able to invest in finding an automated way?
  2. How could I reallocate my most precious resources (time and mental energy)?
  3. Where can I add more value—and be paid for adding that value?

Businesses exist to solve a problem or satisfy a need or want. Workers do the same within a business. Make sure you are solving the right problems and the most worthy problems with the skills you bring to the table. That will make the work far more satisfying, and that, my esteemed colleagues, is true value.

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