In a digital agency, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing one-off projects, following growth driven design concepts, working on long-term retainer agreements, or have your own unique service offer. At some point you’re likely to report on your activity and results.
You hear a lot about creating reports to demonstrate your value and the results you create for your clients – which is extremely important – but you don’t hear as much about reporting in the context of an ongoing communication system or strategy. You may not even think of a report as a form of communication, but it is.
We believe that reporting is the final step of the ongoing communication process.
Problems Need Closure
Looking at the entire service process, every completed task starts with the client’s enquiry, a problem. Submitting the enquiry is the beginning and every beginning needs an end.
As humans, we need closure. That’s why we get annoyed when we ask a question and it doesn’t get answered or we stay up late watching a bad film just to see what happens.
Without closure it's easy to feel uncomfortable and agitated.
'I'm tryin to get some closure over here'
When it comes to ongoing agency work, deliverables and achievements are expected, yet they still need to be seen and understood by the client. Reporting on completed tasks (or desired achievements) is like ticking items off a list, it feels good and it provides the closure clients need to feel the full value of your services (unless you make them a boatload of money, then they’re probably feeling the value just fine!).
A report communicates resolution or forward progress on your client’s problems. As more problems continue to pile up, reports clear away the mental ‘weight’ of the old.
But a good report isn’t just about the past.
Reporting Makes Everyone’s Job Easier
It’s great to tick items off and celebrate wins, but business isn’t all high fives (✋✋). Ongoing work means that some back and forth communication may have to occur, and there could be a backlog of tasks. Unless your clients are running finely tuned business machines, they likely have a lot to manage as they work with your agency.
At Endzone Software, we see working with our clients as a partnership, one that’s mutually beneficial. With a desire to see growth and goal achievement for our clients (which lends to our own growth and improvement), we try to bring something above and beyond the services we offer.
That’s why a good report doesn’t just cover what has been completed, it also helps your client understand what needs to be done in the future.
Your clients are already busy
Ongoing communication – especially the reporting portion – is about working effectively as a client / agency team. If there is something stagnating or backing up on the client’s side, something you are waiting on, that indicates workload issues for your client (and it’s something you should help with if possible). Reporting on stagnating tasks can help the client prioritise their activity, allowing them to maintain forward progress and you to do your job.
Even if you don’t have stagnating areas to report, you can report on future opportunities that your team can help with. It’s not about fishing for more work with your report, it’s about showing clients that you are invested and looking for areas where they can benefit from your skills and services.
And here’s the thing:
Serving clients doesn’t always mean you have to break your back doing it! Reporting is not rocket science. It can be very straightforward with the right tools (and process)…
For Reporting (And Loads Of Other Stuff) We Use Google Drive
We’ve looked at Slack and Trello already and when it comes to reporting, you can see how well they fit into our strategy. They each archive and index our activity and conversations, creating a database to pull info from for our reports.
Now that we have the data, we need to actually compile the report. For that, Google Drive is about as simple as it gets (we’ll let Slack and Trello slide, but if you aren’t using Google Drive than I’ll assume you’ve been living under a rock!).
Google Drive takes the familiar office tools that you know – word processing, slide presentations, spreadsheets – and adds cloud based storage, file sharing and collaboration, all in real time.
Here’s how that fits into our communication strategy:
1. Google Drive is easy for 2-way communication
No two projects or clients are the same. There are times where all you need during an ongoing engagement is to process support tickets and carry them out for your client (much of the tech work we do is like this) – little in-depth or ongoing collaboration per task required.
Other times you need to really dig into a project or document with clients and their teams. If reporting is more in-depth (say a quarterly or yearly report), you may need to collaborate with your clients to ensure greater clarity and accuracy. In those situations, Google Docs within Google Drive is a simple tool for the job. You can create texts, slide presentations, spreadsheets or drawings, and share them with your client to edit or leave comments.
For those larger ongoing projects, this is a great way to facilitate asynchronous collaboration.
2. It keeps your documents centralised and archived
Slack is like a filling cabinet for your communication data. Trello holds your task related data. And Google Drive is the database for most the documents you could need at an agency.
From reports to internal process documents, finance spreadsheets, content pieces, photos, the team manual, and way more, nearly every digital document you use in our agency can be stored within Google Drive. On top of holding the data, Google Docs also archives your revision history, ensuring that nothing is lost during collaboration and revision.
These features, of course, provide the team transparency that we require.
3. It ‘drives’ transparency among your team
With all of our documents in a place that can be accessed easily from anywhere, team transparency improves within the agency.
The sharing, editing and comment features allow your team to have meaningful (yet recorded) interactions surrounding documents. You can tag team members to notify them of activity and updates, reducing communication errors.
Documents also don’t have to live on one person’s computer, causing bottlenecks and becoming stale. They are more like a living thing, changing and growing as the team sees fit (much like a garden).
4. It's the right amount of visibility to your client
We generally don’t grant clients access to our Google Drive, but if you need to then there is enough flexibility to provide the right amount of visibility to clients.
Google Drive allows you to grant viewing, commenting, or full editing access to the people you invite to collaborate, and you can invite them to a single document or to entire folders.
In this way, you can grant clients granular access to collaborate or to give them a higher level view of your activity (ie. If you offered ongoing content services, it could make sense to give clients access to a folder where you add new documents on an ongoing basis).
5. Google Drive makes the reporting process efficient
We use Google Docs for reporting because it makes the process straightforward and accessible to anyone in our team.
We start with a report template that we created and saved in a Google Document (a shared template allows you to access and update it quickly across your team). Then we follow specific processes to review our activity within Slack and Trello, extract data and fill out the template to create a report. The team can collaborate on reports if needed and the report can be downloaded in a variety of formats to share with the client.
All reports are stored in a central area for future review along with all your other agency documents. With timestamps and notes on your activity, this creates another valuable resource to gather data for internal reporting and operations improvement.
The best part about Google Drive, it’s dead simple to use…
Make A Few Simple Reports With Google Drive
Google Drive is about the easiest tool to use. Just head over to the Google Drive page and sign in to your Google account (assuming you have one… or sign up).
Inside Google Drive you can create a new Google Doc and name it (technically you’re using Google Docs for text and Sheets for spreadsheets – both features within Google Drive – to create your report). The Doc interface looks a lot like Microsoft Word so you’re likely familiar with the basic formatting of the page, but here’s more info on using the tool.
We like to add our company name and logo to the header of each page and our company registration info in the footer. Each report also includes a title and the timeframe covered within the report.
Aside from that, all you have to add are the core details that you want to include and details that the client feels are significant (there’s always room to glam up the design of the report later). If you don’t know what this data should be, talk to your client about their needs!
It’s up to you to figure out everything that needs to be included on a report, and that also depends on the type of report you make.
Since we work on ongoing development and support projects with creative agencies, we usually have loads of tasks coming in at any given time. Client size varies, with larger, more active clients receiving weekly reports and smaller clients only requiring monthly reports.
Our frequent reports can be considered ‘heartbeat reports’, a basic pulse on our activity. It’s an easy to understand, explanatory, and factually based report to deliver the highlights on what has happened and what needs to happen on your client’s end. They’re not pitchy or salesy because they’re not CEO ready – they’re not intended to prove our value to CEOs or CFOs. But, the heartbeat report is a great way to demonstrate value through your ongoing competence.
In this basic report, we include the number of development tasks completed and the number of tasks that are currently stagnating (as well as the size of the backlog). For completed tasks, we add the name of the project / site, the specific task, and date completed. We’re covering the bare minimum on frequent reports because we're looking for the right amount of visibility without bogging the client with details.
Stagnating items added to our reports either need approval or are awaiting feedback and clarification from the client, yet haven’t seen activity for over a week. To help clients reach the next step, we include important details on the report such as:
- the site / project name
- the task
- the URL where the client can look at activity on the task (for us that's usually on Trello card or Freshdesk ticket)
- the date of last activity
- any client side team members involved with the task
With all these details, clients can more easily access and review the stagnating activities and make forward progress.
If you do any type of ongoing work for clients, you better have a heartbeat template ready to go. Next important template…
Support and Maintenance Reports
One of the most basic retainer services you can offer is standard support and maintenance on a website. Reporting for these services can look totally different than a task or achievement based report, yet it's still important.
The support and maintenance report basics include errors that have occurred during the period, site uptime and downtime, a speed review, actions completed / in progress, and recommendations for work that would fall outside of our current service level.
A report like this is a useful place to highlight changes from month to month as well as nudge clients toward other projects and tasks.
Part of our service includes monitoring tech systems and their health. If an incident occurs, we handle it according to our SLA, but we never want to leave the client left in the dark. The solution is to send an incident report as soon as the issue is resolved and/or the next action is planned.
No matter what services you offer, there’s likely a chance for one-off incidents to occur that require immediate reporting, so it’s best to have an incident report template ready when you need it.
A basic report template can include what happened and when, an explanation if it’s a critical incident, actions taken, next actions planned, and where info can be found if a task card was created.
We send the report asap, but we also reference the incident report along with a summary on the next main report.
Take Our Templates!
Too busy to make your own templates? Grab ours!
We can't guarantee that they will work for your agency, but it could be a jumping point. Check out our templates here:
These files are in view only mode. To save and update your own copy, open the Google Doc then go to File > Make a copy… This will save a copy to your own Google Drive.
So now that you have a Google Doc template created, all you have to do is save it for later. Every time you want to create a new report, you can make a copy of the template and get rolling. Once each report is complete, you can download the report as a PDF or Word document and email it to your client (or send it via their Slack channel if you communicate that way).
Simple is good.
Multiple Uses For Google Drive
We’ve introduced Google Drive in the context of reporting because reporting is a necessary component of our communication system and Google Drive makes it easy. But as you’ve read, we touched on multiple uses that it serves within our agency. From document creation and collaboration to document archiving and search, Google Drive is a Swiss Army Knife of tools.
If you are storing your agency documents within Google Drive, it’s a good idea to integrate it with Slack and Trello for easier access. Once integrated, you can share your documents from right within those tools, removing the need to switch apps and tasks. More important, when you share a Google Drive file in Slack, it’s contents are automatically indexed, further centralising team communication and collaboration.
Almost Too Simple
The reporting we covered today doesn’t have to be crazy because we’re talking about ongoing communication with clients. Simple reports made from Google Docs are perfect for keeping clients in the loop when there is a flurry of activity happening. They are efficient to make, yet valuable for your agency and client.
We’ve dug through our toolbox, now the last thing to do is examine our communication workflow. So let’s check out how we manage ongoing client interactions from beginning to end.
Agency Ongoing Communication 101
This post is part of our series on creating an effective ongoing communication system in your agency. Start at the beginning of the article series or pop directly to the topic you need help with most right now.
Got questions or want to start a conversation about communication challenges in your agency? Shout at us on Twitter using #clientcommunication.
- The Nr. 1 Reason Why Communication Matters for Your Agency
- How a Communication System Can Add Tons of Value to Your Agency
- 5 Key Features of a Reliable Agency Communication System
- How to Keep Things Simple with 2 Levels of Ongoing Communication