Professional writing skills are a valuable tool in any self-employed professional’s arsenal. Effective written communication – particularly when it comes to client reports – proves essential to managing relationships and keeping projects on track.
Reports can help you and your client to measure progress, identify any barriers or issues, and ensure that you are working toward the same goals.
Your written client report could be an informal checklist of items accomplished and upcoming tasks or milestones, or it could be a more formal document that includes detailed information.
Here are a few examples:
Whether your report is a word document, spreadsheet or presentation, the following 7 tips will help you to produce well-written client reports:
Establish report timing and content at the start of your client engagement. Every engagement will be different. For long-term projects, your client may prefer a monthly phone call, weekly email summaries, and a quarterly report. Some clients may want a short weekly report and a more comprehensive monthly report. Establish up front the frequency, method, and detail of communications.
Even with up front agreement, some clients, particularly senior level managers, may not have time to read the entire report. Use an “executive summary” format that can easily stand alone to communicate the significant parts of the report, including hard facts and figures.
Make your report easy to read by including carefully selected headings and bullet points. This enables your client to find information quickly. If relevant, include visual information such as graphs or pie charts to reinforce your main message and break up text.
Your report should only be as long as it needs to be. Do not add unnecessary length to a report just to make it appear more important. Use clear language and avoid the use of clichéd business language. Keep your report focused on the information that the client wants and needs.
The ability to write a well-written report is not only a critical business tool, it reinforces your brand by demonstrating your expertise and knowledge. Take time to make sure that your information is accurate. Do not rely on spell check alone to catch typographical errors. You may even want to print and read your document —it is often easier to edit “on paper” than it is to edit “on screen.”
Your report should align with your client's culture but also reflect the personality of your brand. Report writing does not have to be devoid of personality to be professional. Your brand should have a consistent voice and tone that matches both your personal brand and the unique needs of your client.
Write your report for your audience. What information do they want to read? What questions will they want answered? Consider the best way to deliver the information. Instead of a traditional report, you may opt to use PowerPoint presentation, an interactive format like a Google Doc, or one of the many virtual collaboration[MR1] tools currently on the market. Or, if your report contains a lot of data, it may be better to use Excel rather than Word. Use the method and medium that will work best for your intended audience.
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