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Best Practices for Your Annual Report

people working on an annual reportCompiling your business’s annual report is more than just another task – it’s an opportunity to make an impact and showcase your successes over the last fiscal year. Providing your employees, customers, shareholders, or potential investors with a transparent look into what’s going well for the business and areas for improvement builds trust, can potentially open up new opportunities, and ensures that your business remains compliant.

Beyond providing valuable information, a visually appealing and modern-looking report creates a more engaging reader experience and helps solidify the company’s brand and image. A well-written annual report should give your audience a reason to celebrate past successes while motivating them to invest in the company’s future. Keep reading to find out what elements to include in your annual report and design best practices to follow.

What’s Included in an Annual Report?

Letter to Shareholders

Your business’s annual report should begin with a letter addressing shareholders, either from the CEO or the Board of Directors. Since this is the first element that readers will see besides the cover, it’s especially important to ensure that it’s professional, engaging, and clearly written. After all, just because it’s a professional document doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Your report is your chance to highlight accomplishments from the last fiscal year, provide high-level oversight of activities and finances, build trust, and set a positive tone for the rest of the report.

Financial Statements

The primary reason that shareholders and potential investors will look through your report is to see how the company performed over the last fiscal year. In other words, they want to know how their investment performs or whether they should consider investing. Here’s where you’ll dive deep into the details by including balance sheets, cash flow statements, income statements, and other financial documents to provide a transparent view of the company’s financial performance. Since the other sections of the report are primarily based on this data, it’s often easier to summarize the financials here in order to build out the other sections of your report.

Business Profile

The Business Profile is exactly what it sounds like – a section providing readers with a high-level overview of what your business does, past performance, future outlook, and more. You can include your mission and vision statement, a rundown of your products and services, primary competitors, and potential risks and opportunities. To add a personal touch, you could even include profiles of the company’s executive leadership team. While deciding what to include here can be overwhelming, stick with what best describes your business and brings value to the reader.

Operational & Financial Highlights

Similar to the Business Profile section, the Operational & Financial Highlights section further details the company’s achievements and successes. This section is a crucial opportunity to inform investors why they should start or continue investing in the business. Think of both quantitative and qualitative achievements. What makes the company’s future seem promising? Did the business recently land a new contract or launch a product? Was the business profitable? Were there any acquisitions and/or mergers over the previous year? These are just a few ideas to get you brainstorming for this section.

Management Discussion & Analysis

The report's Management Discussion & Analysis section brings all the previous sections together with additional input and insights from the leadership team. While the rest of the report is objective and data-focused, this section allows for more subjectivity as long as the information is factual and accurate. Here, the executive team can share their take on the company’s previous and projected performance. Approach this section as an opportunity to paint a more holistic picture by filling in gaps or highlighting other successes not covered in other sections.

Best Practices for Designing Your Annual Report

A modern and brand-aligned design is important for engaging readers from the start and looking professional. Not only does a solid design help build trust in the business, but it also makes it easier to convey your message and highlight important information. Follow the design best practices below to ensure your company’s annual report is dressed for success.

Make the Cover Shine

The report's cover is the first thing investors see, and, despite what people say, a professional-looking and eye-catching cover can make a big difference. This is also a great way to highlight your business's success during the last year by featuring photos of a significant project, a new industry the company entered, a merger, or a high-profile business deal.

Keep it Simple and Modern

Compiling all the information required for your company’s annual report into a streamlined, visually appealing, modern format requires effort. Still, it ensures that your business looks professional and that readers don’t get bored. Although it may seem subtle, aligning the report with professional design trends shows that the business is with the times and forward-thinking while leaving a positive impression on readers.

Visualize Data

Data can either be confusing and dense or exciting and impactful – it all depends on how it’s laid out in the report. Integrating data visualizations, such as charts and graphs, ensures that the data is accessible, engaging, and clear while saving shareholders from combing through paragraphs of information to find the data they need.

Break Up Heavy Text

Even if the information is exciting, opening a report to see paragraphs upon paragraphs of interrupted text is daunting. Be sure to include other elements on the page that grab readers' attention and help convey key points, such as photos, pull quotes, graphs and charts, infographics, tables, and bulleted summaries.

AlphaGraphics can help you create and print business documents that stand out.

Our team is ready to help you deliver a plethora of professional-looking documents. From big projects like your annual report to smaller projects like letterhead and business cards, we’ve got you covered. Contact us today to find out more.

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