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How to Write an Annual Report That Tells a Compelling Story

How to write an annual report that tells a compelling story

Does writing your annual report feel like a chore? Do you get bored reading it back to yourself?

Writing an annual report that tells a compelling story and that people will actually want to read is one of our specialties, so we have some tips to make the process a little less painful for you. 

Who is the audience for your annual report? 

The first things to consider are why you are writing an annual report and who you are writing it for. 

Are you simply writing an annual report for mandatory compliance purposes, or because you feel you have to? If so, dig a little deeper. An annual report can be an effective tool for providing a snapshot of your business’s performance in the past year and can be used in a variety of scenarios, including to satisfy donors, entice investors or attract new employees.

In considering the audience you have in mind, you might identify more than one group, and that’s great! Annual reports can serve as important reading material for everyone from shareholders to financial institutions, customers and clients, current and potential investors, donors and employees, and a wide range of other stakeholders. 

What do they need to know and what do you want them to know when reading your annual report?

Aside from the information you must include in your annual report (such as your financial statements), think about the things you wish your audience knew about you and your business. Reflect on the past year like it’s a story you’re reading or a movie you’re watching. What are the challenges you faced, what did you take on and what’s coming next?

This is where you start forming the narrative. If that sounds daunting try this: go back in time in your mind to school where you learned to write stories with an introduction, conflict, plot, climax and denouement. Then, think of how you can tease out what’s coming next and what your audience has to look forward to if they stay tuned (in other words, if they keep following along with your business).  

Here’s an example:

  • Intro: What do you want to make sure the reader understands about your business going into this report? What is the theme?
  • Conflict: Did your business face new challenges this year brought on by COVID, supply chain issues, staffing shortages or other situations? 
  • Plot: How did you handle these challenges? Did you see new opportunities in new products or services, grant programs, or new technologies or platforms? 
  • Climax: How did you evaluate your options? What did you decide? 
  • Denouement: What worked and what didn’t? What were the outcomes?
  • Teaser: What are you planning to do next? What’s coming up in the sequel to your story? Where are you heading? 

Putting the pieces of your annual report together

Once you’ve considered the parts of the story that you want to include, you can start laying out the pieces to formally pull your annual report together.

While a section containing your financial statements is a must, here are some other sections you might consider including:

  • A letter from the leader to the reader introducing the story and the theme of your annual report, and highlighting the key successes and most important parts of your business story.
  • Your company’s mission statement and vision statement (if you haven’t developed these yet or they need refining, now is a good time to review this).
  • Photographs of your business from the past year.
    • For example, your team, your products, your customers, special events, your physical location, etc.)
  • A section highlighting media coverage or events from the past year.
    • For example, you could include a screenshot of a news article you were featured in or, if you did guest speaking, consider including your speaker’s bio from the event website. 
  • A section on community involvement and/or corporate social responsibility. Think about what values are important to you and your business and how you are promoting that through your business.
    • For example, did you sponsor any events, run a fundraiser, participate in volunteer days, switch to environmentally-friendly packaging? These are all details you may want to include in your story.
  • A section on looking ahead, what’s next for your business and how that ties in to your mission and vision statements.

As you develop each section of your annual report, you can weave your narrative throughout and use additional tools like graphics, charts, quotes and more to help tell your story. 

Bonus: Get a head start on next year and start thinking about the story you want your annual report to tell.

Now that you’ve started on this storytelling path, think about how you’d like to continue your business’s story. Consider creating a folder or document with different sections and add little tidbits to it throughout the coming year. When something happens in your business that makes you think “Well that was interesting,” or you face or overcome a new challenge, write it down. It will make it so much easier when it comes time to write your annual report next year. 

Don’t forget to document milestones throughout the year as well. Start a list of links to news articles you were featured in, and take pictures or screenshots of print or other media if applicable. Make it a point to take some photos of yourself, your team and your activities throughout the year, or even consider hiring a photographer to come take photos at notable events. 

Need help writing that compelling annual report immediately?

Are you thinking “This is great, but I need help, like yesterday”? Don’t worry, this is where we shine! Writing annual reports that tell a compelling story is an area we have lots of experience in. We are experts at sifting through documents, presentations and more to weave your story together, and make your organization stand out in an impactful way. We can take care of writing, translation, design and printing for you while minimizing the effort required on your part. 

If this sounds like something you need, contact CP Business Solutions Inc. to book a call today.