Top tips for the annual report

For most of a company’s shareholders, the most tangible thing they ever see of their investment is the annual report. In modern times and for many companies and other organisations, it can amount to something the thickness of a paperback book. And given the amount of information it normally contains, the potential for getting something wrong can be enormous. That’s why companies devote, or should devote, a lot of effort into getting right – that doesn’t just mean making sure the contents are factually correct but also making sure that the document as a whole conveys the message you want about the company and how it is developing.

1.  Meet the requirements For larger companies the annual report has to meet a long list of requirements. These are set out in law and still vary between countries, although modern accounting requirements are becoming increasingly uniform internationally. Companies that have legal presences in more than one country may well need to vary the contents of their report between those different locations – and a good financial translator can watch out for these issues.

2. What is the message? Is the company planning big changes? Is it restructuring to meet pressure from competitors or new regulations? Is the company growing quickly, with a strong story to tell? Is there a need to reassure existing or prospective shareholders? Each company has a different message to spread and all those involved in the report should be aware of it and be consistent in delivering it. That applies just as much to the language services provider – so that the message doesn’t get lost in translation.

3. Plan the production timeline Producing a high-quality annual report is a big task that takes a lot of resources and a lot of time. It almost impossible to start the process too early. As the financial components generally are available at the last minute, the other sections should be as complete as possible, as early as possible. Once the timeline is clear, those involved have to be aware of what is expected of them and when they should deliver. And as there are often, or even always, last-minute surprises, it can’t hurt to build in some reserves of time to the plan. This is where a language services provider can help – they can help with last minute proof-reading.

4. Who will be involved? Is the report to be an in-house production or will external agencies (PR companies, accounting firms) take a major role? Who is going to deliver the professional translation, if needed? Everyone involved has to be briefed and must be competent to deliver the right result. If not, corrections will have to be made right at what may be the busiest time of the year.

5. What themes will be included? A good annual report reflects a theme throughout. That lends unity to the document and serves to link different sections together. It also makes reading it a lot more interesting.

6. Style How should the report look? Should it be informal and light in tone? Or should it be serious and heavyweight? This is going to depend on the type of company and the type of message. Most shareholders or other investors may not appreciate a light tone when the company is facing major challenges – a serious tone for serious issues. A good financial translator will ensure that the style fits in each language.

7. Language to use Dynamic language adds interest, especially in describing the prospects for the business. Avoid passive language (“Much has been achieved”) and weak formulations (“It may be…”). Why not ask a financial proofreader to track down every passive construction in your report – and rewrite each one, with dynamism and energy?

8. How much is it going to cost? Plan the right budget. Not having the funds for the photos to be taken by the right firm in the right place or the whole document proofread professionally can ruin all the good work put into the rest of the report.

9. What about last year’s report? Review last year’s report. Not only does it assist in consistent presentation between years but it can help avoid missing a promise or commitment made last year.

10. The numbers The financial results and any other numbers in the document have to be correct. Audit firms have a role in ensuring the financial results are accurate and that the company is under control but they will not check everything said about a market or a product. The ideal course is to ensure everything is correct when you prepare the document – dates, names, etc.   – or ask for professional proofreading to check every detail.

Even if the annual report is a great deal of work, you should see it as a perfect opportunity to highlight the good things that your company is achieving. It is about more than just reporting to your shareholders and showing them that their money is in the right place. If the facts, style, message and language (in each translated language too) work together, you can promote and strengthen your brand.

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