Trend analysis for business improvement
Trend analysis is a technique used to examine and predict movements of an item based on current and historical data. You can use trend analysis to improve your business using trend data to inform your decision-making.
As your business becomes more established, you will be able to compare data and identify trends in:
- financial performance
- competitor movement and growth
- manufacturing efficiency
- new or emerging technologies
- customer complaints
- staff performance reviews and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Understanding the value of trend analysis
Trend analysis helps you compare your business against other businesses to establish a benchmark of how your business should be operating, at both the initial stage and ongoing, or developing.
Analysing market trends is key to adapting and changing your business, keeping current and ahead of the industry, and for continual growth.
Trend analysis consists of:
- trend data, for assessing changes within your own business performance over time
- benchmark data, for comparing your business to a similar organisation (learn about benchmarking your business for greater performance)
- market trends, for analysing the data from a whole industry or sector.
The most important rule for gathering data for trend analysis is that it is up to date, reliable and consistent, because this is what you will base your business decisions on, and you need to have an accurate comparison of information over time.
The amount and quality of data will depend on the information captured over the months and years the business has been operating. But if the business has little or no data, you can use benchmarking data and market trends to gather the information.
If the data is only partially captured or inaccurate, the analysis can only be partially correct.
For example, ensuring you or your bookkeeper retain all data, that it is kept up to date and entered accurately, will mean you can run regular reports on past performance giving you insights into where the business is going.
Tips for gathering data
- Businesses commonly use financial record-keeping software that is compatible with the Australian Taxation Office so that analysis can be done in a more streamlined way.
- Financial ratios and calculators let you use data from your financial statements to learn about your business's profitability.
- Conducting thorough due diligence when buying an established business or franchise will give you an advantage by having access to historical data to rely on in your analysis.
Identifying relevant data
The following explains the type of trend data that may help your analysis, why it is useful to collect and where the data can be sourced.
This data should include near misses and time off work due to injuries or stress.
An increase in WHS events may identify a need to update equipment, provide more training and manage workloads.
- Risk assessments
- Hazard reports
- Injury forms
- Policies and procedures
- Sick leave data
This data should also include net profit changes, stock turnover, debtor and creditor days, casuals and contractor costs.
You will be able to:
- understand the variations across the year
- help manage the number of days till you are paid by creditors
- plan for time you will need additional capital
- plan your workforce needs during the year.
- Profit and loss statements
- Sales transaction records
- Supplier invoices
- Employee expenses
- Cash-flow record
This data should include quality, defects, returns and warranty claims.
You should understand if the manufacturing function of your business is operating efficiently.
- Reports on defects
- Returns documentation
- Warranty claims reports
This data should include:
- waste generated and the cost of waste removal
- energy used
- emissions and carbon footprint.
Calculating emissions, energy usage and waste can help decrease costs by changing to other forms of energy or suppliers.
- Energy bills
- Waste removal invoices
- Wastage reports
- Emissions reports
- Carbon footprint reports
This data includes social media and website traffic.
Understanding trends in customer demographics and operating systems used to view your website, and which social media channels work better and when, are valuable data points for how you market your business.
- Analytics reports from websites
- Analytics reports from social media
- Feedback on surveys
- Response reports from marketing campaigns
This data includes:
- downward sales trends
- repeat business
- customer referrals
- conversion rates
- individual sales staff performance
- customer complaints
- help desk calls.
Analysing the trends across your customers and sales will help you decide how to manage customer service and how efficient your salespeople are.
Downward sales trends could indicate an issue with quality, pricing, competition and changing customer preferences.
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. Using the principle for customers and sales means that 20% of your customers should generate 80% of your revenue, so 80% of your energy should be focused on the top 20%.
- Customer complaints
- Repeat business reports
- Customer loyalty program reports
- Customer spending reports
- Staff individual sales
- Returns reports
- Help desk call reports
This data includes staff turnover and number of sick days.
Understanding trends in staff satisfaction that may need a future focus on leadership, employment conditions, ongoing training and opportunities for growth, will ensure a more effective group of employees.
- Staff data
- Staff turnover reports
- Employee feedback surveys
- Number of sick days used reports
- Staff growth and development
This data includes time taken to do the work, rectifications, variations and 'scope-creep' on client projects.
You will be able to understand issues with project cycles, team efficiencies and managing client expectations.
- Completed projects
- Project efficiencies
- Client feedback
- Deliverables and timing reports
Understanding how equipment and plant problems and maintenance schedules affect the business operations over time will help you to better manage risks.
- Risk assessment report
- Hazard reports
- Equipment maintenance checks
- Maintenance schedules
Understanding how suppliers and couriers have affected the business in the past and when it is likely to occur will allow you to plan with more certainty.
- Delivery reports
- Complaint reports
- Couriers tracking reports
Data analysis can be completed using common business software that includes visualisation of the data in charts and graphs and is often easier to interpret than raw data, as it shows the trends more clearly.
Business intelligence (BI) software was once only affordable for large businesses but is now available as software as a service (SAAS) at a low monthly or yearly cost.
You can also access data and analytics on your website and social media platforms.
The benefits of using BI software include:
- integration with common free or lower cost business software and apps the business may already use—for example, for
- finance and banking
- customer relationship databases
- website and social media analytics
- rostering and other human resources
- equipment and maintenance
- records and file management cloud systems
- filtering aggregated data into date ranges and categories
- exploring raw data within the visualisations
- sharing with staff and stakeholders.
If you are not using BI software or the commonly used business software with visualisations and reports, you can use spreadsheets to manually analyse the data.
Analysis requires you and your advisers to interpret the data—the software you use is only as good as your ability to interpret and act on what you see.
Interpreting your business trend data
When interpreting your data, ask the following questions as part of the analysis.
- When would a trend become worrying and require your action? For example, decreasing purchases in a retail location over the past 1 to 2 quarters may be explained by increasing domestic costs, but over the past year the demographics in your location may have changed. You may need to review your products and services.
- What will be your critical decision points? Can you, for instance, apply a threshold that is an acceptable variation for your business (e.g. 10% over or under)?
- What opportunity might improve your business over another? For example, if your information technology (IT) system is experiencing interruptions and it is a continuing trend, would outsourcing your system be preferable to purchasing a new system? The cost of outsourcing may be better than purchasing a new system.
- What would constitute a crisis trend? In other words, what trend—if it were to continue—might cause permanent damage to the business?
- What patterns are you seeing between the data sets? For example, does the data from your project management system show causes from your customer management system?
- How does your business data compare to your industry benchmarks? How could you improve each function of your business slightly to improve your own benchmarks?
Limitations of trend analysis
There are some limitations to trend analysis, for example:
- external financial crises and recessions, and the effects of a pandemic
- factors that have changed results during the recorded period, such as purchasing new equipment or outsourcing
- adjustments for inflation.
Trend analysis is 'working on the business', rather than 'in the business'.
The Pareto Principle (80% consequences result from 20% causes) also shows the importance of working on the business. The amount of time you commit to trend analysis will give you more valuable improvements across your entire business.
- Last reviewed: 8 Dec 2022
- Last updated: 8 Dec 2022