Buying vs. Building a Reporting Platform

Explore the pros and cons of buying vs. building a client reporting platform for your agency. Weigh customization and flexibility against time and costs to make an informed decision.


Once an agency identifies and understands the need for a centralized reporting solution, a common question that arises is whether it’s best to custom-build an in-house interface. Many agencies assume that building from scratch is their best option to achieve maximum customization and flexibility.

But what does it really look like to build a custom reporting platform from scratch? What are the steps, costs, and requirements? And is the time investment and labor intensity even worth it? 

The truth is, while building a solution to meet your agency’s unique and specific needs may seem like an ideal option, there are some very big costs associated with building and maintaining your own proprietary reporting platform. Only you will be able to decide if the ROI is worth it or not. 

Let's take a look at this ‘build or buy?’ question in a bit more detail, starting with six crucial questions to ask at your agency to help you navigate toward your answer. You can also download our free Build vs. Buy eBook below:

The 6-Step Build vs. Buy Framework

Download the eBook

Six Questions To Ask Before You Build

As you move along your decision-making journey, use the following six questions as a framework to guide your understanding of which choice is best for your agency.

1. Is Building a Custom Client Reporting Platform Required to Achieve Your Agency’s Mission?

Showing your clients how your efforts are directly impacting their growth and success is obviously important, and it’s what helps you retain their business. But is reporting the core focus of your agency—or is it all the strategy and operations that create the results in the first place? Is crafting a reporting system from scratch really why you established your agency?

2. Will Building a Client Reporting Platform Create a Competitive Advantage for Your Agency?

If you’re going to go through all the time, effort, and cost of building an in-house reporting platform, it had better provide you with a significant advantage over your competitors. This will mean developing and building (and maintaining) a solution that meets your agency’s–and your clients’–needs better than any other solution available on the market.

3. Is Building the Quickest and Easiest Solution for Your Agency?

There’s something to be said for simplicity. Each trade-off your agency makes–sacrificing ease for complete customizability, for example–compounds into complex and expensive outcomes. Choosing the easiest way to accomplish the necessary task of reporting will have a tremendous impact on your agency’s productivity and success. 

4. Will Building a Custom Reporting Solution Get Your Agency Reporting Done Faster?

Speed of deployment counts when it comes to business—and of course, this also ties back to simplicity. Which option is going to get your team on the ground and running (or reporting, in this case) the fastest?

5. Does Your Agency Have the In-House Competency To Build the Solution You Need?

If you do have the in-house competency to build your own reporting solution, that’s great. Just remember those team members will be diverting their skills and attention from other important work if you put them onto this task. And if you don’t have the in-house competency, consider the time and cost involved in recruiting–and retaining–the right new team members. 

6. Can Your Agency Afford the Opportunity Cost of Building a Marketing Reporting Solution?

We’ll dig into the true cost a bit later in this article, but between the labor, overhead, and energy expenditures required to build and maintain an in-house reporting platform, it’s a question that can’t be ignored. 

While buying a reporting platform brings associated ongoing costs, keep in mind building a platform isn’t a one-and-done expenditure; you’ll need a team to focus on ongoing maintenance, integrations, and support for the entire lifespan of the platform.

This six question framework is a great way to get your team thinking more critically about the build vs. buy debate. If you answered ‘No’ to one or more of the questions above, you should probably reconsider whether building is really the best option when it comes to your agency’s reporting solution.

Before You Build It, Try the Reporting Platform Trusted by 6,500 Marketing Agencies

Start Your Free Trial Today

The Reality of Managing Data Integrations

Having answered the six-step framework questions, let’s zoom in on the topic of integrations. The average digital agency uses dozens of SaaS platforms to manage and track all of their marketing efforts for their clients. As a result, an effective reporting platform needs to pull together and present data from across all these sources to give agencies a meaningful view of business performance.

At AgencyAnalytics, there are over 80 marketing platform integrations, and that list continues to grow as new integrations are released in the reporting platform on a regular basis. 

The great thing is that we have automated all of our client’s monthly reports within AgencyAnalytics to import data directly from the platform’s dashboard integrations! The initial setup of the dashboards and the reports might take upwards of an hour per client, but having those reports automatically sent out monthly is an absolute dream.

Jessica Weiss, Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships, One Firefly

If you’re a digital agency that wants to build a reporting platform, how would you manage this process? 

Creating an integration is expensive. You either need to pull your current developers away from important work or hire additional developers to connect with the API and maintain those connections.

This isn’t a one-time investment at this stage, either—your developers will need to update the API continually because API connections change often. When the API breaks and your reports are no longer pulling in data automatically, you better hope you have a relationship with the data provider to get some of your burning questions answered. 

Managing a growing list of new integrations and maintaining current integrations is time-consuming. And once you start down this road, you can’t stop...or else the data stops. If you go the build route, be prepared for the need to bring people in just to focus on growing and maintaining your integrations. 

In the end, you could end up spending all of this time, energy, and money on one single client who threw a tantrum for the integration to a data source no one on Earth has ever even heard of!

We had a custom-made reporting software, but when an API changed, it would require more time and expense to re-code. We also didn't have all the features available that AgencyAnalytics provides.

Andrew Thomas, Technical Director, HookedOnMedia

You may be thinking this won’t be a problem for your agency because your current roster of clients only uses a limited selection of integrations–not 80+. But what about your future clients? Heck, what about the growth of your current clients? 

As your agency scales and you encounter prospects and clients using all new platforms, you don’t want to wind up having to rebuild your reporting solution with additional integrations or put limitations on your onboarding and growth. 

AgencyAnalytics has a team of integration developers that focuses on bringing you all the integrations you and your clients need, as well as ensuring that support requests are addressed immediately. 

At this point, you have to ask yourself: Which would you rather focus your agency’s time and energy on? Building your business, or continually rebuilding your reporting platform?

Third-party reporting tools like AgencyAnalytics often offer more advanced features and functionality than a custom reporting solution, helping agencies deliver more value to their clients and stay competitive in the marketplace. By using AgencyAnalytics, we deliver better results for our clients while also saving time and resources on reporting and data management. 

Daniel Dye, President, Native Rank, Inc.

Obstacles With Building a Reporting Solution

We’ve explored the challenges of connecting and maintaining dozens of integrations for a reporting solution. But what are some of the other obstacles you might encounter when building vs buying?

Limited Flexibility

In theory, building a custom solution from the start sounds like a solid idea that will give your agency greater control. However, have you considered that your engineering department might still have a separate need for a business intelligence tool that affords visualization capabilities?  

Does this really become a solution or more of a patchwork of bandaids to cover a problem? And even if you’re successful at building your own reporting solution, are you interested in also being a reporting and data analytics company? 

How much flexibility and control you think you'll have and how much you can actually manage often turn out to be as different as night and day.

Data Specialists

Next, you’ll need to hire knowledgeable staff members who specialize in data analytics, reporting, and visualization if you hope to effectively maintain what you’ve just paid to develop. You could rely on hiring software developers. However, they’re expensive and you’ll need to keep them on permanently to build out new features and address any core issues as you add integrations and features that one or two clients are asking for (and may never use).

And what happens when your primary reporting platform developer–the one with all of the institutional knowledge of how the platform was built and how to fix it when it breaks–leaves for a new role? 

Maintaining Focus

Consider how cost-effective you’ll be when you have to build out a separate team for reporting and data flow as a digital agency. It’s more likely it will become a financial drain to hire and hold a team just to build out integrations and troubleshoot bugs. 

Unless you have a lot of budget and time, don't custom code your own reporting software. We’ve been there and done that. It just becomes an expense and a worry. Let AgencyAnalytics take these problems away so you can focus on client results and other tasks.

Andrew Thomas, Technical Director, HookedOnMedia

In reality, you should expect each one of those engineers will also have a list of higher priority tasks related to your agency, so their attention will be continually pulled elsewhere. 

Lack of Support

Even if your in-house team manages to build and maintain an effective in-house reporting solution, eventually you’re going to start getting support requests from your clients. People run into issues, whether related to the product itself, or knowledge of how to use the product. You’re going to need people on your team who are ready and able to provide guidance in a timely manner. 

Again, this means either hiring dedicated staff or taking staff away from other duties when support requests pop up–an obstacle to your growth, while also being a drain on your resources.

The True Costs of Building vs Buying

Now that we’ve explored the most common challenges associated with building your own reporting solution, let’s take a closer look at the true cost.

Overhead Costs

As you scale and add more clients to your agency, you’ll have to hire more and more data experts and engineers to ensure the reporting platform you’ve built in-house is keeping up with your growth. There’ll be upgrades to make, bugs to fix, and technical support to provide. 

At this stage, you’re already looking to spend more per month than even the most expensive solution would cost. What’s the ROI? Is making this move to have full control really valuable, or is it more of a knee-jerk reaction?

Continued Labor

Quite often, companies don't entirely consider the cost of ongoing labor. Where will you house this new team? Are you ready to bring on new technology to aid the developers in building your reporting solution? Do you have $500,000 - $1,000,000 over the next year to invest in this mini startup? 

By using a third-party reporting tool, agencies save time and resources that would otherwise be spent on maintaining and updating a custom reporting solution, and instead focus on other important aspects of the business, such as client acquisition, campaign management, and strategy development.

Daniel Dye, President, Native Rank, Inc.

You’ll probably also need to bring in technology leaders to guide you through the process and develop the teams. The reality is you could be looking at another $150,000 a year or more just for leadership. And again, what happens when the team that built your custom, in-house solutions moves on? Will your company still be able to maintain what was built?

Energy Spend

Consider your time and energy as a unit that must be measured. Everything you do has an associated cost. What will suffer from existing operations because of your pivot to this build? The human cost (or human capital plus the technology cost) translates into additional overhead costs and technological requirements. 

Do you think you could get a better ROI if you focused that energy elsewhere—say, for example, building and servicing your client base? 

Not to sound cliche, but time is money. When we look at the effectiveness of our team members, time management and focus are the key components in measuring that success. We needed to spend less billable time on a reporting platform in order to grow our clients’ businesses.

Jessica Weiss, Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships, One Firefly

When you resolve to purchase a reporting platform, you’re immediately valuing the most important resource you have: your people. 


A final important consideration when you're debating building vs buying a reporting platform is the need to improve the tool over time. Companies that specialize in providing a platform invest in research and development in their area of expertise. They drive innovation and stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies, which ultimately benefits all their users.

Having to replicate all of this for an in-house built tool adds even more strain on your team’s focus and resources.

According to Conway’s Law, when an organization designs a system, that system will always be a copy of the organization’s own internal processes and structure. This means its functionality is designed to meet the needs identified by a limited number of perspectives from a small group of stakeholders. Valuable features are often missed, simply because you can’t add what you don’t know you need.

By contrast, AgencyAnalytics is built on the input of a much larger ecosystem of stakeholders, including more than 6,500 customers and partners, as well as a large team of specialists. The platform is continually evolving in response to community feedback, offering an ever widening array of features.  

“An in-house solution can never replicate that richness of feature set and experience,” said SaaStr founder Jason Lemkin in a blog he wrote on the build vs buy debate. “Those go stale in a few years, at least, almost always.”

Buying vs Building Client Reporting Case Study

Why HookedOnMedia Switched from a Custom-Built Solution to AgencyAnalytics

HookedOnMedia is a UK-based marketing agency founded in 2012 by Andrew Thomas and Stewart Roode. With a team of twelve, they serve over 50 clients across the UK, Ireland, and Europe, specializing in full-service marketing campaigns for diverse industries such as eCommerce and healthcare. They value data-driven decision-making and have been committed to delivering transparent and accurate reporting to their clients.

Problem: Reporting Challenges 

In their quest to scale and manage growing client demands, HookedOnMedia initially built a custom reporting solution. While the platform was designed to meet their specific needs at that time, it quickly became a bottleneck as their agency grew. They found themselves mired in constant API updates and stuck in a cycle of ongoing maintenance, which consumed time they'd rather spend on billable tasks. Moreover, their custom software lacked the flexibility to adapt to evolving client reporting needs.

Solution: Overhauling Their Client Reporting Process

Tired of losing time and money to system maintenance, HookedOnMedia started the search for an alternative. They discovered AgencyAnalytics, a reporting platform that not only streamlined the reporting process but also offered extensive customization capabilities and numerous marketing integrations. The tool promised accuracy, ease of use, and the ability to quickly adapt to different client requirements.

Outcome: Improved Client Relationships and Agency Growth

Switching to AgencyAnalytics paid off for HookedOnMedia in big ways. They slashed their reporting time by 50% and regained valuable hours for billable tasks. Customizable report templates added versatility to their client presentations, while built-in stability eliminated the stress of potential downtime. The net result? Happier clients, a more focused team, and a more efficient path to growth.

Lessons: Takeaways for Other Agencies

The experience of HookedOnMedia serves as a cautionary tale for agencies contemplating the build vs. buy question for reporting solutions. According to Andrew Thomas, unless you have an extensive budget and a team dedicated solely to system maintenance, a custom-built solution may become a headache rather than an asset. AgencyAnalytics not only solved their immediate problems but allowed them to refocus on what's truly important: delivering outstanding results to their clients.

An excellent reporting tool, especially if you have a large client base. Reports are easy to produce, accurate, and can be tailored per each client’s requirements. With lots of integrations to choose from, there isn’t a better reporting system.

Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas / Technical Director

Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Great

Some agencies look to build their own reporting platform because there are one or two features they’re convinced they need, but can’t quite get from an existing reporting solution. And when they can’t find exactly what they’re looking for, they assume building will give them more control to hit all their requirements.

We chose to use AgencyAnalytics as our reporting solution because it offers a user-friendly interface, advanced reporting features, and integrations with all the major digital marketing platforms. This allows us to quickly and easily create custom reports for our clients, track the performance of their campaigns in real-time, and make data-driven decisions to optimize their campaigns for maximum ROI. 

Daniel Dye, President, Native Rank, Inc.

The reality is, even the most expensive reporting platform running $10,000 a month is a drop in the bucket when you realize the thousands of dollars you’re going to need to spend to build and maintain an in-house platform. 

Jason M Lemkin Quote about Buying vs Building Software

Investing your resources to create a custom reporting solution from scratch may seem like a smart option; however, it's crucial to weigh the potential benefits against the costs and risks involved. Oftentimes it's more advantageous to leverage existing solutions that have been tried, tested, and refined over time. 

Choosing to buy from a proven reporting solution and data company saves your agency valuable time, energy, and resources, enabling you to focus on the core aspects of your business. Furthermore, you benefit from the ongoing support and expertise provided by their developers. This means your operations continue to run smoothly and efficiently without added strain, so you can maximize the return on your investment and focus on your growth and success.

AgencyAnalytics has been a game-changer for us. The platform is incredibly user-friendly, making it easy to set up and customize our reporting dashboards. And the ability to automate data collection and reporting has saved us countless hours of manual work.

Calum Maxwell, Managing Director, Optimise Online

Need more resources to make your decision? Consider this easy-to-read comparison chart we put together on the pros and cons of building vs. buying a reporting platform:

Buying vs Building a Client Reporting Platform Pros and Cons

Want to learn more? Download Our 6-Step Build vs. Buy Framework below:

The 6-Step Build vs. Buy Framework

Download the eBook

Get Started for Free

Try AgencyAnalytics risk-free for 14 days. No credit card required.
AgencyAnalytics Dashboard Preview