Metrics for small businesses

It’s rather delightful when Biznez Owner Catherine gets to reclaim and reintegrate something that Day Job Catherine used to do.

Back in my last – and much-loved – Day Job, I was the Customer Liaison for a large web-hosting company. (In essence, I was the person who translated between tech and people.) One of my biggest achievements in that job, other than my epic lolly jar, was creating a dashboard for the IT department. One system to measure the health of all of our tech, across everything from number of incidents to available network switches.

The process of taking a mind-blowing amount of data and narrowing it into a meaningful and useful snapshot was very educational, but it took a long time before that education raised its head again directly.

’Cos while I was in the first stages of self-employment, I paid almost no attention to metrics. Money coming in the door? Getting more Twitter followers? Cool, we’re all good then!

I was running on energy, with very little idea where I was going.

But that first merry sprint ended, and ended with a crash. Suddenly I found myself thinking about metrics again, reinterpreting what I’d learned to a new scale. Here are a few of my thoughts on metrics for small businesses.

1. Only pay attention to metrics that create decisions.

Even for teeny bizzes there are sixteen bajillion things you could measure… Google Analytics alone has a hundred potential data points.

But the useful metrics are the ones that urge you to make changes.

For example, if you ran an ice-cream truck you could track the temperature every day. Seems valid, right? Well, it depends on whether you actually do anything differently depending on the weather.

If you still take the same number of supplies and drive the same route no matter what the temperature is, then that is a dead metric. It’s not being used for anything; a decorative waste of your time.

But if you tie the weather to sales and use the metric to decide at what temp the weather is hot enough to justify hiring your cousin Benny for the day to help, then suddenly that is meaningful.

I’m not saying you can’t measure non-action data, but it should not get regular attention. It’s interesting, but it’s not important, and should be treated accordingly.

2. Tie your metrics to a plan.

There is absolutely no point to increasing your Facebook likes.

There is absolutely no point to increasing your newsletter subscribers.

There is absolutely no point to increasing your website visitors.

Unless you have a plan.

You know, a goal you want to accomplish and a path to get there.

Metrics that aren’t tied to a plan or goal just track your progress to nowhere in particular. The only thing they accomplish is making you feel warm and fuzzy.

It’s kinda funny for me, the Cash and JOY ambassador, to be saying, “Forget that, it only makes you feel good.” But I want both halves of the equation for you, jellybean. Focusing on metrics that aren’t tied to a plan may bring you a bit of joy, but they are extremely unlikely to bring you cash.

The right metrics do both, and do it better. They don’t just measure growth, they measure growth with a purpose. Growth that gets you closer to your heart’s desire.

That shit is sacred, yo. I don’t want you to settle for meaningless enlargement when you could have meaningful flourishing.

And the right metrics make that more likely.

3. Hard metrics, and soft metrics.

Most people do one, or the other.

Some people can produce every single solid number about how their biz is doing: how many signups to this list, the conversion rate on this page.

Some people can tell you to ten decimal places how things feel: the excitement around a new offer, how they feel about the work.

You have to measure both.

The internal and external reality of your business are equally important. All data, and you will lose your joy (and your conscience) to become a number-increasing cog. All feel, and you will never explore the full power and potential of your work.

For the all-feel peeps, the challenge is to commit to and fall in love with the numbers, to give them the attention, and the unflinching acceptance of reality, that they deserve. To be brave enough to get real.

For the all-data peeps, the challenge is to commit to and fall in love with a difficult-to-quantify subjective reality. To give your gut the attention, and the unflinching acceptance of illogic, that they deserve. To be brave enough to get unreal.

4. How do small businesses measure their internal state?

I think the easiest method is to measure the output of an internal state. It’s hard to quantify the anxiety in your biz, but it’s actually pretty easy to measure your number of sleepless nights, or how often you want to go to work in the morning.

The key is to find a measurable behaviour that accurately enough represents the internal state you want to track. The better you know yourself and your patterns, the easier this is. You could measure your intake of cheese sticks if you know that’s a reliable internal barometer for your level of distraction.

5. Single data points are meaningless.

Knowing that you have 258 email subscribers doesn’t mean much by itself. Data gets meaningful when it has context.

Trending: are your numbers going up, going down, or flatlining?

Velocity: are you getting closer to your goal, at a speed you’re comfortable with?

The key to both of these assessments is about measurement over time. When you track a metric over time, it stops being data points and starts being a pattern. Patterns are a higher form of information, and something we can act and make decisions from.

6. Pay very close attention to sample size.

I would guesstimate that 85% of the most woe-ifying incorrect assumptions my clients make are based on data.

They’re just not based on enough data.

This is the downside to the previous point about wanting to find patterns in data. We are astonishingly good at doing so, and do it automatically.

This can be… a problem.

Sometimes the data is too small to draw meaningful conclusions from. But we do it anyway, and then regard our conclusions as gospel truth. (“No-one liked this offer.” “How many readers did you have at the time?” “About 50.”)

Be very conscious when you’re making judgements from small data sets. They are extremely inaccurate.

7. How do you manage your metrics well?

Firstly, fall in love with them. Realise that measurements aren’t a dry boring thing you have to do every now and again. Accurate, meaningful measurements are the ultimate power to make amazing things happen in your business, for you and for your clients.

Then, write out your plan. What are you trying to achieve, step by step?

Next, decide how you want to measure your results at each step of your plan. How will you know it’s working?

Now, make a solid and delightful system for gathering, paying attention to, and making decisions from your metrics.

Last, build in a fucking gigantic dose of gratitude and celebration for your metrics. Cheer for every sign, no matter how small, that you are moving in the right direction.

And then do it again, next time.

Do you want to know how to make a marketing plan that is metric-rich and extremely delightful? I’ve just finished running my ultimate planning experience, The Pilot Light. And I had such a good time I’m thinking about doing it again soon. Put your details in the form to learn more!

3 thoughts on “Metrics for small businesses

  1. “One system to measure the health of all of our tech, across everything from number of incidents to available network switches.”

    I think you meant:

    One system to measure them all
    One system to find them
    One system to report them all
    And in the darkness, grind them.

    In the land of day job, where the metrics lie.

    (And please keep calling us Jellybean.)

    1. “Of the three systems, which Sauron never touched, it is not permitted to speak. So much only in this hour of doubt I may now say. They are not idle.”

      I could riff on this for freaking HOURS, jellybean. 🙂

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