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How to use metrics to improve your vegan business

business analyticsIf you have been reading my columns for a while, you know that I am big on planning. As we look at kicking off a new year, it is time again to turn your mind to planning, and specifically to thinking about the type of impact you want to make in 2017.

The word “impact” is sometimes used as a feel-good term, but I believe there should be a quantifiable way to measure impact in all businesses. This is especially true for vegan business owners since most of us started our businesses based on a passion or a dream to help improve the world in some way. That’s why I decided to write this January’s column about how to develop metrics in your business that will help you actually gauge the impact you and your business are having. In my mind “impact” and “healthy business” go hand-in-hand; after all, if you can’t stay in business, it will be difficult for you to hit those impact levels.

I know many people don’t like dealing with numbers. If you tend to lean into the creative aspects of your business, the numbers can feel like a bore. But this is important work, and it’s kind of fun once you get your teeth stuck into it. Furthermore, keep in mind, since you run the business, you get to pick the numbers. Yes, you will need a financial metric in the mix, but metrics in your business should be focused on what YOU think is important. Often this process can help to fuel new creative ideas, or let you know when you need to think of something new because a previous strategy isn’t working anymore.

Metrics in your business should focus on what YOU think is important. Click To Tweet

Step #1: Pick Your Impact

So, where do you start? The first thing to do is pick your impact metric. This will help you focus on what’s important to you this year. Once you have done that you can decide which other metrics you should track to help you see if you are in a position to hit the impact metric or not. This combination of metrics will also help you to assess the overall health of your business.

But for those of you who are new to all of this, I want to take a quick step back and talk about what an impact metric actually IS. Obviously different metrics will be used depending on the business, and the business owner, but some examples might include: number of clients coached, number of new products developed to displace non-vegan options, number of non-vegan patrons served, number of animals saved, number of free meals provided, or percentage of income donated to an animal sanctuary. In short, your impact metric should be based on something you have decided is important to you in your business – something that you would like to know your business is having an impact on.

Step #2: Choose Your Biz Health Indicators

Next you need to pick the metrics that will measure the overall health of your business. I normally start with metrics in these categories:

  • Early Indicators: This is normally some type of lead-generation tool or process. Whatever you use to help identify customers and bring them to your business is the metric you should monitor. Since email is a reliable tool for driving sales, many businesses monitor daily or weekly email subscriptions as an early indicator of business health. If you are regularly able to convert 5% of the people on your email list into customers, then the idea is to continue to grow that email list with targeted prospects while maintaining the same conversion rate. You will be able to generate more income if you are able to scale your lead generation efforts (e.g. add more subscriptions).
  • Customer Lifecycle or Experience:  This metric will be closely linked to the type of product/service you offer. For example, some companies use surveys during the customer acquisition process to gauge customer feedback. In that situation the metric would be to ensure scores continue to increase over time. If you are a subscription-based company, your goal might be to expand the average number of months/years a customer is active.
  • Sales Production: In my business, I’m all about conversion metrics. I want to know how many of the people who are engaging with my site, ads, emails or social media platforms turn into customers. When I am working on this metric I will often test 2 or 3 marketing campaigns simultaneously and monitor the conversions to make sure we continue to yield similar/better results. Doing this is very helpful for identifying new winning campaigns that we can then leverage across the business.
  • Product Performance: When you take a look at your business, is one service or product significantly outperforming the rest? This is an important metric to look at objectively because it will help you to assess if you should be doing more with a leading product or if you have an under-performing service that needs more help to reach its goals.
  • Financial Health: This is an easy one. I normally pick a number from a traditional income statement like Sales, Net Income or Operating Income to measure year over year variance by month. For example, are sales the same or more this January than they were last January?
  • Efficiency: This metric should be about the productivity of your resources. In a small business it’s normally a good idea to focus on expenses or team productivity. In addition to comparing the increase/decrease of expenses over time, look at the correlation between sales and direct program expenses; there should be a proportionate increase in sales when there is an increase in expenses. Another good approach is monitoring spending efficiency, so take the time to regularly look at monthly fees to see if you can decrease your overall costs by moving to annual plans.
  • New Projects: Any new goals that are project-based should have a metric linked to them so you can gauge successes or interim wins.

As you may be gleaning from the list above, the key to setting useful metrics is looking at your business process and determining what fuels your business pipeline. How do you know if your customers are happy? Or, how do you know if you will meet your sales goals? Common indicators include website traffic, newsletter subscribers, number of customer reviews, total email/phone inquiries, orders per month, repeat customers, product usage, appointments booked, etc. By the end of January 2017, you should have at least three to five metrics to monitor. As your business grows, you might need more metrics, but if you’re starting out, don’t choose more than five.

Step #3: Make It Visible

Now, metrics are only helpful if you monitor them and use them to help you make decisions. So, after you have chosen your metrics, you need to develop a dashboard. This will be a way to monitor and track all the metrics you have chosen in one central place.

If you have the resources, hire someone to help you consolidate and report this information. This is the type of task I would recommend outsourcing. It shouldn’t take more than one or two hours per week depending on the size of your business. I normally look for a freelancer to compile ongoing reports; this is a low-cost way to get the information you need.

Step #4: Decide on Your Triggers

If you are just getting started with this, your metrics should be anchored in your previous year’s numbers. I like to use triggers that let me know if we are more than 10% off the previous year’s numbers. For targets I like to look at 15% or 20% growth. However, obviously you need to choose numbers that make sense to your business and industry.

Step #5: Use It!

Now that you’ve put all this effort into setting and measuring metrics; make sure you’re using the valuable information you are collecting! Set time in your calendar each month to review these metrics – this doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but write it down to make sure it gets done. By monitoring your metrics each month, you will have the opportunity every 30 days to see if you are on track to hit your impact targets, as well as take a quick inventory of the health of your business. If you find a problem (and inevitably you will!), kick off a brainstorming session to come up with changes or updates that will help you get things back on track. Are you up for the challenge?

This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Vegan Lifestyle Magazine. You can download full issues of the magazine here:

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About the Author:

Stephanie Redcross is the founder and managing director of Vegan Mainstream – a Florida based marketing company that strives to bring mindful companies and services into the mainstream. Having observed her parents’ entrepreneurial spirits and experiences in business ownership, Stephanie learned early on that passion and hard work are the cornerstones to success. Passionate herself about living and advocating a vegan lifestyle for health, environmental, and ethical reasons, Stephanie has made it her life mission to help likeminded entrepreneurs and small to mid-sized companies reach and exceed their goals.