Count Something.

A few days ago I started a post about about the book “Better”.  Today I’m going to finish that post.  At the end of the book was a “cheat sheet” of sorts for how to improve performance.  It was a good list.  And one of the items absolutely jumped off the page at me.  It was titled very simply: Count Something.

A few years ago when I used to work as revenue enhancement consultant for small businesses I used to really harp on the importance of knowing your numbers.  How crucial it is to business success.  And here’s what I came to learn after looking at the numbers of diving deep into the business operations of dozens of companies.

Results Never Lie

The first truth I learned is that results never lie.  That may seem ridiculously simple to you, but it’s a profoundly deep truth to really get in touch with.  Because every business owner wants to tell (and believe) a story about his/her business is where they are.  They have great reasons and excuses why right now is an aberration and tomorrow will be different.  But the results say otherwise.  Does that make any sense?  You’re far better off facing and dealing with the reality of your results than excusing them away and hoping/expecting them to get better when circumstance changes.  That probably deserves a post of it own… how people get tricked into believing that their results aren’t real, but their expectations are.

Another truth I learned is about the numbers in your business (internet or otherwise).  Numbers in business are an interesting thing.  I can look at the numbers in a business and tell you almost immediately what that business needs to work on and improve.  Now that’s another thing that when stated so plainly there’s a tendency to say “well, duh”.

So why don’t more business owners take their numbers seriously?  It’s shocking to me how few business owners even know their core numbers.  They are the pulse of our business and you can’t tell me your gross profit margin?  You can’t tell me, in internet marketing, your cost-per-visitor?  Revenue per impression?  Those are basic numbers.  What about when we get into more advanced, and more powerful, ones?

But here’s the interesting thing about numbers.  It’s also why I’m so fascinated by them.  By themselves they never give you any answers.  But they do tell you exactly which questions to ask.  And that’s powerful to know.

I think a lot of business owners feel like they don’t have the time or resources to track the numbers precisely because there are no answers in the numbers.  They think they are just for the accountants and bankers.  How wrong they are.

Knowing your numbers gives you incredible flexibility and creativity in your business.  When you know exactly which questions to ask and focus on you have freed yourself up to be ridiculously creative in answering only the questions that matter.  Most business owners spend an inordinate amount of time wandering around answerign meaningless questions their business isn’t asking.  Why?  Because they don’t know how to focus on the real questions their business has.

For example, let’s look at a typical internet business advertising on Google.  Just with the basics you can look at several levels of numbers.  Impressions, clicks, leads, and conversions are probably the most basic.  If you really look at those numbers, even their most basic and raw form they will begin to expose the questions you should be asking in your business.  If your impressions are lagging then you should be asking questions about keywords, targets and demographics, for example.  Clicks are good but conversions low?  That tells you what questions to ask.

And the human brain is so amazingly cool and powerful.  It absolutely LOVES questions.  It loves to know what to focus on.  Without the distraction of confusion you may be astounded at the answers you get when you know just what to ask.

And that (in a roundabout sort of a way ;-)) brings me to “Count Something.”

Want to make your business better continually.  Here’s an idea.  Count something.  Anything.  Here are the rules… it must be something you can continue to count.  In other words, you can’t count something that is static and doesn’t change.  And that’s the only rule.

Count Something!

And here’s what will happen over time.  Your brain will begin to ask questions about that something.  And you will start to have creative flashes about how you might influence that something.  And over time that something transforms from a external something into a malleable, pliable, shapable something that is internal to your circle of influence.

For example, there is a great story in the book about a doctor named Ingaz Semmelweis.  He started to count something in his hospital and discovered some radical answers that led to some unbelievable stunning medical improvements.  Read his story on wikipedia.  Seriously… go read it.

If you’re not counting anything right now you can start with something basic… like impressions.  Or conversions.  Or whatever.

Live that number for a period of time and you will be impressed with how much influence you begin to have over it.  You’ll be surprised at the insights you have into it.  And you may be shocked (and at times frustrated) with how many other things it shows you to count.

And when you get enoiugh of those numbers within your sphere of influence and creativity then the floodgates begin to open.  When you learn, within your own business, how to grow, shrink, or maintain a number you are learning to be master at business.

Try This…

So here’s a challenge for you.  Pick something right now in your business that you can start counting today.  In my own business (Site Sniper Pro) I might pick something like “how many of my customers are using Site Sniper Pro to sell their own products?”  Over time I can track that number and maybe gain some interesting insights in how and why people buy and use my software.

The neat thing is I don’t have to start out with answers.  I don’t know what that number is or what it means yet.  But I do know that if I keep counting that number eventually my brain will have a question about it.  And as soon as my brian starts asking questions it simultaneously starts answering them.  And just in the process of counting I can open up new avenues of business or improve my existing one.

What if I discover I have a high percentage of customer who are promoting their own products (as opposed to affiliates)?  Might that lead to changes in my sales copy?  What if it’s a low number?  Could I target them more?  Do I need to increase my affinity with that market?  You see, right now it’s a number that is entirely outside of my control because it is unknown and undiscovered.  Once I bring it into my consciousness I begin the process of influencing it and uncovering what it influences.  Makes sense?  There’s a web of intrugue there that I could follow for a long time… with constantly improving results in my business as the evidence left behind of me uncovering that web.

So count something today.  Then count it again tomorrow, or next week, or whenever it seems right.  And allow yourself to question that number.  And experiment with that number.  And learn from that number.  And your influence will be expanded.

Then count something new.