How do you decide which project or idea to work on first? What should you be spending your time on right now, given all that you have to do? This post gives a simple, numerical system to rank your to-do’s and determine what to do next.
Information overwhelm and confusion are common “diseases” of the online entrepreneur. And it is especially pronounced in the beginning when you’re first starting out.
And it makes sense, in a way.
All these things you have to do (or think you have to do), all seemingly important, and all simultaneously. Or, at least it feels that way.
Once you have a business established and moving, you have some stable point from which to judge things. It becomes easier. But, that beginning phase… it’s a doosie.
And it is made worse when you’re out there reading other people’s blogs, or reading their emails. Especially blogs about online marketing.
(Note: This might seem like a self-damaging thing to say, seeing as I run such a blog and, well… you’re reading it. 😉 But, it is what it is and we need to address it anyway.)
There is something to be said for an information diet. However, it can be hard to figure out how to grow your business without paying attention to people who teach it – and ultimately DO it for a living, too.
So, telling you to stop paying attention doesn’t do you much good.
Yet, the issue remains.
What we need is a method to deal with the input, but yet alleviate the dangers of overwhelm and confusion that come from it.
In this blog post, I’m going to lay out some policy that I believe would be helpful for you to follow. Then, I’m going to lay out a prioritization technique so that you can put some order into all those ideas and determine where to spend your time.
Let’s do it…
The Most Important Metrics That Guide All Decisions
A business is a lot like a car. The car is doing certain things. That car also happens to have an instrument panel on the dashboard. Through a series of gauges, you can monitor what the car is doing.
A business has measurements, too. Your entrepreneurial “gut” has a lot do with decision-making (much like looking out the windshield when you’re driving), but ultimately you need an instrument panel.
It is kind of like when you’re driving along and unexpectedly get pulled over by a cop for speeding. Judging out the window, perhaps it didn’t look like you were driving too fast, but if you had looked at your speedometer you would have known.
Business is the same. You can drive by the “seat of your pants”, but you also need numbers so you have the REAL scene. In business, these core numbers are sometimes called key performance indicators – or KPIs.
Now, not all numbers are KEY indicators. The true KPIs are the ones which provide the most direct indicator of how the business is doing.
I’m not going to reiterate a bunch of stuff about KPIs. I’ll simply point you to: Key Performance Indicators: Growing And Managing Your Online Business By The Numbers.
Why do I bring it up?
Because if you know what your few KPIs are, then you judge any idea you have based on whether it will improve one or more of your KPIs in a concrete way.
If an idea you have doesn’t directly impact a KPI, then it either ranks pretty low on your priority list or you throw it out altogether.
The 7 Business Growth Levers
There are essentially 7 key levers you can influence in order to grow your business. Like controls on a vehicle you’e driving, if you ramp up any of these levers then you should see the business grow.
Those 7 money levers are:
- Traffic. Kinda self-explanatory, however don’t fall into the trap of overly focusing on this. Because, if all the other growth levers are at zero, all the traffic in the world doesn’t matter.
- Opt-ins. Number of people who are moving from casual web visitor into a real email subscriber.
- Conversions. Number of people who move from being a visitor or email subscriber into an actual customer, by buying something from you.
- Items per sale. How many things does the person buy per order. In other words, we’re talking about upsells.
- Average item value. We’re talking about your average price point. Obviously, if your prices are higher, you make more money and grow the business.
- Transactions per customer. How often does the same customer come back and buy again? One of the reasons I love membership sites, BTW. 😉
- Profit margin. If you can make the gap between your costs and revenue bigger, you make more money.
So, an improvement on any of these 7 levers will grow your business.
And, to our point for today…Any idea you have should have a direct, concrete connection to an improvement in one of these growth levers. If it doesn't, throw it out or it goes way down your priority list.Click To Tweet
Using Your Growth Levers and KPIs to Make Decisions
It can be an interesting exercise to evaluate what you are doing up against your KPIs and the 7 growth levers.Are the things you're spending time on really directly contributing to the growth of your business?Click To Tweet
Are we just telling ourselves it is contributing to justify spending time on stuff we find easier or more fun?
Does spending a bunch of time blogging your face off every week actually contribute to growth? One could say it is being done to get traffic. But, look at your analytics. Are you seeing an increase in traffic, or just momentary spikes? Or, are you flat-lined? In that case, your KPI (the actual NUMBERS) are telling you that all of that blogging is a waste of time, isn’t it?
Now, I’m not going to tell you to stop blogging. I’m going to tell you to re-think it… and make a plan based on the growth levers and KPIs. Because, you need actual traffic, not the hope of traffic. So, perhaps you need to blog less, but spend more time promoting it. Perhaps you need to blog less, but instead begin using paid traffic to bring it in reliably?
On another one… does tweaking your blog’s theme contribute to growth? Well, if you can directly relate your theme changes to changes in opt-ins or conversion, then sure. But, if you’re doing it just to have a prettier site, you’re wasting your time.
Does Facebooking and tweeting all day contribute to growth? Well, is it showing up in your traffic numbers? Your opt-ins? Your conversions? If not, down the priority list it goes!
Any action you do which DIRECTLY contributes to more opt-ins, more sales, getting people to buy more stuff, increasing your prices, or reducing cost so that profit margin increases (as opposed to reducing costs just cuz)… those things contribute to growth.
And if you’re blogging and Facebooking all day, but all those downline KPIs are zero (because you have no lead magnets and/or nothing to sell), then your priorities are all out of whack. Screw Twitter… go make a lead magnet and something to sell.
Yeah, I know. This is some tough love for some of you. But, I’m not here to BS you around.
5 Factors To Give Priority To Your Projects And Ideas
Alright, so we know that any idea you come up with – any project you envision – for your blog and business should be judged up against your KPIs and the 7 growth levers. If the idea doesn’t directly contribute, throw it away or put it onto your “someday/maybe” list.
But, for everything else (and it will probably be alot), we need to have a way to put some order into the mix.
After all, even if you have a list of ideas that are all solid, it can still be overwhelming to figure out what to do first.
So, let’s assign some factors to each idea. Some things to evaluate about each one to help you prioritize.
- Impact on Revenue. To what degree do you think this idea will impact revenue in a positive way? Look at those 7 growth levers again. Is it a surefire increase in revenue, or a smaller one?
- Impact on KPI. What degree of direct effect do you think this idea will have on the hard numbers? Large KPI impact or small one?
- Probability of Success. How likely is it going to work? Let’s face it, some ideas might help while others we KNOW will.
- Simplicity. Is this idea simple to execute, or it it fairly involved?
- Speed To Done. How fast can you implement it?
Now, there can certainly be a “fuzzy factor” or gut feeling to some of this, however it still provides a framework by which to judge.
For instance, all things being equal, if one project idea you come up with would be easier and simpler than another yet both would have impact on revenue, you would obviously do the easier one first. Get the real results faster.
However (and many bloggers find themselves in this situation)… if you have a number of simple and easy tasks that don’t impact revenue, yet one larger project that would (like creating your first offer)… then you downgrade the simpler tasks and upgrade the one with revenue impact.It is all too easy to spin your wheels on the fast and easy things, but yet avoid all the things which bring on real growthClick To Tweet
The easiest thing to do is to assign each of these 5 factors a numerical score. Then, each idea gets a total score. Sort the ideas by total score and you’ll have the ideas/projects that are MOST important for you, right now.
Downloadable Shortcut (Lab Members Only)
I’ve created a simple spreadsheet template, in Google Sheets, to give you a big shortcut in setting up an Idea Capture file.
You use it like this…
Anytime you dream up a new idea for your blog or business, regardless of where it comes from, you drop it into your Idea File. You then quickly assign the growth lever, the KPI, and then a numerical score for each of the 5 evaluation factors above.
Then, you can sort by the “Total Score” column to give you the things you should be doing first.
This will give you a place to capture these ideas you will inevitably have, yet not lose sight of what is most important to you, right now.
If you are an active member of the Blog Monetization Lab and are currently logged in, you will see the link to the spreadsheet below, as well as a short video explaining how to use it. You will also find the spreadsheet inside the Lab Library and the video inside the Video Vault.
Not a member? Join us then revisit this post and the file and video will be unlocked.
If you are a Lab member, just log into your account and then refresh this post.
Another Way To Do It
If you’re not a Lab member, you can always join us and get access to the spreadsheet – along with everything else we do inside the Lab.
But, I didn’t want to leave you empty handed if you’re not (yet) a Lab member.
So, one approach is to simply make your own spreadsheet. If you’re good with spreadsheets, it shouldn’t be any problem for you.
There’s also a list management option, such as Dynalist. I personally love Dynalist and I’m in there pretty much every day. I drop my business ideas and projects into Dynalist all the time. Now, you won’t have nice, pretty columns so that you can score your ideas and sort them. However, you could always use the description area for any item on your list to write out your own personal scores. Then, drag and drop items to prioritize them.
It isn’t as sexy, but it works. And I’m sure you could do the same in several other tools.
One Final Word…
If you want to make real headway in your business, I would encourage you to implement a system like this. See, in this business, we don’t have a boss. There’s nobody to tell us what to do and when. We often have to be self-paced and self-disciplined. So, we need some kind of structure to do that.
I would encourage you to think of the things you work on in your business as a project. And, each project should have a known goal and a known endpoint. Some projects can be quite small (maybe even complete it in a few minutes), while others can be a multi-month endeavor. The point is… approach it like a project.
The last thing you want to do is simply “shoot from the hip” with whatever time you have to dedicate to your online business. You should never have to sit down, stare at your computer screen and think, “Now what?”
That’s the death knell of productivity. It is a symptom of total disorder and confusion.It does you no good to 'work on your business' if you don't really know what to work on.Click To Tweet
It also means that building your business is going to take simply forever… if you succeed at all. It does you no good to “work on your business” if you don’t really know what to work on. And, especially if you have a day job and have to work on your online business as a side hustle with very limited work hours, you have to be highly structured about where your time goes.
Even if you can only work on this stuff for an hour or so per day – or less – you can still make headway. The priority is to ensure that what time you do have is spent on the most effective things.
I hope that helps.