At any point in your business journey, it is a useful exercise to sit down and spend some time working out what success means to you. Everyone has a vague idea of what they're aiming for but really trying to bottom it out is an interesting process. To parrot a whole world of corporate training, useful objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound (SMART).
Once you've done that - and it might be trickier than you think - spend a bit more time thinking about how far away you are from achieving that definition of success. Maybe you're exactly where you want to be, maybe you're not - it doesn't really matter. The point is to work out what you're aiming for, and how you are going to go about getting there.
I've found that smaller businesses are often so focused (justifiably) on making ends meet and getting things done that their overall aim gets a little lost along the way. Everything a business does, every little decision reached, should be tied into your overall objectives: does this get me closer? No? Then why am I doing it! Stop, think, reflect and react.
The most obvious measure of success is financial: How much am I bringing in (turnover)? How much am I making after costs (profit)? How fast am I growing? Other easily measurable - but technologically dependent - things are reach and engagement: followers, likes, website hits, comments... There are loads of things out there to help you understand how many people you are interacting with via your online presence. NB: We've recently downloaded google analytics but have no idea how to use it - something we'll be looking into asap.
The business owners I've come across tend to want a bit more than just a living. They want to feel challenged, stretched, rewarded, useful and valued. How can we possibly measure these kinds of intangible feelings?
The below outlines some common ways of tapping into the non-monetary side of business success:
How happy are your customers? This requires you to ask questions of your customers, gather feedback and respond to complaints. Repeat business and referrals are very interesting measures, and I recently learnt about the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which measures the proportion of your customers who would promote your business.
Are you achieving your social or environmental goals? Social businesses, and those with an ethical raison de'etre, have a different raft of challenges. Balancing the requirements of enterprise and business with how well you are contributing to your chosen cause will also lead to difficult choices about where to focus finite resources. The Alzheimer's Society's "Dementia Friends" initiative is a really interesting example of measuring some form of social and charitable progress. Their website tracks the number of individuals who have attended an information session, delivered by a network of dementia friends champions all over the country. As part of the session, individuals commit to furthering the dementia friends cause and get a badge.
As of today, the website reports a total of 2,268,356 dementia friends - an astonishing achievement. (Visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk or contact us for more info - I am a Dementia Friends Champion and have been trained to deliver information sessions. Its eye-opening, poignant and hugely valuable).
Are you creating or developing something beautiful, new, innovative, or providing something that solves a problem?
So many businesses exist because their founders have a passion or a talent that is rare and special. Creating for its own sake is an admirable objective, as is problem solving through technology or experimentation. It doesn't need to be rocket science or even especially ground-breaking to be valuable to someone. Measuring this is also challenging, though there are ways. For example: a target proportion of resource that goes on research & development (a la Google and their legendary one day a week for individual project development).
Are your staff happy?
Not all small businesses have staff but their opinions can be very telling when measuring success. Do you have high turnover of people? Why? Do your teams take a lot of time off sick? Happy staff means happy customers and most people don't ask for much to keep them content at work. Its worth finding out what your staff would stop, change or keep about your business so you can act on that.