Here’s what we’ll cover
If you think you’re not a numbers person, think again! Today I was lucky enough to chat with fellow numbers expert Julie Alig from Manchester in the United States about the real business numbers, the simple business numbers that you need to know in your business.
Now before you cringe and jump ship at the thought of two numbers experts talking numbers, I can assure you we are keeping it real and keeping it practical.
We are talking about real business numbers such as client retention, conversion rates and the illusive lifetime customer value.
Here’s the shownotes
If you think you’re not a numbers person, then think again. Today I was lucky enough to chat with fellow numbers expert Julie Alig from Manchester in the United States about real business numbers.
The simple business numbers that you need to know in your business. Now, before you cringe and want to jump ship at the thought of two numbers experts talking numbers, I can assure you that we’re going to keep it real and we’re going to keep it practical.
Welcome to the podcast Julie.
Hi Jenn, thank you so much for having me.
It’s great to have you on the podcast. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business and where you’re from.
Sure thing, I am the founder and CEO of a consulting company called JLA Analytics. I’m based out of the United States out of Manchester, New Hampshire which is about an hour away from Boston.
In a nutshell, I bring clarity to chaos. I work for business owners who struggle to identify actionable insights from their numbers, and they want to make informed decisions in order to build a profitable sustainable business that aligns with their lifestyle.
I love that Julie clarity to chaos. That’s a really nice way to put it actually, because I am certain that when you’re talking to business owners everywhere, the minute it comes to numbers, the word chaos would just mean so much to them.
That’s exactly it. I love looking at numbers and I love talking with them and helping them through it, showing them what I see and what the numbers are saying.
I love doing that myself as well, and I guess this is where it’s going to be a great conversation where we’ll have to be really careful not to go to technical and too into the numbers and try and keep it real for everybody that’s listening because so many people out there we were talking just before we hit record, there are so many people out there that will put the red flag up pretty much straight away when it comes to numbers and throw out the older, but I’m not a numbers person.
So what do you say to people that that say I’m not a numbers person?
I hear that a lot also, and I guess I say a couple of things. One thing I say is, you know if you understand dollars and cents you understand numbers. It’s just a different way of thinking of them, right?
I don’t know about you, but a lot of times I hear people they’ll say I’m not a numbers person, I barely got through high school algebra, you know, by the skin of my teeth I passed it or something like that. You know that was a while ago and you know.
Learning different subjects, learning math, learning foreign languages, there’s different ways you can teach that, and I think I became a lot more cognizant of that just with my children and seeing how they learn differently and they learn at different paces. They learn better and worse depending on how their teacher was actually teaching it.
Absolutely, it’s a really good point.
Yeah, I kind of put it back to them and say, you know, don’t give up on yourself.
It very well could have be just the way that your brain is wired to understand something like math. It might have just not of clicked with the teacher you happen to have.
There’s also going to be that lack of interest there. Unless your brain just naturally goes just to give me that stuff, I’m just going to eat this algebra up, I love it, which is not too many people that I come across at school and not myself either, I was not great at maths at school. But, if you’re in business, you’re already a numbers person. It’s just, perhaps the way we frame it in our own minds, isn’t it?
Yeah I like how you put that Jen.
People assume that I was basically born with a Calculator in my hand and yes.
I was not. My undergraduate degree is a double major in French literature and history I didn’t start doing this number stuff. I was always fine, you know, at math and everything, but I didn’t start doing this until I had to when I was in Graduate School and I wanted to study democratization in Eastern Europe, and I went to work with a professor to be a research assistant and he said, well, what kind of stats background do you have and I’m like, I don’t have any, I’m thinking in my head.
Why do I need a stats background to study politics in Eastern Europe? He’s like This is why XYZ go take a couple of classes and come back and it was, you know when I saw that I wanted to do something and I needed it.
Because it’s relevant.
And like the point you said earlier, you know if you’re in business, you’re interested in numbers.
I think for a lot of people that’s probably why they’re listening to this podcast and to other podcasts too, ’cause they realize that it might not be the thing that you know they absolutely love, and they’re burning. They weren’t born with a calculator, but they sure want to make their business succeed.
And in order to do that you gotta at least have some knowledge and have some comfort level with it.
As a business owner you already know so much more than you give yourself credit for and you’ll know that whether or not your pricing your services at a particular product is working for you or isn’t working for you, you won’t know to what extent, but your gut feeling will tell you that I know I need to change this up, but what do I change it to is where it becomes perhaps easier to get some outsourced help.
A lot of the stuff that we’re going to talk about, I suspect, is things that business owners already know to some degree, it’s just about how to look at it a little bit differently, and then how you can practically build it into your business.
You know Jen, I really like how you said you said a couple sentences ago, about that gut feeling, they probably have a gut feeling and that’s what I tell people also, listen to your gut, but then look at your numbers and data to figure out whether your gut is on the right track.
Now you don’t need to know everything that you’re accounting knows. They should know all of the accountancy type stuff that that is like super important and you need to have that relationship with them where you can go and say OK, well what about this? You know I always say to people you need to be able to have a good enough relationship with your accountant to ask the questions that you think are dumb, you know, ask those dumb questions. I’m saying those with sort of their fingers here because if you have a good relationship with your accountant, there is a certain level of stuff that you can leave with them. I’m hesitant to say that because there are too many people that just leave everything up to their accountant, and that’s not OK.
But if you can have conversations around all of the accountancy type things and that’s a really good start. If not, then, well, maybe we need to look at finding you a different one, or something along those lines, but when it comes to their actual running of the day-to-day running of your business, there’s some really important metrics that I think we can give people some insight into today, and I’d love for you to just kick off, perhaps with what your thoughts are on the important metrics that business owners really need to know.
I’m happy too and I think that I really don’t envy business owners who aren’t just lovers of like metrics and everything like you and me are right because there’s so many metrics out there and it is so easy to get lost.
I mean everyone and their grandmother has this kind of metric that kind of metric, you need to focus next to one pit.
One person doesn’t always work for you as well. You know, just because your your best friend in business is measuring AB&C doesn’t mean that a B&C is necessarily the most the best place for you to place your energy.
You got it because what you need to be focusing on and placing your energy is what the questions are that are important for your business, and that’s where I always start with clients is I don’t necessarily want to see their data.
I want don’t want to look at their data, I want to sit with them and say OK, what are your questions sometimes they’ll have some goals, sometimes they might even have a strategic plan, but that’s where you start, because that’s where you get the vision right, and you get those are the overarching themes for the business. Then from there you work yourself downwards to go OK, so if this is important to you, then X metric is going to be something you’re definitely going to want to keep an eye on, right?
If something else is important to you, you’re going to definitely want to keep an eye on metric.
That’s really great advice to reduce the overwhelm because it can become terribly overwhelming when you feel that you need to know everything, and I think it’s really important as a business owner to do just what you’ve said. Know which numbers are important for you in order to reach the next step of your business, the next stage of your business, and if you can get a grasp of 1 particular number it’s actually surprising how easy it comes to you once you’ve been looking at these things for a certain period of time, it becomes easy for you to record it easy for you to understand where what the benchmark should be.
So as an example, there are business owners out there that that have no idea really of their margins. The margins that they’re charging on products that they’re selling, and if you don’t know those margins, or you just kind of guessing, or you’ve had no real idea that your overall margins is just slipping by 1% here and another percent the next month and slipping by another percent the next month. If you’re not monitoring something as simple as your margins over a period of time then how do you know that you’re not losing money? How do you know that that that isn’t causing you to lose?
Every dollar that you leave in your margins is a dollar that is is not coming into your back pocket essentially so.
Other thing people seem to another thing, they seem to think that this is going to take a ton of time to do right, that keeping an eye on your numbers is going to be really intense, and it may be a time suck or something. You brought up a good point there when you talked about looking at margins and looking at them from one month to the next. That’s the most important thing is to be actually looking at it consistently.
Sure, a week or a month or whatever works for your business, right?
And not to just do some sort of ginormous deep dive and then never go back again.
Yeah, that’s not gonna be friendly to anyone. It’s overwhelming. It’s hard.
You don’t know really what you’re looking at, but when you can look at things over a period of time, they start to have more meaning all of a sudden in two or three months time, you’re going to look at that look at those same numbers and go oh jeez, that’s a bit less than it was last month. Why is it less?
The trends, the stories they start surfacing once you add in that time element.
So particular metrics that you’d love to talk about today.
What do you think Julie? Should we talk about customer retention, customer loyalty, that sort of thing, and how their numbers around those can help a business owner to grow their businesses?
I ask a lot of people about if and if clients don’t ask me or don’t bring it up, I will bring it up to them.
What’s your customer retention rate? And it’s interesting where the conversation goes after that, because sometimes you get the deer in the headlights look which is they just aren’t even measuring it right, and so that’s an opportunity to talk to them about it. Well, have you thought about why it’s important to you?
Studies have shown that it’s 6 to 7 times cheaper to retain a customer than gain a new one.
I mean if you just want to look at it from that perspective, look at it from you know your customers or for service based companies like mine, or yours.
You’re building a relationship with them and you know you want to have that be ongoing.
So you do want to retain that you want to retain your customers and build that relationship and you know a customer that you’ve built up that knowand trust with is more likely to come back and you know purchase more or maybe refer more people to you going forward, so that’s one conversation starter that usually is right at the top of my list.
Being able to retain your customers I guess it’s the way one way to look at it is that you work so hard to get your customers. Why not keep selling to them over and over again?
Now obviously in certain industries this is easier than this, but if you have those clients there, then you’ve already done the hard yards, you’ve already done the marketing expense to get them on your books that they know, like trust factor is, as you said already, sitting there.
So, why not continue to sell and even build your service in such a way that you can sell a particular product to that client first and then the natural progression for them is to move into this particular service or product and so on and so on, just to not lock them into your work, but lock them into your little world.
And you know the other thing then that I I push my clients by asking about is you know a customer doesn’t equal a customer doesn’t equal a customer right?
We know I think we all know that we’ve got different kinds of customers different types and different behaviors right? And so it’s very interesting, and it’s very helpful if you can break up monolithic kind of idea of your customer into a couple of different buckets or segments.
If you start looking at the retention rate among those, and that’s going to be telling you some interesting stories. Also, because one which one is higher, why is it higher right?
So that’s going to give you more insight into a lot of other things into the products.
The margins on those products, that sort of thing, and so that’s really going to get you give you a chance to really think and know your customers better and align your products with them more.
And you retaining the clients that you want to retain, are you retaining the clients that you feel are going to be able to continue to buy from you into the long term you know, are they the type of clients that you love working with, are you retaining the clients that you particularly maybe even don’t like working with?
So I guess a lot of that then if you’re measuring the actual customer, the client retention, which by the way, perhaps like to give people a really quick easy way to think about how do I measure client retention, then I guess a simple example would be say if you have 300 clients on the books and 210 of those are clients that continue to use your services at the end of a given period then you have a retention rate of 70% so that this is like a really quick little way of for those of you that are sitting there going. But how about? How about how so? There’s a quick but how.
Then from there, once you know that okay well I’m retaining like you said Julie, that’s a really great way to look at it, putting them into different buckets if you have different types of clients think am I retaining the right clients? Am I retaining the ones that I want to continue to work with? The ones that I would love to continue working with and what can I do from a strategic or tactical perspective to increase that number from 70% to 75%? Or maybe it’s low at 30% and you want to increase your retention rate of particular clients to 35%? How do you get that jump in 5% and that gives you the opportunity to ask that question.
You got it and then that feeds right back into your goals, right?
And you know, one of your buckets of customers might be clients I like to work with clients I don’t like to work with, and if your retention rate is really high, I mean, as we build our businesses, sure we want to have profit.
Yeah, really important.
I think for people to think that way as well and if you’re finding that the you that you’re not retaining the clients that you would love to retain into the future, then you really are at a point where you can say well what’s the strategy, what’s or the tactical approach? You know, what is it that I can do how can I create a client communication calendar which says every month or every quarter, I’m going to get back in touch with those clients that I really want to work with and touch base with them so they don’t forget about me and you know, is there there’s some simple sort of strategies that you can put in place that that give you a reason to stay in touch with those.
Is it a nurturing thing?
Do you need to nurture those clients?
As you said Julie, it’s having that real clear vision of where you want to take your business.
So who do you want to work with? And measuring what is the current retention rate of those particular clients?
What can I do to increase it?
Yeah, there you go.
Let’s talk about and you’ve given me a few different metrics here that you that you believe that business owners should know.
So I’m going to just randomly pick out a couple as we go.
What about conversion rates, and I love that you’ve written here conversion rate at each stage throughout your sales funnel.
So conversion rates, those are also really helpful at diagnosing. Really focusing in on how well your sales funnel is working for you and where you’re getting leakage right?
So I would say you know, start with your leads. How are you acquiring leads? Then you know the next stage in your in your funnel.
Some people have very, very long ones, some have just a couple of stages.
But if at each stage you just do a quick conversion rate and you know again it’s a simple division kind of thing. Right, soI’ll use your example from before. If you start out with 300 leads and then 210 moved to the next stage in your funnel right, it would just be 210 / 300, and you just calculate your rates down that way until you get to the end and you can see, jeez, out of 300 I ended up with five people who bought right now. That in itself is interesting to figure out, right? ’cause that helps you kind of reverse engineer how many like leads you’re gonna need in order to be profitable, right? And get enough sales in your business. But it’s really interesting to look. Maybe you lose at one stage like 55% of people or something.
Did you expect that maybe that’s something that is expected in your industry? I don’t know, maybe that’s a big old red flag there that something is broken there and so again by looking at, you know the different stages and doing a quick division in calculating that conversion rate at each stage, you’ll be able to see where there are some problems.
Yeah and I think also by measuring that conversion rate and knowing what it is gives you again the chance to improve it. You know, putting different strategies in place to improve the conversion rate at each and every one of those stages of the funnel that you’re talking about, but then also at the very end.
How many from start to finish are actually coming through and paying you money, it costs a lot of money and it takes a truckload of time to generate all these new leads. So you don’t want to then go and blow it at the conversion stage.
You know it’s really a terribly important statistical statal number with metric for you to look at when you’re selling it at any level in any business.
How many people are showing interest in what you’re doing and then how many people are actually buying at the end? And if they’re not buying, you know what can you do about it?
What are the strategies that you can put in place to change and improve that conversion rate number.
You get the chance to ask.
Yeah, you got it and then another of the kind of like the second layer of like analysis that I would look at would be like okay, I’ve got all of these leads right and I calculated, I took a look at my funnel and I looked at my conversion rates but all my leads didn’t come from the same place. So again, just like we did with the customers and we kind of broke that down into different kinds of customers and put them in buckets.
You could also take a look at different lead sources and look at your conversion rates and right there that’s going to be really powerful to be able to show you you’ll have it right in front of you, which ones are performing really well and which ones aren’t.
Yeah and I’m going to use as an example of that.
Let’s say you were one of those sources of leads was through your Facebook ads, if you were gaining some leads through Facebook ads, for example, that’s possibly quite a costly approach now if you know that you’re actually getting more of your leads from a different area of your business from perhaps a referral system that’s set up with somebody else that you work with.
If and those are free, those are free leads, but the conversion is much higher from those free leads from those referrals and maybe that’s where you need to start expanding your attention or putting your attention to and in something that’s paid, such as a paid marketing or a Facebook ads or whatever it might be the paid lead generators you may want to stop doing that because it’s costing you too much money.
Yeah, I was working with one client who had something similar to this, she was trying to figure out her conversion rates and figuring out what lead sources were the most lucrative for her and she went into it thinking it was going to be a lead source, we’ll call it Facebook ads, she also like through working with it with her and talking it through with her, she realized she had another lead source and it was a community group here.
And when we rejiggered her numbers and restructured them, and looked at it her, it was, you wouldn’t believe how much she was getting from that that a community group that she was part of. She wouldn’t have known that if everything wasn’t kind of jumbled together right in the beginning.
And that gives her then the opportunity to look at that community group a little bit closer and ask the question you know, can I form a more strategic alliance with this group?
Can I go to people in this group or the people that run this group and say can we come up strike our relationship for a paid referral system or something along those lines, whatever it is, maybe she needs to spend more time working with and for that community group.
It gives you an opportunity to then make some really good business decisions based on where you know you are getting some quality leads.
Exactly it, and she wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t taken a step back and just looked at it that way.
So that’s conversion rates.
We’ve spoken about customer retention, client retention, conversion rates.
What about lifetime customer value?
That’s another one.
These are kind of the big three that I talked through that when I talked to clients about.
Yeah, I love talking about lifetime customer value because it kind of, it encompasses the whole idea of customer retention, right that we talked about in the beginning, but it could it, and I hate for it to sound this way, but it puts a price tag on things, right?
We’re in business to make profits, so you know.
But yeah, when you think about a customer in not so much of a transactional way but in more like what we were talking about earlier about as a relationship and building up that know like and trust factor you can start looking into like you and I were talking about. You know what are the other pain points they have?
What are the other subsequent purchases that they might make?
You can start figuring out you know they might start as they trust you more and they like you more and they see more of your way.
Sure, they’re willing to, for example, for service provider like me, they’re willing to invest in higher ticket items. So when you start thinking of your customers that way and you start looking at the profitability and the types of perspective, right profitability you can make, that puts a completely different spin on how you think about investing in your customers today and in customer loyalty.
And the importance then I guess of making sure that you’re attracting the right clients, attracting the right customers, those that that do have the highest potential to have the highest lifetime customer value.
And that really puts an onus on you to be very, very clear, you had to be very, very clear about exactly who you’re serving, who your products are for. What kind of relationship you’re going to build with them and really having that authentic kind of relationship with your client.
And do you have a particular way to calculate a lifetime client value?
Is it really just a case of looking at how the services that you offer or the services that you hope to offer in a business and following through the path that that particular client might take and looking at the different services that they ideally will purchase and and putting that number against the customer value.
What do you do it a little bit differently?
It can be that way. A lot of times when I’m working with clients, I’ll do if they’re thinking of changing their product mix right or something like that, then we can talk about, you know this customer has given this product, ma lifetime value expected of X, but with this one it might be Y, now why might have a higher profit, it also might come with more cost. There might be regulation that you have to factor in.
Yeah, I’m curious, what comes to mind Jen?
I like the idea of people being able to look at look ahead, whether they’re offering particular services or products for sale right now, but having enough foresight knowing that this particular client or customer is most likely to purchase A and then B and then C and having also an idea of the timeline that’s attached to those to those purchases as well.
And are they repeat purchases or are they not?
And perhaps if they’re not repeat purchases, how can we make them repeat?
You know, it’s not until you really start looking at it in the past from the perspective of the lifetime customer value that it really does open up the windows of opportunity there for you as a business owner to start thinking about your clients differently.
I mean sometimes you need to start getting into your five and 10 year plans, right?
Like where are we going to be?
What kinds of services and products do we think we’ll be offering?
Yeah, we even start down that path?
Given the customers we’ve got now and how likely they are to purchase what we have now.
What should we potentially add on that menu?
You know, start really thinking about how you can streamline the services in your business to get you the most for the most the highest lifetime client value for every client that comes your way.
But we also shouldn’t forget that lifetime client value of client A, who you may not like working with who could be quite difficult to work, they may have the highest customer value, the highest lifetime customer value, but if you don’t want to work with those people then then that also needs to be taken into account.
If you want to work with client B, who is somebody that you actually feel that you really can help and you really want to help and you enjoy working with that type of client, then that’s going to be the starting place really, isn’t it?
Then you can start putting into action all of that, planning and strategizing about okay, well, if client B now really is much more like my ideal client, right going forward.
What are her or his pain points?
What are they likely to be thinking of or needing or interested in several years down the line that it’s, you know, in my wheelhouse to provide right and it’s that kind of thinking that can get really exciting, but it’s good to have the numbers to kind of drag you back to reality and to show you which paths really are potentially lucrative and which ones that might sound great, but it’s just not going to work.
But what is the reality?
This is great.
This has been a really good conversation.
I’m hoping that anybody that’s listening can, just at the very least, get a hold of perhaps how important it is as a starting point to understand particular numbers in your business now for your business, if you’re listening, it may not be customer retention or conversion rates or lifetime customer value, there are other numbers out there and we’re not going to cover all of them today.
But, the important thing I think is that we understand that by looking at the numbers, just selecting one or two numbers and having a look at them over time as you mentioned earlier Julie, it’s really important to look at them over time so they start to have a have more meaning for you.
But then saying okay, well, how do I have to change things up in my business to improve that number?
And then you’ll have so much more confidence in all of the business decisions that you make going forward.
Oh, absolutely, and you know one tip I would give people a lot, is a lot of people are very visual and a lot of people are visual learners, so you and I are talking, you know, and I can see in my head I can see, you know, rows of numbers, tables and a spreadsheet in excel.
Sometimes it’s easier to draw a picture, and I mean it could be just taking pen and paper and drawing a quick graph. I mean they’ve got it’s so simple to they’ve got all those built in charts and graphs and pictures really can show you things that you just you would not see in, you know columns and rows of numbers, so again to make things a little less intimidating, try that and you know if you want to go a little crazy, you know don’t use the default Microsoft excel color palette, go find something really wacky.
Get some fun colors or something, but you know, start getting your hands dirty with your numbers. Start thinking about visualizing them.
I love that advice about visualizing them and whether it’s even something as simple as that. Let’s say we were talking about a simple conversion rate that you had X you had 100 people walk through the door this week and And have a chart on the wall. Literally or something counting them at the door. If somebody is walking through the door and you have 100 people walk through the door in a week, then have a chart sitting right there in front of you up on the wall, obviously where nobody else can see it but yourself. You can say that one bought something that one bought something and then all of a sudden your conversion rate becomes at front of mine.
It almost becomes enticing for you to want to tick off okay another one bought something another one, bought something and I’m kind of making it sound perhaps too simple, but for the sake of having you understand the importance of focusing on something as simple as a conversion rate and having an understanding around what the visual elements can do to help you understand it, but then also encourage you to improve it when you can see it in a different way other than just like a whole bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet.
I love it. That idea there, you kind of made it into almost a little game too.
Yeah, absolutely yeah, we’re broke a little bit competitive in one way or another, aren’t we?
So you know there are different things that we can do.
Whatever is going to work for you and your business or maybe it’s your team.
Maybe it’s the people that are selling for you know, make it visual for them and you’re the one who’s going to reap the rewards and you’re the one who’s going to see the results.
I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, Julie. So where can people look you up, you know, have you got something there that people could perhaps download or anything like that that you’d like to tell us about.
Sure, I you can find me on LinkedIn. You can find my website jlanalytics.com.
You can find me on Instagram, Facebook. I’m out on clubhouse these days, I pop in and out of rooms there.
Yeah, you know, if you go to my website, I have a jump start guide so kind of jump starting your way into actually looking at your numbers and it’s 5 easy steps.
Great, well, I’d encourage anyone who’s listening that has any interest in growing their business in a really profitable intelligence, smart kind of way. Then go and jump into the website jlanalytics.com.
So if anybody is on the website or on my website, or anywhere you’ll find it in the show notes.
Well yeah, maybe it is time for you to jump start your data.
Thanks so much for joining me Julie, it’s been great to have you on the podcast, I really appreciated your advice. Your very important advice, I think, for a lot of business owners.
Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.