In this interview, we’ll review how you can use data metrics like time-tracking, profit, and basic financial reports to make better business decisions…WITHOUT wasting hours pulling reports filled with vanity metrics.
The best part? Starting simple is 100% okay.
⭐ Our guest in this interview is Susan Boles of ScaleSpark. You can learn more about Susan, ScaleSpark, and her new “Not Rocket Finance” program by visiting https://processdriven.co/meet/ScaleSpark
⭐We’ll be using Susan’s insights to help build some processes in Use our ClickUp affiliate link! around metrics and KPI tracking in ClickingUp, our learning community later this month. Join the conversation at https://processdriven.co/#services
Video Blog Post
What follows is an AI-generated transcript from this video. Please be mindful that this transcript may not be 100% accurate.
We are here with Susan Bolls, we’re going be talking all about metrics and tracking and data-y stuff. Susan, thanks so much for joining me. Yeah, thanks for having me.
Do you mind introducing yourself for the people who have not been blessed by your presence yet in the past?
Sure. So I’m Susan Bolls. I’m a virtual CFO for primarily agencies, coaches, consultants. So I work really just with service business owners and we work on finance and operations strategy.
Where does in your mind, data and metrics, stuff like when I think of you, I greatly associate that with you in your zone of genius. Like, how does that fit into that work?
For me, that is the foundation of that work. All of the work we do with setting up financial systems and operations systems and thinking about how we are approaching those, is through the lens of how do we get data that we can use to make better decisions in our business, because that’s really the goal, is being able to make good decisions because our decisions matter. Yeah, the decisions we make as business owners, they matter. And eventually every decision you make ends up in your finances. Your finances will tell you.
Did you make a good decision? Did you not make a good decision? Eventually it all ends up there, but you can only actually figure out if it was a good decision or a bad decision if you actually have some data. So the point of setting up systems, the point of coming up with the the finance and the operational strategy is to be able to give you really solid, accurate, real time data so that when you’re trying to make a decision about what you should do next in your business, you can go, OK, great. What does the data say? Oh, OK. Much easier decision.
How do you even start tracking things beforehand? How do you know what to track?
So you’re not tracking necessarily things beforehand. What you’re doing is using historical information, historical data to kind of make a much more educated guess about what is going to happen in the future. So one of the decisions that happens pretty commonly is like, hey, should I hire a new team member or can I afford to make X investment in my business? Well, if you have good financial systems and you’ve got a cash flow projection tool that you use, you can plop in your numbers and say, here’s the investment here.
I know what sales I’ve got kind of contracted coming in. And you go, great, cool. Yeah, I don’t have enough money for that. I can’t make that decision or yeah, totally fine. Go ahead and do it. And so that’s one example where you’re not necessarily tracking data from the future. You are using information that you know.
So you know what the investment costs, you know what you know what sales you have contracted to come in. And so you can use that kind of information along with like historical overhead or historic, what’s your historical expenses tend to be and give you a pretty good picture of what’s going to happen based off of that decision. So there’s a lot of different ways you can can use it. That’s probably the most common example of like if we’re making decisions, understanding how that’s going to affect your cash flow is very important.
Yeah, I would imagine. Something that I feel like on the process side of things I’m always talking about is that a process is separate of the technology you’re putting it in. It’s kind of this thinking, is there that separation on the data side? Because when I hear data, my mind immediately goes to like, oh, this fuzzy stuff that some big tech company takes care of and it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. And I’m a small business owner. How does how does that how does that divide happen? Do you need fancy technology to do this stuff? If not, how do you kind of start now?
No, so for most businesses, you know, like like you’re saying, the data is scary. It seems very intimidating. And for the most part, the most actionable data is super simple. So things like, am I using my time effectively? That’s a really easy metric to track because all you have to do is use track your time and you can use a lot of technology for that. There’s great time tracking tools. ClickUp has some time tracking tools. TOGGLE is another really good one that I like using. But, time, Tracking Your Time is one of those pieces of data that, when combined with other things like financial metrics, can tell you a lot. So one of one of the examples I use is talking about profit per project style.Right. OK, so profit per hour per project. So how much profit? How much are you actually taking home from this project after all of your expenses are covered per hour that you’re working with a client or working with a project type. And if that requires that you’re tracking profit and time and that’s it, that’s all you have to track is profit and time and you have to track it towards a specific project type or towards a specific client. But those aren’t very complicated or difficult pieces of data to actually get. But when you start combining, thinking, think like different revenue streams, so say you have, you know, this kind of project and this kind of project and this kind of project, and you are tracking your profit per each revenue stream per hour.
You can actually tell which ones are more profitable, which ones are better projects to focus on. Maybe this one’s way more profitable than this one. And so you can decide, well, cool. I’m either, they’re not going to sell this one or I’m going to go figure out a way to deliver this more efficiently so it’s more profitable. But you have a lot of information that’s really actionable from just a little bit of data that’s not that complicated.
When I am talking to business owners and we’re trying to figure out like what kind of data do you need? The part that I start with, as always, what questions do you want to know about your business that you can’t answer right now? That’s the starting point, is what do you want to know that you don’t know right now? And then you can track that back to, OK, great. What information do I need to have now to be able to answer that question?
And then how do I how do I collect that data? Maybe that’s a system, maybe that’s a technology. Maybe it’s just at the end of the week, you write down your time on a piece of paper. You know, it doesn’t have to be super complicated. Technology makes a lot of this much more efficient and quicker. Yeah, but it always starts with what do you wish you knew that you don’t know right now.
And that’s a great way to think about it, because I’m going to tie this back to ClickUp because that’s where I spend a lot of my time is working with people in ClickUp. And when we’re looking at dashboards, I kind of take a similar approach. But what I find with dashboards, which is probably something people are also asking on metrics, is in dashboards, for example, you have so many pieces of data in ClickUp you can pull from. And when it comes to this whole metric tracking, there are so many things I could be tracking in my business. Maybe you’ve experienced the same. I know people who have been tracking hundreds of metrics. And they’ve been tracking hundreds of metrics, and that’s as far as it goes, how do you kind of focus that energy? So it’s actually actionable and not just overwhelming amounts of information.
So I tend actually to track a lot less than most people. It’s interesting, we were in a discussion, a group discussion a week or so ago when we were talking about what everybody tracks. And you’re right, there were people that are like, I track this and this and this and this and this and this. And I’m like I track like three pieces of data. Like I track profit per client per hour. I track profit per revenue stream per hour. I look at my overall kind of profitability metrics. So I look at, you know, basic financial metrics.
And then I look at like, am I using my time effectively? That’s about it, because if you’re looking at a ton of data, not probably taking action on any of those things, you’re probably just tracking the data for the point of tracking the data. For me, I’m only going to bother to track the data if it’s something that I want to take action on or I need to be able to make a decision.
So those are kind of the metrics I track regularly. I’m usually tracking what I call like a North Star metric is it’s a very common SaaS, like I think it came out of the SaaS industry where it’s one metric. What is the one thing that you care about right now that you are you know, normally it’s tied to whatever you’re focused on. So what, what’s your one North Star that you’re going to pay attention to and consistently work on improving. So normally what I have is I’ve kind of got my my four or five like base level finance and really it’s an effectiveness measure and I like to be able to go great, those were great clients. I’ll go get more of those or that was a great project. I’ll go get more of those kind of projects. But then I normally have one that I’m kind of like experimenting with or focusing on. So I’ll have metrics where I kind of turn them on, pay attention to them until it’s improved to the point where I’m OK and then I’ll switch it out and focus on something else.
Oh, I love that. So you’re not feeling the need that I just I picture. So I mean, Google Analytics, I think most of us have you going to Google Analytics and you’re looking at it. It’s just like but I love the idea of just focusing down on one because then you can really start pulling the lever and seeing what happens to that one lever.
The idea of you focus on one thing, you really streamline or really get that one thing nailed down and then move on to the next thing. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t come back eventually at some point and measure your first thing again if you want to improve it again. But it’s it’s an iterative process and more metrics doesn’t necessarily mean better.
How do you make this a practice for yourself? Because it sounds to me like this is I mean, as much as it’s like it sounds easy because you’ve got these few things to focus on. You have to actually go in there, I assume, and look at these numbers or pull these numbers or I don’t know if it’s automated for you or if you’re still pulling numbers from different sources manually. How do you make this a practice for yourself? And how, what does that look like?
So I have a few kind of habits that I have developed. So I have Money Use our Monday.com affiliate link!, which is where I’m doing like I do my bookkeeping, and it also happens to be one of my client’s bookkeeping. Monday is the day where I go in and I do financial stuff. So there’s some stuff that I’m looking at weekly, though not as much weekly. Weekly, I’m just making sure that the data is in there. So if for some reason at that point I need to go answer a question, it’s accurate. I don’t have to go step through and update six months worth of bookkeeping to be able to answer a financial question. My financial system I used to grow. It’s set up using tracking categories and tracking categories, and zero, work kind of like tags.
So tags in ClickUp works very similarly where you can essentially tag a transaction and say it’s for this. So I have my different revenue streams set up with tags so I can say, you know, this income is for this tag, this expenses for this tag, and that allows me to run a profit and loss statement very easily. I can do each one side by side by tag like. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So it basically creates a profit and loss statement that says, here’s this revenue stream, here’s this revenue stream, here’s this revenue stream and the profit percentages at the bottom. So it’s really quick side by side. It takes me if my bookkeeping is up to date, it takes me up about four seconds and I can look and go, oh yeah, here’s a report for me. But I already built and I can go, cool. Everything looks good and usually do that, so when I’m comparing each revenue stream, unless something really weird is happening, all normally do it about once a quarter.
Overall profitability, I’m looking at once a month and I have a reminder in ClickUp that says go do, go pay attention, go look at your monthly month end bookkeeping and check your, your metrics. So for all the financial stuff, it’s set up in zero for me to really quickly get at. The profit per client per project type and sorry, profit per hour per client and profit per hour per project type that stuff, I have in an Excel spreadsheet and I normally go in and update at about once every six months so that, you know, this isn’t something that I have to do all the time.
I’m tracking my time and toggle and I am paying attention to that. Usually at the end of the week, I’ll be like, oh, yeah, how’d I do? That’s a lot of blank space. OK, great. I’m like, Oh, I forgot to check there.
Oh, yeah, it’s it’s easier said than done even when, you know, you’re supposed to be doing it.
Even when I know I’m doing it. I will also when I’m like really focused on being very effective, I’ll really focus on tracking my time for a week or two and then back off on it. So I’m I am pretty good about consistently tracking time for clients. I am less stringent about tracking internal work time, so, yeah, about once every six months to a year. I will go in and update you know, here, the new clients, here’s how much time I spent in the Excel spreadsheet and pay attention to them that way, because that’s one where it doesn’t it’s good information, it doesn’t you don’t have to look at it every day. Yeah.
Some of the other practices I have are that I do a weekly review at the end of every week and that’s focusing a little bit more on qualitative data. So, you know, what are three things that work.
I think we need to pause here and explain the difference. So qualitative, quantitative, give us the basics.
So quantitative is numbers, essentially that’s, you know, what is your profit per hour or what is your overall profit?
Qualitative is like the fuzzy, mushy data. That’s also nothing like I’m a quantitative person, like I like quantitative data. But qualitative data tells you a lot of the story of what’s happening. So I like having a mix. So at the end, on every Friday, I will sit down and I’ll write basically three things that I did that week that worked and what that might mean. Three things that didn’t work and what that might mean. And I will, say what what things do I need to take responsibility for or take action on next week, that didn’t work and what do I need to take action on for things that did work?
And and it’s just a time for reflection on, and really analyzing what’s going on in your business. And over time, that allows you to start seeing trends. So our brains are basically like big supercomputers. The more data that you put in, the better quality data you get out, the better you get at kind of seeing trends, seeing patterns, all of those things. And by kind of having this consistent touchpoint, I can see what’s happening over time in my business, that’s not numbers.
It’s me saying, wow, I’m really not taking enough breaks or, hey, you know, I did I reached out to a whole bunch of people this week and that totally worked. And here’s what I did and here’s what made it easier. And that is kind of the mushy qualitative data that isn’t necessarily metrics, but is still really good data about how you’re working and what’s working. That’s all of my that’s all the things I track.
Oh, that’s so good. So I’m listening to this and I’m reflecting back on that whole phrase of brains are for processing information and not for storing it. And it sounds like to just deconstruct that latter habit. It’s almost like you have this download time where you’re like, all right, I have this data stored in my head. I’m going to put it into this system or this spreadsheet or whatever, and I’m then going to ClickUp. Is it where that where it’s at?
Yeah, I have like a bullet journal style thing using custom fields.
In ClickUp, so I actually have one too.
I feel like this is something that we’re going to need to swap notes on one of these times.
I just I got it from Marie Pullens like I was watching her Notion video and I was like, that’s cool. I could totally do that and ClickUp I will do so.
Well, at the time of recording this, we just recently did a habit tracker in ClickUp in the ClickingUp community and now I’m like, oh, journal part two.
But what’s fun about that is you’re downloading pieces of it and then when you’ve got a fresh brain, you’re going back and doing the analysis basically because you have it out of your head. So it’s not stored in there. So you can actually see it outside of yourself because I feel like would I just think back on how was last week? It was fine two weeks before that, oh it was fine.
You forget.You totally forget the like the details and the nuances of what you did or how you spent your time or what worked and what didn’t. And by doing it kind of in real time, you get to keep that information and then look back and say, Huh, OK, I didn’t I worked way too much. That didn’t work. I kept making notes about how that didn’t work. How can I adjust, how I’m scheduling or how can I adjust, what’s, what’s happening to make this better?
My my focus with data and really systems is always how can we make this better? Like, I can’t turn that part of my brain off. It’s always how can we make it better?
You work a lot with obviously business owners, but also teams as well. So there’s like agencies that you’ve worked with in larger organizations. How does this kind of stuff translate to when you’re not the owner? So if I’m the number two or if I’m the fifth employee, does this approach change at all when you’re trying to get other people who don’t have that business owner mindset to contribute? Or is it more or less the same?
Yes, and, sometimes not yes. So as the business owner, you have things that you care about for the big picture of the business and those are things that you can set and you can say, hey, this is what we’re doing. This is how we’re tracking these things are important. And here’s why they’re important.
Like, that’s the piece that usually gets missed is usually, hey we’re tracking this and people are like, OK, whatever, or work or work for me. Where if you can communicate why it’s really important that they provide data or that they buy into the system and you can show them how it impacts them, how it impacts the health of the business, how it makes their job easier.
You know, all of that is rolled into change management, rolled into kind of getting people to buy into this, is you kind of have to sell it to them. You have to communicate why, why it’s important for them, not why it’s important for you or for your business, why it’s important for them.
And so kind of big picture if you’re the business owner, that’s where the focus is. But that doesn’t mean that as a project manager or as somebody within the agency, you can’t track your own metrics.
You can still track and measure whatever you want because it’s your job. And if it’s information that helps you do things better or do things more efficiently, have at it. So I am normally working with the business owner, so we’re normally looking at how much we’re looking at the big picture stuff of, primarily how do we create a financially sustainable, financially healthy company.
And sometimes that involves operational information. Sometimes it’s financial information. But as somebody who also spent a long time being a data analyst and not in charge of things. Measure things that help you be better. And that’s really what it comes down to, is if you have questions about how, really if you have a question, go find some data and measure it. That’s always my answer, is what does the data say? And if you if the answer to that is I don’t I don’t know. Well, go figure out how you might measure it. It doesn’t always have to be quantitative. It can be qualitative, like reflects at the end of every week on what went well, what didn’t go well.
So I’m hearing this, and to me, I’m thinking about, all right, an action item for anyone watching this is to think about the main question or questions you have about future decisions, whatever your future is looking like and trying to, you know, that inflection point you’re at of deciding, should I go here or should I go there? The fork in the road, what questions are going to help you feel sure about which path is the right to take?
So one of the things that I try to consistently do is when I’m making a decision, so if I’ve made an investment in my business or I am thinking about taking a new path at the point where I start, I sit down and I go, OK, great, what would success look like? And sometimes that’s, you know, sometimes that’s a financial return. Sometimes it’s, you know, visibility. So there’s a lot of different ways you can look at what would the return or what would the success be.
But I think about, you know, if I were going to look back in six months and say, yeah, that was a success, how would I be measuring that? And then at the beginning, if you’re thinking, you know, you’re thinking six months down the road, what would success look like? Well, what do you need to measure to be able to evaluate based off of that, whatever you decided success looked like, what information are you going to need to be able to tell you, successful or not, and start tracking that now.
So it’s really hard to go back and get data for the past. So the earlier on in the process, you can decide what you need to be measuring. The better off you are because you have time to collect that data to figure out, you know, what’s actually going on. It’s hard to say great, I need to answer this question and I need this data. And I needed to have been tracking it for the last year in order to give me the answer now. You can always start tracking it once you realize it, but it’s always easier to say at the beginning of a project, what is success going to look like for me and what do I need to measure to be able to say success, not success.
And then you can start tracking at the point of time that you’re making that decision and then at the end, you go back and you say, you know, I decided that success was going to look like an increase in revenue of 20 percent. I’m going to evaluate that at six months from now and set a reminder and say, cool, go go check in and see how it was, because you need that there needs to be a feedback loop.
When you’re making a decision, you need the feedback loop of that worked, that didn’t, because of the what you don’t know. So if you don’t touch it, touch base at the end and actually evaluate it, you don’t get that feedback loop saying good decision, bad decision, because that’s how we learn. So there’s kind of the beginning, which is what does success look like, what do I need to track. A middle where you’re actually tracking and then the end where you’re actually using that data to evaluate how that decision went. So you can use that information to make a better decision the next time around. Or maybe you get to the end like, oh, I didn’t check the data I needed to track. I actually need to track this thing the next time around.
But it’s kind of it sounds like it’s a real balancing act between you don’t want to track too much, but it’s hard to go back and track things. So you really want to make sure you get the right question first.
Get the right question, figure out what you need to track. And it’s a it’s an evolution. You know, it’s a lot like workflow and making workflow more efficient. It’s an evolution, you start something, you test it out. You see if it works, you modify. You know, metrics are very similar. It’s very iterative, and what happens normally is when you start with no data and you get a little bit of data, that little bit of data says, OK, great. Now I have the answer to that question. But actually now I want to know this other question. And so you go start tracking the next thing, and so more data usually leads to more questions, which leads to more data.
Which is just sounds so fun to me but it’s probably giving some people nightmares right now.
But the point is to keep it simple and only bother to measure stuff that matter. Don’t measure stuff that doesn’t matter. If Google Analytics stresses you out, and analyzing what’s happening in there doesn’t affect any decision you make. Let it run in the background and collect data and completely ignore it. It doesn’t matter until it does.
Right. And all of this stuff that we’re talking about here, I mean, the collection of data might be a tool that’s running in the background, like your bookkeeping software or Google analytics in this case. But these other things, it sounds to me like from what you’re finding that works, a simple spreadsheet, a table. Right, with a metric going down this way and dates or weeks or months going across. I mean, that’s is that enough time to get started?
Absolutely, this does not have to be complicated. If you are not a spreadsheet person, get a piece of paper and write it down on your piece of paper. You know, the goal here is, yeah, there’s a lot of overlap between the metrics and the workflow process. You know, workflow process, it can start with a just a paper checklist. You know, it doesn’t have to be technology. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Same thing with metrics. Write tick marks on a piece of paper, if that’s what works for you. And that’s, you know, and you’ll remember to do it. That is enough.
In your day to day, right? You don’t get the joy of only working with data all of the time at this point. You’re wearing often a CFO hat, from what I understand. And you’re teaching people more about finance, about data. How do kind of, you know, if when you’re in more of a financial role, how does your data analyst background like how does that inform how you’re teaching about a PNL? I mean, does the conversation look different than what someone might expect if I just read like a quick books blog article about how they talk about finances?
Yeah, absolutely. So I’m a little bit unusual in that I came into being a CFO from a background of software consulting and data analytics, so I accidentally backed into being an accountant. It was never intentional. I backed into it by way of financial systems, essentially.
So for me, when I am approaching financial data, I am looking at it as data. It is information that should be there, organized in a way to help you make decisions. Yeah, it’s there to file your taxes. Yes, the IRS requires it, but from a business owners perspective, all you really care about is what does this tell me about what I should do in my business? That’s that is the part that business owners care about.
Accountants tend to care about the new you know, it’s a PNL and it needs to be, you know, accurate. And that’s what they care about. They care about it being accurate. Business owners care about how do I use this? Which is why you see it very commonly that the accountants are using QuickBooks and the business owners are pulling information manually out of QuickBooks to create some sort of actionable something so they can make decisions. That happens all the time. And it’s because most of them are coming to it from the perspective of a business owner, which is how do I use this information in an actionable way?
So, yeah, I totally come to it from a very different perspective, from pretty much every accountant out there which is coming to it from a human business owners perspective. And how can we use this in a way that makes sense.
Right, exactly. And so your focus as that virtual CFO hat is the strategic information you can pull out of financial numbers combined with some other things, it sounds like along the line to answer those questions that you mentioned before.
So I just want to wrap us up here with just kind of a general question. If someone was looking, if they’re listening to this and they’re like, oh, my gosh, Susan, I don’t know what language you’re speaking, but I need to learn it. How do people get in touch with you? How do they work with you? Kind of, what’s it look like over at Scale Spark?
Yeah. So at Scale Spark. I have kind of three different ways you can work with me. I would say for the most part, most people are going to start with my new course called Not Rocket Finance, which is basically the information for people who don’t speak accountant. So if you are one of those people that we just said cash flow and PNL and all of these things that you were like, so I’ve heard that before. I don’t really understand what you guys are talking about, but I also don’t necessarily want to raise my hand and be like, hey, I don’t know what that is. That’s what Not Rocket Finance is there for. It’s basically business owner finance, Cliff Notes in human speak. So that’s kind of the way most people interact.
I have a group, a group learning experience, I guess is probably the best way to describe it, called Think Like a CFO that’s designed to once you kind of understand the language of finances, you understand all of those terms and kind of concepts. We talk about the nuances, the OK, I understand what a cash flow statement is, how do I actually use that information? So helping people figure out how to collect and interpret all of those data points in their business and use those to make decisions. And then you can always work with me one on one where I’m just doing all of that for you.
I’m just like, hey, here’s what you should do. The that’s that’s the serious depression. Well, I love it.
And like even the names about it, it’s all about changing the way that you’re actually thinking about these things, understanding not just the key words that you need to Google to fall down the YouTube rabbit hole of trying to figure it out. But how do you actually digest that information in a way that does something?
Yeah, the goal is always to help you make better decisions and sometimes that’s fine and sometimes that’s operations. But you can’t learn how to use the system until you understand the fundamental values of the system.
I just want to say thank you so much for joining me on here for those of you who are watching this video. I just want to add that we’re taking all of this good stuff from Susan, not only giving you all these resources so you can stay connected with her, but if you are a member of ClickingUp, you’re going to see this content kind of help guide some of the work we’re doing inside ClickUp to build out maybe some KPI tracking of our own. Thank you so much for joining me, Susan.
Yeah, thanks for having me. This was fun.