View From the Trenches

Written by Dennis Riley

February 3, 2022

I remember April 1994 like it was yesterday. It was the start of my journey as an Entrepreneur. Everything was brand new and I had absolutely no clue on what was ahead of me. All I had was a skillset as a computer programmer and an analytical brain. I also had ZERO clue on how to be a business owner. 

I did have a client and I was ready to go.

I was in the Entrepreneur trenches. The analogy of trenches is similar to the trenches soldiers used in past wars. You tried to get as close to the enemy as possible but you needed to be protected from the ensuing battle. As an entrepreneur, you are not battling an enemy but a marketplace. And the trench you dig keeps you in business. It needs to be strong enough to handle the strong winds and storms of the marketplace but it also needs to be portable because when the marketplace shifts, you need to shift with it. And like the enemy in war, the fire can come from all directions.

Over the years as my skill set grew, my trenches became stronger and more portable. I grew as a business owner and I became a business strategist. I took what I had learned and I was helping other small business owners navigate their journey while also navigating mine.

Every failure or missed opportunity we had along the way produced so many lessons which becomes chapters in the journey’s book of experience. Each chapter can be looked up when a similar situation happens and you can use your experience to find your way. That’s what 28+ years as a business owner does for you. You have that experience that you never forget. This experience gives you an edge when problems arise. You had a go-to source.

And then March 2020 hits…

Who knew that a government had the power to just pull the plug one day and everything stops. And who knew that plugging the power cord back in would last not minutes or hours but so much longer. And the landscape became totally different.

Suddenly I felt like I was back in the exact same trench that I was in 1994 when starting out. Everything seemed unfamiliar. Normally, I could just go back to the experience playbook I had. But there wasn’t a chapter on this situation. 

I needed to adapt both in my business and helping my clients adapt. Some survived while others didn’t. My main goal in 2020 went from growth to just trying to survive. I instinctively went back to what I know best… data. Just like humans, a business has a DNA and the DNA of a business is its data. Find all the sources of data in a business and dig deep. 

Even though I have done this exercise before, the results and the experience this time were different… the data was different… the data sources were different. New data points had to be determined. The ending results became different. This also meant the strategies and systems needed to change.

And thus my trench changed to adapt to the new environment. Some serious hits were taken in 2020 but I survived and so did many of my clients. My data digging really built the strong foundation I needed.

So how do you do a deep data dig? You gather all the data you can about the current state of your business and the data that affects your business. 

The following areas are the most common places to find your data.

  • Financial
  • Sales
  • Leads
  • Customer
  • Competition
  • Social Media
  • Website
  • Internal Data

Look at all of these areas. If you have never dug deep in every one of these areas before, it can be a daunting task. But a worthwhile exercise and it is an eye opener. It could easily be the difference between your business barely surviving or thriving. The object is to collect the data and then determine what are your most important data points also known as Key Performance Indicators (KPI). There are many definitions to what a KPI is but I like using the following definition:

If a data point moves in any direction and it causes a shift in your business, then it is a KPI. 

Some KPIs are global no matter what industry you are in. Some are specific to an industry and some are specific to a business. Your final list of KPIs to your business will be unique to you. It is your business DNA. One size does NOT fit all. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to put a square peg into a round hole. You will only know once you do this data dig.

The data will form patterns and those patterns will allow you see where you were, where you are and can predict your near future. 

If you don’t like where the data is going, you need to adjust aspects in your business. This is where the strategy and systems come into play. It is all part of being in the tenches.

Once you have done this data dig, it is wise to create a data dashboard. This is a whole separate topic that I have a lot to say on but I want to keep this article manageable 🙂

We are 1 month short of the start of year 3 since March of 2020. How is the view from your trench as an owner? Is it clear or very cloudy. If it is cloudy, how well do you know the current DNA of your business?

If you haven’t done the deep data dig exercise in the last 2 years, you are well overdue! If you haven’t revisited the data dig in 2021, you are still overdue. 

If you need help with this data dig, let me know. I have 28+ years in data and it is something I am very passionate about and it shows in the results I get for my clients. 

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