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Don’t Let One Bad KPI Destroy Your 20 Mile March

What’s more painful: (1) A business that stresses you out because it’s shrinking or (2) a business that causes you some pain because it’s growing? I’ll take Problem Number 2 any day of the week — within reason. And yes, we’ve experienced growing pains here at ChannelE2E and back at our previous businesses.

One of our most recent growing pains popped up over the New Year holiday weekend. At the time, our website was hosted in a third-party data center that was suffering from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Scores of businesses went dark during the DDoS attacks. We suffered a brief outage. As we read about the scope of the ongoing DDoS attacks, we decided to have our SaaS provider move us from one IaaS provider to another.

The overall results have been good but there have been some bumps along the way. A misconfigured IP address gave us a brief hiccup. And more recently, our daily newsletter has hit a hiccup.

Basically, our newsletter is stitched together using multiple cloud services. When we shifted cloud server providers, communications between each of our cloud-based newsletter components started acting a bit funky. Now, our developers and our SaaS provider are giving the situation a closer look. In the meantime, we’re tackling newsletter distribution in more of a manual way.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

I could fret about the hiccup. I could call our SaaS provider and fume about the issue — which will surely be a temporary one. Or I can step back and remember that all of us need to focus on a 20-mile march, as best-selling author Jim Collins puts it.

So what is the bigger picture here? As I navigate a few help desk tickets between our SaaS provider and our developer, I glance over at our KPI (key performance indicator) dashboard. On the content and community front, every one of our KPIs (page views, visits, visitors, organic search, etc.) is showing very strong double-digit growth so far in January 2016 vs the pace we set in December 2015. Moreover, each of those monthly KPIs has been in the green since our launch in September. And on the business development front, Amy Katz has once again developed a sustainable growth model that’s high-value to our sponsors.

Growth. Ain’t. Easy.

Still, I know managing growth isn’t easy. When I hear from MSPs or VARs that talk about maintaining double-digit growth I always pause to say “congratulations” before peppering them with questions.

My first question typically involves “How?” Or more specifically:

  • How did you build a machine that generates this type of growth?
  • How do you keep the machine primed to maintain or perhaps even accelerate that growth?

Well, Since You Asked…

The responses can typically be lumped into these six categories:

1. Measure Everything — as master IT CEO J. Michael Drake has often told me since about 2008. The idea is to compete against your own KPIs to make sure your current business is outperforming your business from last month and last year. Amy has always been a master of this on the financial side of our businesses. She always knows her numbers and what they mean when placed in proper context. I’ve only become good at this in the past couple of years or so on the content and community side of our businesses.

2. Compete Against Yourself — This is closely related to what Drake is saying. Sure, it’s OK to be aware of your rivals and what they’re up to. But be obsessed about your own customers, your own business, your own KPIs and your own market opportunities. Or as Forrester Research puts it: Benchmark against your biggest competitor — yourself!

3. Be the Best At What You Do: For me, that involves listening to the IT channel ecosystem, triangulating what I’m hearing and then sharing it with you in an organized manner that actually provides some value to your business. For Amy, that means being in constant contact with our sponsors, learning about their short- and long-term goals, and then aligning our services with those goals.

4. Automate and Delegate Everything Else: When Amy and I decided to build another media business we began with this Mantra: “If you can’t automate it then don’t do it.” A prime example: During our previous company launch, we used to spend about two hours per week piecing together a once-weekly newsletter. This time around, we built a 90-percent automated newsletter process that requires about 20 minutes of total work per week — while increasingly the distribution frequency by 5X.

But sometimes, quite frankly, automation breaks. A bug in our newsletter automation popped up when we changed servers amid those DDoS attacks. As a stop-gap we’ve been sending the daily newsletter using a manual process. But that’s not forever. We’ve delegated the problem to the folks we trust: Our developers and our SaaS provider.

5. Marry Change Management With DevOps: During our previous businesses, we made multiple site changes on the fly. It was a high risk/high reward strategy. Readers and sponsors often loved the changes and innovations. But some of the changes, quite frankly, blew up our production cloud server(s) back in the day.

With ChannelE2E we’re still taking risks — but in a more calculated way. We spent about six months building the site — hidden behind a firewall — in gradual stages (coding sprints). We locked down the overall code base around August 2015 before actually deciding to launch the site and telling anyone about it in September 2015.

Once the site went live, we continued to add new enhancements (have you seen our rather comprehensive ChannelE2E Technology Event Calendar)? But each enhancement was done in a controlled way — so that we could test the enhancement’s impact on the site, and roll back the change instantly if it mucked up the system.

6. It Can’t All Be Green: Remember, the overall trajectory of your business should be climbing up and to the right — whether it’s revenue, profits, customer satisfaction or something else. But as you monitor your various KPIs don’t freak out if one of them turns from green to red. Instead, make sure the overall business is still gaining momentum and altitude, and delegate the red KPI to somebody who’s got the skills to make it green again.

Like I stated in the opening: Growth isn’t easy. But it’s far better than the alternative.

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