I've always been pretty good at collecting important business data. This year it's really been getting under my skin though. I collect and save all kinds of information that most small businesses don't: Customer stuff particularly. I've always liked to know as much about my customers as I possibly can. So I diligently keep records of multiple email addresses, physical contact info, complete buying and refund histories, complete support/q&a/etc contact records, and so on. If a long term customer had a baby 3 years ago, I probably have it noted down in my database
The problem is, I've never fully automated all of this information. And for over 10 years I've collected it all into systems that weren't overly easy to use because they weren't designed for my needs. (Most small business software assumes clients, time tracking and invoices)
Sure I could look at a customer record and see they'd bought 50 products from me in the last 10 years, but if I wanted to know how much total money they'd spent? I'd have to break out the caculator. Same for knowing the total income for the year from one specific product. And when new customers come into the mix, adding them to the system was at least 20-50% manual too.
Now this caused my systems to suffer. I'd put off adding new customer records until they piled up too high, then I'd spend hours catching up.
Financial data specifically has been my weakest point over the years. I sit down before taxes each year and import almost the entire year's worth of data into my accounting software, then I spend a marathon several days categorizing everything and getting it all sorted so I can take care of the tax paperwork.
This year though... for at least 6 months or so... I've noticed myself getting more and more annoyed with the way I had things set up. It just was not working well at all for me anymore. I think my biggest problem was the financial stuff. I was keeping track of sales and income via email - the Payment notification emails from PP and CB - but I was also getting slammed super hard with spam. So I started looking into ways I could move my email into a web based support system that would help clear out spam a little more automatically, and maybe put some more automation into my customer tracking systems too so that I could have up to the minute info when I wanted it.
For the record: I purposely don't use spam filters in email because that risks losing new customer information and/or prospect inquiries. Existing customers also change email addresses over the years, so I don't want to risk deleting them without even knowing it.
In any case, I've been concentrating on automating a LOT of stuff the past couple of years, so it seemed like a natural progression for me to automate my incoming email flow. So I've been looking hard at a lot of the top web based support systems out there and I realized why I hadn't gone this route sooner: Like my offline programs, the existing online ones are limiting. I haven't found one yet for example, that keeps track of sales data automatically as well as support/inquiries/etc. And most of them still seem to have a lot of manual "extras" that may or may not be useful.
Now I know the type of end product I'm looking for will take tons of work. I've actually been brainstorming it and putting small pieces into place for years now, but until recently I hadn't done any of the larger pieces. Getting fed up with my email based system got my butt into gear though, and I finally sat down and put an IPN system into place.
I started by automating the PayPal sales data. Then I created a system to import historical sales data for the year, and next I plan to create the ClickBank IPN.
Just that little bit that I've done so far though is really amazing! I knew for example, that the first quarter of this year was not good at all financially, but I didn't realize just how bad it was till I was able to see the month to month gross and net totals on one page. I knew I paid fees for each transaction processed at PayPal, but I had no clue just how much those add up over a day, month, or year.
I can now look at a list of products and see the total gross/net sales each has had for the year. I can look at customer totals, refund totals, fee totals, etc etc.
I have my overview page set to refresh every 30 minutes automatically, so I am now always up to date on exactly how things are going financially. And this is a huge difference for me. Previously I'd simply look at my account balances and do a quick mental calculation as to what's coming in or going out in the next few days/weeks/months, and that was fine for making sure bills were paid but it came no where near letting me know how business was doing.
It's really amazing what I've learned just by using a small bit of all that data too. After putting another piece of the system into place this morning I was able to see within seconds that I've made more money than I ever realized from my stock photography. And it was also painfully clear that I've been wasting my time with certain types of products. I think I'm in infomining heaven today
I started this thread because I'm happy and wanted to share, but I'm also curious about the norms in this industry. Am I really that lazy and unorganized or is this fairly standard for most?
Do you track your financial data well? Do you "keep your finger on the pulse" really closely or do you just update things here and there when you have to?
Do you have any idea what your gross and net business income is so far this month? Last month? Do you know *exactly* which products/services/customers bring in the most money?
I've heard/read for years (paraphrasing) "Successful people know the exact state of their finances at all times" - and now I think I'm finally beginning to understand