What Critical Metrics Are You Tracking? 10 Tools To Build Your Business Dashboard

“How on earth did we run out of blue widgets???”, screamed Freddy, the agitated fictional boss of Widgets-R-Us.

Ah, I hear you say. Freddy’s fictional firm needs a dashboard tracking all of the critical numbers to keep his business healthy.

To be in control of your business, you need visibility of what’s going on. Too often, as the owner you’re the last person to know when a problem is quietly festering away in the dark recesses of the backrooms.

In this article you’ll learn about dashboards, including 10 tools to build your business dashboard. This will give you more visibility, more control.

The whole point of building a business dashboard is to avoid being caught out by nasty surprises. Over time you can develop it further, adding new measures to give even greater insights into every aspect of your business performance.

In this article, you will see the benefits of using tools to build your business dashboard and gain some insights into where to start, including some which tools might suit you best.

1. What are you trying to measure with your metrics?

Before even thinking about the tools to build your business dashboard, you need to choose what exactly you are going to measure and report on it.

This can be a difficult question, as it is likely that the answer will change over time. One option is to start by gathering everything that could potentially influence performance and then eliminating what isn’t important.

Another useful place to start is to focus on areas where you are already collecting data. For example, if your website is generating revenue or leads and you’re gathering data on this, it’s a good place to start.

Asking your team can also be helpful as people in different parts of your business will have insights into the kind of information they monitor personally to keep things running smoothly.

As a business coach, I believe it’s important to focus on 3 major areas in your business. I call these Cash, Customers and Capacity. They’re the three big ‘wheels’ that have to keep turning well in your business for it to produce the best results.

  • Cash includes the important financial numbers it’s useful for you to monitor. There are some obvious ones, like credit control summary figures (overdue invoice payments), financial performance of business vs targets, whether you are achieving profit margins, and so on.
  • Customers is a broad area describing everything you do to attract and retain business. For your dashboard, you want to be sure that your sales and marketing are operating well, and that you’re not losing customers. So look for stats to help you with this.
  • Capacity describes the team and processes doing the work behind the scenes. If you’re a growing business, you’ll want some kind of capacity indicator to show how much more work you can handle. You may also want to consider tracking things like overtime, stock levels, work throughput speed, and so on. The trick is figuring out what’s most helpful for your business.

In this video, business analytics firm Sisense.com explain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and how to focus on the right data for your business.

2. What data do you need in order to track them?

Try to resist overloading your dashboard with all the information you can possibly add to it. The idea is to be able to quickly identify that it’s all working well, or that there may be a problem.

Your dashboard is not just for you, but for your team as well. Of course, there will be more data in the background, but this is like the dashboard in your car. You need enough information to drive safely and comfortably to your destination, but not every underlying detail of your vehicle’s performance.

When something goes wrong, or is not working quite as it should, your dashboard should indicate there’s a problem so that it can be investigated in more detail.

Include only the most useful information detail that could affect performance on your dashboard.

For example, if you generate a lot of business online, you might track the leads coming in from your website, along with numbers of visitors and conversion rates. If the numbers drop below a target figure, you can investigate by going to the source data. You don’t need the fine details on the dashboard.

3. Why is this important for my business?

Knowing how to measure your metrics will help you make better decisions. It helps with long-term strategy and short term tactics, as well as making it easier to validate results from one decision against the next. By knowing what data you need and when, it becomes much easier to automate reporting so you can focus on your business.

The metrics you track keep you in touch with what’s happening in your business. It’s a bit like tracking the vital signs of a patient in a hospital. You need to be alerted if anything goes wrong.

In the most extreme cases, your dashboard can be the difference between your business surviving and thriving. Knowing that you’ve got a problem building with customers paying late, for example, can alert you to the risk of a future cash flow problem before it becomes a reality.

4. Why You Should Include Both Lead Metrics and Lag Metrics

A metric that alerts you to potential future problems, and allows you to correct the problem before it happens, is a lead metric

A metric that reports the result of something that’s already done is a lag metric. You cannot change the result, it’s just a fact being reported by the measure.

As an example, a surgeon uses pulse and blood pressure to monitor how his patient is doing during an operation. Whether or not the patient is alive at the end of the operation is the result – or the lag metric. Clearly the surgeon must monitor the ‘life-signs’ and react immediately if they are not normal.

Businesses can set up lead and lag metrics, too. Sales activity (number of leads, value of business quoted, number of follow-up calls, etc) would be lead metrics. Sales performance (number of sales, value of sales) are a lag metric.

5. How often should they be collected and analyzed 

Lead metrics should be set up for each critical part of the business, to give you time to react and change course if necessary.

Lag metrics should be collected at sensible intervals to report how the business has performed. Weekly or monthly are typical reporting periods for lag metrics.

Using automation to collect your data and present it will effortlessly maintain the dashboard. Automation is your friend in business – you don’t want to do repetitive work manually if you can get systems to do it for you.

Deciding how much data to collect may depend on what you hope to learn from it – but generally collecting the minimum information you need to run efficiently will keep your life simpler

6. Who will have access to the information 

There will be some data you want to share with everybody in your business, while other information will be strictly limited based on roles and responsibilities.

Publishing sales performance data for every salesperson can be a powerful technique to create a sense of competition between salespeople. Just remember that this will have an impact upon the culture of your business.

In fact, the cultural impact of measuring and publishing data is important. They say that what you measure gets managed. So if you measure the wrong things, you may find your team start to pay attention to aspects of the business that really don’t warrant the effort. You have been warned!

If you’re not comfortable with sharing all metrics within your company, consider segmenting access so that only the people who need to see them get their hands on it.

Some tools may offer a way for you to have different dashboards and give different groups of users access – this can be really helpful if there are certain data points required by specific people/functions in your business that are not for public knowledge.

7. A List of 10 Brilliant Tools to Build Your Business Dashboard 

The tools can be divided into three main groups. These would be tools for…

  • Data sources – these will be the tools you use to run your business
  • Dashboard tool that displays your dashboard report
  • Integration tools – the ‘pipe’ that takes information from data sources and puts them into your dashboard.

We won’t be going through your data sources – I don’t know what they are! You may have information in Google Analytics, accounts software like Sage, Quickbooks or Xero, an email marketing system like Active Campaign, a sales management system like PipeDrive, a Point of Sale system, a manufacturing systems, stock control system and so on. These are the sources for the information you want to summarise and use on your dashboard.

So we’ll focus on the other two – tools to build a dashboard and tools to gather data from your sources. This isn’t a technical guide on how to actually put it together, but an entrepreneur’s high-level view of what’s involved.

Tip: hire people to do this kind of thing for you, unless you’re deeply technical and not focused on business growth.

Options for Your Business Dashboard – From Simple Pens to Tricky Tech

  • Whiteboard! The simplest tool of all for your dashboard is a dry-wipe board that’s manually updated on a regular basis. This is a great way to quickly create a shared view of high-level business data. It’s good for driving culture change and especially powerful as a way to track problems with day to day operations.
  • Google Sheets. The online spreadsheet that’s part of Google Suite, this is probably the simplest way to get your metrics online in a simple dashboard that you can set up for yourself.
  • For those with a smaller business and simple needs, if you want an offline spreadsheet then using good ol’ Microsoft Excel or Numbers on a Mac might be all you need.
  • Google Charts is a set of tools for a developer to add fancy graphs, dials and even maps to build a more visually impressive dashboard for your business.
  • For programmers and technological folks you can build a completely custom dashboard using open-source software. There’s a great list here on github – I particularly like the look of Smashing.

Integration Software – How To Get Data Into Your Business Dashboard

There number of options for gathering data for your dashboard is growing rapidly…

  • Coupler.io pushes data into a Google Sheet from all kinds of useful business sources, including Trello, Hubspot and Xero. It’s designed to be easy to use and there’s a generous free tier that updates up to 50,000 rows every hour. With a bit of creativity, this might be all you need.
  • Zapier.com is the big daddy of integration software, with over 3,000 integrations. It works on the basis of triggers, where a change or data entry makes it spring into action. It can perform calculations and make decisions with data, so you could trigger alerts as well as building a dashboard with it. Just be warned, it can get complex if you want to do calculations with it.
  • Integromat.com is a sophisticated tool that’s probably the main competitor to Zapier. It has a wide range of tools and integrations, and provides functions to transform data with logic and maths.
  • Automate.io has a large user base and appears to be adding integrations on a regular basis. It allows more complex integrations at lower prices than Zapier.
  • Microsoft Power Automate (formerly known as Flow) is the software giant’s attempt to unseat Zapier as the top integration tool. It is powerful and the free plan allows unlimited ‘flow’ creations, which may be useful as you set up your dashboard and figure out which are most useful to you.

Just beware the complexity of choosing overly complicated tools to build your business dashboard. If you can run your business with just 4 or 5 key numbers/indicators, that’s the way to go. Simplicity always beats complexity, as long as you don’t omit critical information.

8. Why is this important for your business?

Business dashboards can help you monitor the health of your business in one place. You get the peace of mind of seeing everything important at a glance. And by developing metrics to track areas of concern, it is easy to spot trends, obtain shared commitment to changing things, and improve the business in a more collaborative way.

Posted in

Lee Duncan

Lee Duncan is the author of "Double Your Business: How to Break Through The Barriers to Higher Growth, Turnover and Profit", from Financial Times Publishing. He teaches the owners of small to medium businesses how to make more profit and enjoy more free time.

Leave a Comment