Measuring business success: 5 ideas beyond revenue

How do you determine if your company is succeeding if you take the top line out of the equation?

By Bethany Chambers, Digital Operations Manager

The bottom line spells a company’s success or failure, and to generate a profit at a healthy margin, you’ll need to have revenue streams that are robust and growing. Those are the facts. But what if you were asked to look beyond those figures to determine whether your team, division or company are on the right track? Where would you turn?

Let’s look to experts in the publishing industry — and Warren Buffett — for insight into what makes a company successful.

Other financial factors

A public company’s earnings or return on equity are fairly standard assessment tools. That won’t be an option for privately held companies, but book value calculated on comparables is.

In the publishing industry we also look at page yield, market share and growth rates as go-to statistics.

Eric Shanfelt, founder of eMedia Strategist, has 20 years of experience with business-to-business (B2B), consumer and book publishers and is a staunch advocate of focusing on top-line growth.

“You can’t separate success from revenue. Without revenue, you won’t have a company, employees, jobs or customers,” he says.

I would argue, though, that this hypothetical is a rare opportunity to look past the obvious financials to assess microdata and, more importantly, to get to know the people who determine if your company survives and thrives.

KPIs by department

Roberta Muller, senior vice president for product development & digital production for B2B publisher Northstar Travel Media, points out that quantifying digital and print success can be a difficult comparison, so she suggests looking to key performance indicators (KPIs) at a product level.

“Were our projects on time and on budget? There’s a lot beyond revenue,” she says.

That can be a big help in calculating return on investment in one emerging product group: social media. In social, KPIs abound, from the simplest followers or mentions to the more complicated sentiment and conversions.

Finally having a tool to measure any project that takes a lot of time and creativity is a success of its own.

Employee happiness

At North Coast Media, we talk a lot about people-powered publishing. A successful team is only as strong as its weakest link — and that means providing a supportive and engaging environment that has something for everyone, from new hires to industry veterans. Studies (like the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016) have shown that job satisfaction and work/life balance are particularly important to Millennials — your company’s future leadership team.

Carl Landau calls himself the Grand Poobah of Niche Media, a Sacramento, Calif.-based events marketing company, and brings that playful, irreverent attitude to his team of six.

“If the staff is feeling good, we can conquer anything,” he says.

Considering you’re going to work 90,360 hours in your lifetime, you better have fun.

Loyal customers

One figure I look at each year is the number of advertisers who have utilized our digital services. Good customer service is an exhaustive, brute force project – one where your patience and perseverance pay off. If I have 400 happy digital advertisers, that creates a snowball effect that can make connections we didn’t previously have and introduce our products and services to new markets.

Brain Swell Media CEO Ryan R. Dohrn, Founder/CEO, who has trained more than 3,000 sales professionals in 15 different industries, says your company has been successful “if your advertisers do your sales job for you.”

On my longest days in the office, I keep this in mind.

Strong management

Last month Yahoo Finance hosted the first ever Internet livestream of the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting, the first time the public could see Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger in their element.

I’ve been a Buffett fan since childhood when I learned he was the man behind Dairy Queen, or what I consider the real happiest place on earth, so I took notes. One quote (among many) that stood out was regarding the acquisition of aircraft components manufacturer Precision Castparts. It was the largest Berkshire purchase to date, and shareholders were looking for an explanation.

Mark Donegan is Precision Castparts’ greatest asset,” Buffett said.

In supporting Precision’s longtime CEO, Buffett showed solidarity in leadership and threw his support behind an employee who worked his way up the chain of command over 30 years.

If billionaire magnate Warren Buffett can praise his human assets, so can you.


Chambers has been with NCM since 2012 and leads a team of six in creating and maintaining the company’s digital properties, including websites, enewsletters, webinars, video, social media — and whatever comes next.

Photograph by Stuart Isett/Fortune Most Powerful Women (via Flickr)


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