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Gray Matters: Dollars and Sense

Almost finished reading Gray Matters, our December Readers’ Choice Award selection, I’ve been able to absorb about 70 pages a day. At that pace, it’s an easy read over the course of a work week — not a bad goal to set. One of the chapters that’s hit me hardest so far is chapter three of part one: Dollars and Sense.

Bob and his co-authors open that section by asking, “Can you name your company’s top-selling product or service?” They continue: “Unless you really understand your company’s finances, you are working in the dark.” That gave me pause: What data do I need? What’s our key financial indicator — newsstand sell-through, subscriptions, readership, Web traffic? And what can I do online and in the Company of Friends to help improve that? As a journalist and community organizer, I’ve always focused on working to make a better magazine, improve our Web resources, and help more readers connect more often in more productive ways. What else can I do?

I’d like to turn the question on Bob, if he’s game. Bob, in your business, you do several things. You wear the hat of columnist, speaker, and author. What’s your key financial indicator? Books sold? Newspapers syndicating your column? Speaking engagements? Or something else entirely? And… how did you settle on that as the most important activity or gauge?

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