Realistic data analysis for small businesses

Making the move from intuition to information

Over my career I have worked with a lot of small business owners that have built their companies from nothing using a mixture of focus, inordinate amounts of hard work and an instinctual understanding of their market. Given that small businesses are usually time poor and do not have the resources of their larger competitors, company strategy is often based on gut feeling and a need to move forward. A decision must be made, so let’s make it and see what happens!

While I have always admired entrepreneurs’ willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes, it has long been my opinion that more decisions should be made based on cold, hard data. Unfortunately, data analysis takes time… and money… and specific expertise. None of which may be readily abundant. Typically smaller businesses could offer a more tailored, personalised service to their customers, providing an advantage over their larger competitors. But with the insight that can be gained with the emergence of big data this is no longer always the case and SMEs must adapt if they are to remain competitive.

That data scientist is now a relatively common job title – it was even called ‘the sexiest job of the 21st century’ by Harvest Business Review – should give you an indication of the growing importance of data in business. ‘Big data’ became a marketing buzzword from around 2012 and refers to large amounts of structured and unstructured data, too large to be processed in traditional systems. Structured data is data stored in a traditional database management system, where unstructured data refers to everything that does not fit into a conventional row-column database such as email messages, social media content, videos, audio files, etc…

How can an SME use data analysis?

Firstly, I think it’s important to clarify that big data is simply a catch-all phrase referencing the fact that there is a lot more information floating around on the internet now that there used to be. Given that data exists in all manner of forms in multiple locations it stands to reason that there is no one ‘business data solution’. No single piece of software, or open-source platform that will solve all your data needs. Therefore, the first step in improving data analysis is a paradigm shift within your business in terms of the priority you place on data analysis.

Make data analysis central to your business decisions

Changing behaviour can be the most difficult thing of all, but ultimately putting a priority on research and analysis will pay dividends. It takes time and resources to analyse data, but sometimes just one little sliver of insight can have a transformative effect on a campaign. Recognising the opportunity in data mining is the first step in harnessing the powerful possibilities of the big data phenomenon.

Use a variety of resources

This includes making use of your own analytics including Twitter analytics, Facebook Insights, Pinterest Analytics, etc. There are also many tools that allow you to gain insight into your competitors’ activities. Everything from tracking what paid ads they are using to where they are getting their backlinks. A good list of tools both free and paid can be found here.

Establish clear goals

The problem with research is you could do it forever. By giving your analysis scope you make it instantly more manageable. Include timelines and clearly reportable goals into your analytics tracking. Make sure these goals align with your overall business goals.

Keep an ear to the ground

Looking for ongoing insights within a particular industry? Monitor the internet by setting up Google Alerts and other social listening tools such as those found here. Alerts can be as specific as your company name (or your competitors’ names) or more general alerts relevant to your industry.

Use and grow your database

Your own client database is one of your best sources of data. Gather as much information about your customers as possible/appropriate and invest in CRM technology that allows you to access it. You may find your customer demographics weren’t at all what you had assumed.

Keep it up

Making research and insight a regular activity within your company will ensure you won’t miss opportunities and will remain competitive in the marketplace.