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5 ways for small businesses to get smarter about using data

May 2, 2017

Many small business owners view ‘big data’ as something exclusively for large businesses. But that isn’t the case. Astute small business can benefit from using data to grow sales.

To help business owners understand more about ‘big data’ and how they can benefit from it too, we asked Oliver Rowbory to explain;

When you think about your small business and how using data can help analyse it, the first thing that comes to mind for many people is that this is out of their league.

Surely the ability to analyse – and, crucially, use – such information requires not only expensive software, but also numerous staff to maintain, support and work on these platforms, before translating what it’s saying to the management team? Right?

Well no, actually!

Data is becoming more important

The simple fact is that data is increasingly important to businesses, no matter what their size or focus, and today even the smallest of businesses can harness its power. It’s just a matter of focussing on getting the right data at the right time, so you can then use it to grow and operate your business more efficiently.

The even better news is that while you might not realise it, most likely you already have a good selection of data that’s already available for you to tap into and use.

What’s more, small businesses now have a plethora of tools available to them to make tackling data much easier, and many of these don’t require the budget of a big corporation. Here are five tips to get you started.

1. Look up at the cloud

While the online world has been at the forefront of data use, by embracing cloud technologies, offline businesses such as smaller retailers and hospitality businesses can be a part of this too.

Cloud technology has become increasingly user-friendly in recent year, so it is therefore time to take the leap and get smarter about using some of these tools.

Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business, so online accounting packages that allow you to input all business data into a single portal will enable you to run reports and forecasts to monitor your business health at any time.

When integrated with your point-of-sale technology, you can collect and analyse business data such as stock, sales, staff and seasonal trends, all at the touch of a button.

This ease of information means you can make speedy yet informed decisions about your business, wherever you are in the world, and all at a fraction of the cost of traditional POS services, which in reality aren’t much more than a calculator and a cash drawer.

The other huge benefit of cloud-based technologies is that these applications back up your crucial data, so you don’t need to worry about your laptop breaking and losing all your information.

2. It’s time to automate

With technology now on your side, there’s so much you can automate. Make sure that you’re taking full advantage of this to work smarter, not harder.

The key is getting the right tools in place to allow you to easily collect and analyse data, but you can then automate your processes by integrating other cloud-based applications.

With minimal effort you can save precious time importing data from one application to the other, freeing you up to focus on other crucial tasks.

3. Don’t drown in data

While it’s amazing to have all these tools available to harness data, it can be very easy to overdose. It’s tempting to follow the mindset of;

More data = Better for your business

But don’t waste time on data that’s not directly actionable or meaningful to you and the decisions that you need to make.

To avoid this, begin by thinking about what the most important information is for your business.

It could be how your business is performing, whether you could withstand a period of falling sales or even the need to better understand your customers’ behaviour. You should then tailor your tools to match what you need to know.

4. The importance of security

Your business may not be the size of Sony or TalkTalk, both of whom have been subject to high-profile hacking of late, but it doesn’t mean you’re completely safe. Online security is a serious issue for your business and your customers, so it pays to be vigilant.

There are certain steps that businesses owners should take to ensure that they stay safe online. This becomes even more paramount when providing employees with access to important business systems. Our guide to 7 Cybersecurity issues small businesses need to understand in 2017 will help you understand more about this.

Some time spent thinking through the weak points of your business could well save you time, effort and money in the long run.

5. Be smart about your marketing

The other major benefit of using data is how you can focus on your customers, what they want and how they behave.

There’s no denying that your customers are your most valuable asset, so you need to think carefully about collecting their data at different touchpoints, either online or offline. Your competition will inevitably be doing it, so look at how data will allow you to communicate your messages to your customers in a much more targeted, timely way.

Using data intelligently will not only help you with any loyalty campaigns you might wish to run to your existing customers, but equally, understanding these data sets can also be the key to identifying prospective new customers.

All this can be done in a smarter, more targeted way, rather than spending wildly on shotgun-type marketing campaigns.

A good example of this is Google Ads, on which even small business can easily spend a lot of money. By using data to understand the type of customers that you want to attract and how they behave, you can refine your campaigns to attract traffic more cost-effectively and, crucially, convert that traffic better.

Conclusion

All of these tips show you that it’s becoming easier and cheaper for small businesses to get smart about collecting and using data.

Whether your business operates online or offline, all you need to do is understand what data it is you need, find the appropriate tools and then put it into practice to give yourself a competitive advantage.

About the author

Oliver Rowbory is co-founder of The Good Till Co., a cloud-based POS system that gives independent retailers, bars and cafes access to powerful data intelligence.