If you think big data is the preserve of big business then think again. Even if you run a small business you can still use data to garner insights that will help you run a successful business.

In fact, you have one key advantage over your larger competitors. You can act more quickly on the insights you gather from your data. You are less likely to have to go through several rungs of approval or implement complex process changes to make things happen.

Gathering your data

To begin with, you need to identify your key data sources and there may well be more than you realise.

Sale figures, customer information and stock levels are standard sources of business data. The digital age means you now also have data from web traffic, social media and communications like emails.

When gathering your data, think beyond what your business is generating because you can also access extra information online. You can even get information on your competitors relatively easily.

If you still don’t feel you have the data you need, then it may be worth conducting a market research survey to gather more information.

Storing your data

Although your business may be generating numerous amounts of data, it is no good unless you have a way of storing it.

Identifying the best way to store your data is not a decision to be taken lightly. You need to be able to capture it accurately and have a storage system with the right capacity for you. Begin by identifying how much data you need to store and whether you are truly only storing useful information and not duplicating any of it.

Consider whether you have large files like videos and how easily and quickly you need to able to access your data. Also, consider if you will store the data on-site, or use a remote cloud-based system, or a hybrid of the two. Cloud-based storage is often a good solution for small businesses because it is simple to setup, maintain and upgrade. It is a cheaper option too because you can pay for it via a monthly subscription. It is also great for accessing data on the go and sharing it with others you work with.

Security is also of paramount importance when storing data, especially since you are likely to hold personal information about customers. Don’t take for granted that the system you choose is secure. Do your research and make sure you have the necessary protocol in place to protect your data.

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Analysing and using your data

The thought of analysing data can be incredibly daunting but luckily you don’t need to hire a data scientist or be a maths whizz to unpick your data.

Neither does the process have to be manual or labour intensive. If you are envisaging dealing with unwieldy spreadsheets then you’ll be relieved to know that there are lots of more sophisticated alternatives. There are lots of relatively cheap tools available to help you with your data analysis. For example, Google Analytics is a tool most people can get to grips with and it offers a swathe of information on customers’ online behaviour. You can use it to understand how best to engage your customers and drive more sales. Lots of software also comes with dashboards that allow you to easily visualise data and get key information at a glance.

Data can give you a deep understanding of your customers and answer questions about what they are likely to buy, to when and how they prefer to shop with you. You can use this information to improve your marketing or customer service and even inform your pricing.

Customer Relationship Management software is essential for leveraging customer data. You can use it for all manner of things, like finding out if you are unwittingly placing obstacles in their way, which could be preventing them from purchasing from you. You can use it to work out who your most valuable customers are and offer them incentives to remain loyal to you, such as discounts on their favourite items.

By continually tracking and monitoring your data you can quickly spot when you need to take action. You can spot trends, forecast revenue and growth and better understand your strengths and weaknesses. This is particularly valuable if you can analyse your data in real-time.

Making the most of your data

The greatest value you can get from your data is the ability to make strategic decisions that set you apart from your competitors. Neglecting data means you could be making business decisions without being fully aware of the reality.