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5 ways for small businesses to get smarter about using data

Many people see the idea of using ‘big data’ in business as something that is exclusively for large businesses, says co-founder of The Good Till Co., Oliver Rowbory. Surely the ability to analyse and use such information requires not only expensive data, but also numerous staff to maintain, support and work on these platforms, before translating what the data is really saying to the management team, right?

The fact is that data is increasingly important to businesses of all sizes. While it might feel like something that is daunting to approach, by focusing on getting the right data, at the right time, owners of even the smallest businesses can use data to help them grow and operate more efficiently.

The good news is that small businesses now have a plethora of tools available to them to make tackling data much easier, and many of these clever cloud-based services don’t require the budget of a big corporation. Here are five tips to get you started:

1. Look to the cloud: There is probably already a good selection of data readily available to you, so use tools that enable you to harvest and analyse it. Tools like online accounting packages, such as FreeAgent, allow you to input all business data into one portal which you can then reports on and forecasts. A crucial element of this for small businesses is managing your cash flow – you can quickly see where you are at and make plans accordingly. These applications also backup your crucial data so if your laptop goes pop, the data will still remain intact.

2. Avoid data overload: Don’t fall into the trap of drowning in data. Start by understanding what the important information you’re trying to get is, such as how your business is performing, if you can withstand a period of falling sales or who and where are my customers. It is tempting to think ‘the more data the better’ but don’t waste time on data that is not directly actionable or meaningful to your business and the decisions that you make.

3. Automate: With technology on your side, there is so much you can now automate. Once you have the right tools in place it will allow you to collect and analyse data, automate processes and integrate with other cloud based applications with minimal effort, saving precious time importing data from one application to the other and freeing you up to focus on other crucial tasks.

4. Stay secure: This goes without saying, but online security is a serious issue for your business and your customers, so it pays to be vigilant. Of course there are high-profile security hacks at companies like Sony and TalkTalk, but small businesses can also be at risk so there are certain steps that businesses owners should take to ensure that they stay safe online. This becomes even more paramount when providing employees access to the important business systems.

5. Smarter marketing: Aside from making your business a more efficient machine internally, the other focus of getting smart about using data has to be centered on your customers. Your customers are arguably your most valuable asset, so think carefully about collecting their data when they get in touch with you, 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. It will help you with any loyalty campaigns you might wish to run to your existing customers, but equally, by understanding these data-sets it will also you can identify who your prospective new customers might in a smarter way, rather than spending wildly on shotgun type marketing campaigns. Google Ads is a good example of this; it can be very costly so it pays to understand the type of customers that you want and how they behave in order to refine the campaigns so they work more cost-effectively.

The online world has of course been at the forefront of data use, but by embracing cloud technologies, offline businesses like smaller retailers and hospitality businesses can now also get smarter about data. Point-of-sale technology can now allow retailers to collect and analyse business data (sales, stock, staff and seasonal trends) at the touch of a button, wherever you are in the world, allowing business leaders to make solid, informed decisions on the direction of the business quickly.

Cloud technology allows offline businesses to benefit from smart loyalty platforms, collecting and using customer data in a way that is targeted and helpful for the individual customer. And of course the other advantage of cloud-based technology is that businesses can use it for the fraction of the cost of traditional, legacy POS services which aren’t much more than a calculator and a cash drawer.

Essentially, it is getting easier and cheaper for small businesses to get smart about collecting and using data. Just understand what data it is you need, find the appropriate tools and get started!

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