In the past, business intelligence was a privilege of large companies who could afford to maintain teams of IT specialists and data scientists. But in the last decade, as technology has developed rapidly, the software has become not only more lightweight and powerful but also more accessible. Small businesses can use the same tools as main market players and face their competitors. New self-service tools prove that business intelligence is no rocket science but rather a useful tool to help to turn data into informed decisions. Now every company can harness the power of modern BI software to raise their bottom line since business intelligence for small business has become accessible and affordable. But what exactly makes business intelligence indispensable?
To get started in this journey, it is essential to know that BI can be adapted to any business model or industry. We have seen in our other blog posts, on how to build a successful business intelligence strategy, or harnessing the power of financial reporting and analysis, how to leverage the power of a modern business dashboard and make the most out of your small business data analytics. A need for a large department gathering and analyzing all the data gathered, circling those data in different departments, and showing it to many stakeholders it’s a model of the past. In this digital age, accessing your data in almost real-time is of crucial importance if you want to stay on top of the market. That being said, a majority of reports and analysis needed to make quick, informed, detailed and robust decisions, can be accessed within few clicks, shared with a simple link, and analyzed via simple charts that can make business decision-making process and action time much faster.
In this post, we aim at helping you benefiting from business analytics for small businesses. To do so, we gathered the most important reasons why business intelligence for small business is a smart choice, and how to implement a big data strategy for small businesses. As a small business owner, all the data needed for a successful business operation can be gathered in a simple, live dashboard. That means that you will have access to all your operational analysis and key factors needed to run a successful business. It doesn’t matter if you own a small agency, store or restaurant; small business analytics are needed in every step of the way to learn how to adjust to your customers and perform the best possible way, and that is the key ingredient to market success. But let’s start with simple explanations on how to get started and what to avoid in that process.
What Is Small Business Analytics?
Small business analytics refers to the techniques and practices to measure a specific performance of a small company, be it on an operational or strategic level. It is used to evaluate small datasets to gain insights on a particular project or a company process.
It is true that small data is more accessible than big data, but it doesn’t mean that utilizing it effectively doesn’t require any effort. If you want your business to achieve better results, it is important to acquire the right mindset and become a data-driven organization. This requires you to adjust the way your company manages its daily operations from the top executives down to the floor level. It is not a complicated process if you set clear objectives, define the reporting tools you want to work with, and start creating your first BI for small business operations. To tackle deeper into analytics for small business, let’s see how small data correlates with the more wide-ranging business word – big data.
There are many definitions of small data trending around the web – in most cases built upon its opposition to big data. Other definitions accentuate the more human side of small data as it is usually generated and entered into the system by a human rather than a machine. Moreover, this type of data is usually contained in an operational database – your CRM or ERP is not big enough to be called big data. Moreover, it can be managed within a MySQL database – and the crunching power will suffice. Small data analytics is based on the notion that a business should efficiently use the resources it already has and avoid overspending on additional technologies or external infrastructure.
In his Forbes article, Mike Kavis takes a slightly different take on small data, highlighting the fact that it includes only very specific attributes. It is used to determine current states and conditions, which can be generated for example by sensors deployed on wind turbines, small packages or attached to drones to provide very specific information – about location, temperature etc. All these small data sets collected in real time create a bigger picture in the form of big data sets that give us a historical, multifaceted view.
How To Utilize Your Small Business Analytics?
Small data can provide you with insights that will serve as key factors determining your decision-making process. However, because of the way organizations approach small data, they tend to be overlooked in the overall data management. There are many reasons why you should treat the non-big data seriously, we list a few of them:
Focus on target – Big data sees the overall performance, small data drills down to uncover specific actions that lead to improved results. All you need to do is start by identifying your KPIs and the people responsible for each status and assigning them the task of tracking the development of a particular indicator.
Actionable – Big data reports provide information on every department and every metrics which can be extremely interesting. If you want to get real value from your data, it must inspire you to make quick strategic and organizational changes: it should be problem-oriented and not too general and overwhelming.
All about what is happening now – Small data provides focused real-time information that allows you to spot trends immediately and act accordingly. But big data also has an ace up its sleeve – the historical insights. If you need past data, or want to juxtapose the present with the past, you cannot do without big data.
Delivered ready to be served – Small data is delivered to you in the format of easily digestible data bites. Small data sets are already targeted and strategic and can be sent to key decision makers or employees responsible for a particular task. Your coworkers will be more likely to utilize reports that will deliver them clear and meaningful insights on the spot.
Although small data is part of big data, it can also be used separately in a business that doesn’t have the need to delve into the vast amount of information and doesn’t have a high quantity of departments or stakeholders to manage or present it. But every business needs a clear overview of where they stand on the market, how to achieve desired results and what to optimize to get the most out of your resources. That being said, we will discuss how to start with BI for small business and what to consider when analyzing your data with actionable tips and tricks.
8 Tips On How To Get Started With Business Intelligence for Small Businesses
Here are 8 tips on how to get started with business intelligence for small businesses:
1. Fulfill different needs
2. Increase transparency and relationships with customers
3. Analyze and easily combine various data sources online
4. Read your future with Predictive Analytics
5. Use the right data visualizations for your data stories
6. Foster collaboration and cooperation
7. Secure your data
8. Make better business decisions faster
Let's dig deeper into these points and explain what meaning each of them has.
1. Fulfill different needs
New business intelligence tools are designed to cater to the versatile needs of customers from different industries. As they are designed to be operated entirely by their users, they can easily adjust to many types of needs. Smart self-service BI tools allow you to analyze multiple data sources on your own. Consequently, your company can choose and pay for just one tool that will address the problems of many departments. Each department can connect their own data sources, for example, marketing – Facebook or Google Analytics, whereas Sales – CSV files or SQL databases, to pull out business insights that are most significant to them. Moreover, BI software providers usually offer a few types of product packages – you can choose the one that matches your small business requirements in terms of its price and features. A certain interesting potential of big data examples in the real world, including in the hospitality industry, should not be disregarded, since it can prove the vast implementation possibilities that can ultimately increase revenue and provide an increased customer satisfaction level. But more on customers later in the article.
These tools are particularly beneficial for fulfilling the various needs of a small business or startup. A jack-of-all-trades culture is part of the fun of being in a small business. It can feel like everyone is involved and invested at every level of the organization. It also has a tendency to create a few knowledge gaps. With everyone covering multiple roles, some expertise areas may lack depth. Data and analytics are a great example. Many small businesses can’t afford to have a full-time staff member dedicated just to business intelligence. What they need is multiple staff members acting as part-time analysts for their departments and roles. Business intelligence for small business makes this possible. By accessing your own datasets needed to comprehend your next steps and make actionable, valid decisions for developing your business strategy in an efficient way, a small business analytics software can act as a bridge between analysis and important decision-making process. Making your data-story alive within a few clicks has made business owners decrease costs, assess their operations more efficiently, and provide a deep insight level on their overall business management process.
Easy-to-access web-based dashboards are the easiest way to empower data analytics for small business, be it for employees and owners alike. A self-service BI solution shouldn’t require extensive training, programming knowledge, a data scientist, dedicated IT staff or a complex data infrastructure. Staff armed with easy-to-build/drag-and-drop, actionable and effective business dashboards can successfully tackle a wide range of department and organization issues across the board. Instead of wasting time trying to figure out “who might know this answer” or “who can pull the necessary data,” employees can proactively track their own Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), identify cost savings and make strategic decisions. An additional benefit of this kind of small BI software is the fact that the data can also be shared across departments, different management levels, or just viewed and accessed by various stakeholders. There is no need of building complex spreadsheets anymore, or adjusting your written reports to every manager interested in your findings; a simple, interactive, live dashboard, will make business operations and management free of additional working hours which can be then allocated in other directions.
Don’t forget to test-drive your business intelligence – always make use of the free trial so you can be sure you and your team will be comfortable using it.
2. Increase transparency and relationships with customers
If you want to consolidate your presence in your customers’ minds and make them stay with you, you must respond to or even forecast their needs. Acquiring and maintaining a base of loyal customers is particularly important for small businesses – we all know that retaining a customer is much cheaper than attracting a new one. Business intelligence for small business helps to gather data about your customers’ behavior and structure it in a clear form so that it can be analyzed fast and easy. With insights about your customers’ behavior, you can make effective business decisions. One good example we can focus on is customer service – a first responder to general and specific requests for information. While you might have agents or employees to answer these calls, you might want to analyze specific customer service KPIs to know how to approach your customers in the future, what to improve in your customer management process, and how to gain valuable insights on where to decrease business costs.
Using data to best serve your customers is only part of how a small business analytics software improves customer relationships. Your customers want data. Transparency is the name of the game these days. Data improves negotiations and fosters customer relationships. For instance, BI tools are providing transparency to previously opaque procurement processes. The complicated nature of the procurement and supply lifecycle often creates strained businesses practices along the lifecycle. Both sides can now easily access these data points through BI tools. Procurement can quickly analyze supplier performance and provide feedback on how they are being evaluated, performing against the criteria, and performing vis-à-vis their competitors. There is also easy to prove that the data by which suppliers are being measured is accurate, unbiased and up-to-date. Procurement can also provide suppliers with purchases and demand patterns ahead of time.
3. Analyze and easily combine various data sources online
Continual access to online dashboards means that you and your colleagues will always have the information you need, regardless of your location. You don’t have to engage an IT team and wait until they analyze your data and generate a report. It’s an opportunity for small businesses to save some money without giving up on the quality of analysis. One of the best reasons why you need a self-service BI tool is that it provides you with data immediately, presenting it in a clear and neat format on your personal device. Data can be accessed on the fly for real-time analysis and immediate actionable insights, giving your team a competitive advantage. Business Intelligence for small business means having the right data at the right time for a fast and fruitful analysis.
Business Intelligence also gives you a one-stop shop for all your various data sources, like seen in the picture above. A business’s data may be small, but it can still be complicated. This often results from various disparate data sources. A small business needs various data connectors, including Google Analytics, data from a CRM, a database, and Excel spreadsheets. BI tools like datapine can bring all this data under one roof. on the picture above are shown some of the connectors you can implement for your own business. This allows you to analyze it all online, in just one place. Small BI is equally important as big BI for any business; there’s no downsize on effectively analyzing data, especially in one simple place.
4. Read your future with Predictive Analytics
“Customer intelligence is the practice of determining and delivering data-driven insights into past and predicted future customer behavior. To be effective, customer intelligence must combine raw transactional and behavioral data to generate derived measures.”
How is it possible? BI is not a crystal ball but a smart tool that will help you reveal some trends in your past performance that could otherwise go unnoticed. You can identify crucial trends in your data with the potential to unlock new growth opportunities. By analyzing your past performance in context and trying to understand the factors that influenced the best or worst results, you can discover the key to future growth.
Predictive analytics is particularly powerful in the retail industry. Retail companies are using point-of-sale, marketing, web-data, social-media, and loyalty data to make informed decisions about pricing, promotions, and assortment management. Retail analytics can predict purchasing trends using this existing data. Retail data is also revolutionizing demand forecasting and price optimization. All these functions are crucial to a retailer’s success.
5. Use the right data visualizations for your data stories
The human brain is wired to process information visually, making visualization one of the best ways to explore and understand data, particularly when presenting it to customers, investors or other stakeholders. Say goodbye to stagnate reporting and hard to read spreadsheets! While Excel and PowerPoint remain important business tools for many, their interactivity options are limited. Interactive dashboards quickly engage end-users with a wide range of technical acumen and provide an intuitive experience and easily digested insights. That’s why to present data in a persuasive way and not to lose your audience’s attention, it’s advisable to use a data visualization software – best choice of business intelligence for small business analytics. With this smart solution, you can display business data on compelling charts without spending too much time on chart formatting and design. The tool does it for you – your task is to analyze and make the best of your data.
Dashboards provide ROI by quickly highlighting trends and unearthing irregularities. With the right BI tool, data analytics for small business doesn't need to be relied on experts to run analyses. An easy to use dashboard tool allows all employees to be their own analyst. More importantly, employees can interact with the data in real time. By simply clicking onto the interesting part of the report (depends on who do you want to present your data to), you can customize and extract specific points to analyze further and make fast decisions.
Remember not all dashboards are created equal. There isn’t a dashboard glass slipper out there. One dashboard won’t deliver all of your dreams. A dashboard should address a particular problem, question, or data-story. It should be focused, visually appealing and simple to digest. Small businesses need to ensure they have the appropriate dashboard portfolio when launching their business intelligence. Let’s explore this through an example.
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The sales performance dashboard above is a great example of a focused dashboard. This dashboard empowers sales teams with the right data and visualizations. No matter if they are on the road or in the office, sales managers see at a glance whether or not their team is meeting their individual goals. While this is a beautiful dashboard, it is pointless for your operations manager. They need their own focused BI. With the right tool, you can arm every department and hybrid departments across your small business. Remember, the right type of graph tells the right data-story. Telling the right data story is key to any businesses success.
6. Foster collaboration and cooperation
As we’ve already mentioned, business intelligence allows you to access your data online anywhere you are, and run even most complex queries without IT support. For small businesses where one person wears many hats, it means that your employees can pull out the particular piece of information they need even if it exceeds their immediate area of expertise. In this way members of your team are empowered to view the same data from multiple locations and make data-driven decisions together. Business intelligence for small business doesn’t require any programming knowledge; neither you need to invest in SQL trainings. All you need to do is create a beneficial dashboard culture in your company that will make everybody, from Head of Sales to your latest intern, understand that regular data analysis pays off. Gathering high-quality data is not a one-time effort and you must re-evaluate your goals periodically to determine whether your small BI setup is helping you achieve them. The more you empower individuals to use and share data, the better their access to vital customer and financial information, then the more effective they will be in contributing to the achievement of your goal. BI solution that requires a lot of IT intervention is not feasible for a small business, but the self-service BI solutions are within your reach. That being said, every person in your company can access important data needed for a successful operation and strategic process. Sharing those data, by using the right business reporting software, with other people within your company, can also provide a learning curve, so that people can understand better what is going on in other departments and implement those findings into their own educational process.
As we said, smart BI tools increase cooperation by providing data access, wherever employees are. The global market is evolving and so is the workplace. To decrease overhead costs and increase employee satisfaction companies and small businesses, in particular, are increasingly turning to non-traditional methods. Remote work possibilities are a big part of this new landscape. Indeed, remote working is catching on quickly across the globe. In the U.S. alone, between 2005 and 2016, the number of people choosing to work from home, or telecommute, grew 140%, according to the latest data from Global Workplace Analytics. This amounts to approximately 3.7 million remote workers at last count, or 2.8% of the U.S. employee workforce. While the benefits of remote work are tangible, without the right infrastructure it can hinder collaboration and productivity. When it comes to data analyses, web-based BI solutions solve this issue. The right solution allows employees to access their performance and business dashboards from anywhere, at any time. This keeps staff on the same page, no matter where they are.
7. Secure your data
Many BI tools offer data warehousing solutions which involve moving all or part of business data to secure data storage facility. Although the idea of moving sensitive corporate data to a cloud-based data warehouse may act as a deterrent to some more analog managers, cloud solutions are gaining more and more popularity. Implementing the cloud means that you put your data in excellent hands of IT professionals who take care of it 24/7. Cloud storage providers must comply with strict security standards and are subject to regular security audits. Cloud-based data warehousing means no more worries about lost laptops with confidential data. As your data is stored in the cloud, the process of backing up and recovery is simplified and doesn’t entail big expenses.
8. Make better business decisions faster
It is no question, starting a business is hard work. If your business is a startup, it can be even harder. Startups are paving paths in unknown territories while having to constantly prove their worth to the market and investors. The work doesn’t stop once a startup gets off the ground. Businesses need to continually make all of the right decisions to move on from startup status to an established industry presence. To make these decisions and grow a business, they need the right information. The good news is the growth in the BI market has given businesses of all sizes unprecedented access to the information they need. They just need the right tools to access it and clear out the noise.
All startups are small businesses, but not all small businesses are startups. Telling the right data story is especially significant for startups. Startups are a unique breed. They don’t play by the rules and neither do their KPIs. Startups need to ensure they are moving in the right direction and quickly change paths if they aren’t. Successful startups do this by constantly monitoring and analyzing their data. To survive, startups also have to effectively translate this data story to investors, board members and other stakeholders to survive. Progressive startups are turning to business intelligence for small business to ensure they have the right tools to analyze, visualize and present their data. Presenting accurate and fast data to key stakeholders has become a must-have in the business community. Whether big or small, data must be evaluated and taken into account if a company wants to survive on the market. That being said, we will explore tips to utilize your big data, and implement them into the small business data analytics realm.
4 Tips For A Big Data Strategy For Small Businesses
Big data strategy for small businesses should incorporate and exploit analytics to reveal business trends and make decisions. It should be made with agility in its approach, starting with a small hypothesis, involving the team and using smart data sources and tools.
Let’s admit it – Big Data is overhyped. It has been reiterated countless times in scientific and business publications and promises the moon: uncovering hidden patterns of customer behavior, predicting KPIs, helping to plan budgets. However, all the steam coming out of the Big Data hype machine seems to be obscuring the truth: big data is useful only if we are able to use it as an aid in everyday business operations. That means that big data is a tool, not a solution to your business issues or setbacks. It can be used to effectively draw attention to some operational concerns that were not seen before, or to compile all those datasets dispersed throughout the company into one single place, to get a neat overview.
A company might take on data scientists, invest in enhanced servers, use sophisticated analytics and data mining applications to crunch lots of different types of data, then, send it to an external hi-tech data warehouse, where complex algorithms will process the results and display it in detailed reports. In fact, such scenario is put into practice only in big, well-funded enterprises. For smaller companies, it’s too much of an effort and similar results can be achieved using much less complicated procedures. You don’t have to outsource a cloud-based solution for your small business, the main point we want to emphasize is the different approach of gathering all those data in big enterprises, and small businesses, to get a holistic view on what big data can do for your company.
But the volume of big data for small businesses is only a fracture of what big companies have to deal with. Moreover, the data small business accumulates is usually more structured and have easier to crunch formats. By no means, you should avoid analyzing this data as it gives valuable insights and is easier to access than you think. With new business insights, you could improve your strategy and capitalize on big data. That means that all your operations can be accessed from one single place, and you don’t have to additionally spend time on different kinds of reports or spend more money into additional business resources to get a clear view on your business management decision-making process.
Here are our tips, in more detail, on how to make it work in practice.
1. Start small
When you perceive your data as a huge pool with new information flowing in every day, this might be intimidating indeed. However, start to view your data not as an overwhelming mass but as a collection of answers to specific questions. Approach it already with a question or a hypothesis in mind and check if the data gathered confirms your assumption. In this case, you will also avoid the hassle that arises when more people look at the same results but each of them interprets them in a different way. This happens when you approach the analysis without a strategy which can cost you a lot of money, time and stress. So first start with a singular question, go through easily available data and if you arrive at a positive answer, you might use it as a first step to more advanced research. For example, you might want to know how to increase your revenue and net profit. Let’s see this through the financial point of view.
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If you gather all your financial points of interest into one single view, it is easy to spot every operational expense and see where the majority of costs will be concentrated. On this dashboard template, the performance of a company is centered around 4 important financial indicators: the Gross Profit Margin, Opex Ratio, Operating Profit Margin, and Net Profit Margin. The Opex Ratio refers to the operational costs that a company incurs as a result of performing its normal business operations. We see in the chart that the trend of earnings is on its growth path, meaning, you can easily conclude that the company is in a healthy and stable financial condition.
When comparing these financial KPIs over different departments or industries (as mentioned before, every dashboard can be adjusted according to the specific needs of a company), the figures might significantly change. Nevertheless, this template can perform a succinct overview of the most important indicators when evaluating the financial situation of a company.
2. Be agile
Contrary to what you may think, it’s the big corporations that are impaired when it comes acting fast. They might be better funded and have more data experts, but even the best IT guys can get tangled in red tape. While a huge company may need five approvals from a CEO, official e-mails and team meetings to get any change through, you can already start leveraging insights from big data in small business. Big data gives insights into real-time data, and when you are able to make changes immediately, right at the point when you see that a certain trend is emerging, then it’s you who have the competitive advantage. You will whisk away the customers without the bigger company even noticing. By implementing the performance of your company into a simple interactive dashboard, your small BI operations will change its swiftness, meaning every information needed will be right on your screen, available with a simple click.
3. Involve all your team
If your team is of smaller or bigger size, usually it has to internally communicate to reach a common business goal. As mentioned earlier, humans are wired to process information visually, and when that information is neatly gathered into one single place, the communication process also becomes simple and more efficient.
In a small company with good internal communication, teamwork can become a reality rather than a slogan. When all departments of a company, information technology, marketing, sales etc. are working together towards a common goal, they can make data insights meaningful and valuable. As we already mentioned earlier, it is important to create a dashboard culture in your company and make sure your team members let themselves be guided by data in their everyday decisions. The reason why implementing big data for small businesses can be so useful is that it increases the team morale and involvement levels. Employees are given the opportunity to better understand the customer, forecast market trends and monitor their own performance. This, in turn, encourages them to make fast and confident decisions and benefits the company as a whole.
4. Use smart data sources and tools
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of big data analytics. The most important takeaway for you here is that you don’t need programming, SQL, Hadoop etc. skills to break up your big data into insights. Start with easily available resources you can find online. For useful information about demographics, profession, interests of your customers, you can obviously go to Facebook Insights and Google Analytics. Moreover, you can find online state and regional databases or files that can increase your knowledge of your customers’ lifestyles. For example, in Massachusetts, it could be The Pioneer Valley Regional Data Portal (PVRDP) which consolidates regional economic, planning and workforce data through a publicly accessible portal specifically designed to support economic development in the region. You can look for more free online sources about a chosen population or demographics in the region that interests you.
Then, the same applies as for our third tip on getting started with small BI, earlier in this article. Once you have all this data in your databases, you will need a business intelligence software that will allow you to sit back and watch as the data is being crunched for you and business insights emerge. How to choose the right tool out of many available online? First, check if the tool is easy to deploy and you can start using it within minutes. That’s another advantage your small business has over big companies – you can install and start using business analytics tool immediately, with no need to wait months as the software and hardware is installed throughout the organization and employees undergo trainings to be able to use it. Most online tools that analyze big data for small businesses follow a self-service model – all members of your team will be able to perform analyses on their own, with no need for the IT department to get involved and for you to pay extra money for trainings. With its simple, drag and drop feature, an online data visualization tool will turn raw data into beautiful visuals, ready to interact with by using few clicks on which you can expand your data into specific time-frames and perform additional analysis of your overall business management process.
Data analysis tools will usually allow you to perform cross-database analysis, and juxtapose data in different formats. Depending on how much data you have, you will be able to choose a pricing scheme. You pay for the functionalities and capacity you need today but thanks to the subscription model you can scale up and add more features as the need for analytics increases. This approach is a perfect fit for small business with big growth potential, where it’s critical for the cost and capabilities of software investments to align with the rate of growth and expansion of the operations. This is where the magic of online business software comes in hand: you can adapt it to your own needs and perform your own analysis, adjusted to your own values and business indicators.
Ahead With The Right Analytics For Small Business
It is a no-brainer, you don’t want to miss out on the rise of self-service analytics. Analytics for small businesses fulfills various needs, increases customer knowledge and retention, strengthen client bonds by anticipating clients’ needs, and enrich service offerings with new knowledge. It also allows you to analyze data online, helps you stay proactive, visualizes your data, increases collaboration, and helps to secure your data. On a more team-related side, small data analytics also increases productivity, maximizes staff resources, simplifies complex data and analyses, gives your employees space for self-improvement and significantly helps startups. In small business operations, every minute and working hour is crucial to perform in its best and cost-effective form. By analyzing your data in real-time, you can make fast decisions that will provide you with additional working hours, which you can then spend elsewhere.
Whether your business is big or small, business intelligence doesn’t have to be overwhelming or difficult. You just need to approach it with the right tools and preparation. Information pours into your company every hour, every day. Don’t just store it, or ignore it – use that data to make better decisions for future growth.
Small data analytics are providing actionable insight, allowing both sides of the table to support their cases and be more effective. They can also help you save money and help your employees work faster, be more efficient and keep track of their individual performance. Without a doubt, both big and small data have their specific uses and benefits, but it’s essential to remember that any data analysis starts with small data sets. Companies looking to gather and act on metrics effectively and quickly should utilize all kinds of data available. With the right people to analyze the right data and the right business goals in mind, your company can do wonders with small data analytics.
Put this knowledge into practice and start your 14-day free trial today and enjoy the deep dive in business intelligence for small business.