Small business owners everywhere are getting in on the analytics game, even those that wouldn’t consider themselves “tech savvy”. In this interview with Rick Jackson, Vice President of Marketing at Qlik, a leading visual analytics company headquartered in Radnor, Pennsylvania, we asked him about how small business owners can benefit from analytics and how they can begin taking advantage of the various tools that offer valuable business insights.
Can you give a short definition of data analytics and how it is being used in small businesses today?
Data analytics is the examination of data sets to draw insights and conclusions, often fueling strategic, informed decision-making.
The insights garnered from data analytics can be applied to an endless amount of business use cases and challenges. Small business managers (SMBs) can streamline internal and external operations, driving customer relations, informing smart product development, marketing efforts, and even resource planning and allocation.
For example, analytics can help the finance function to cut down on hours spent tracking and consolidating financial data to create reports, allowing them to focus more on analysis of financial data to gain actionable insights.
Marketing data is also important for businesses to pay attention to. Analytics can help to improve results, allowing users to see what works and what doesn’t by tracking data like email marketing campaign statistics. This can drive the decision-making process, allowing marketers to review the data to see what strategies have been historically successful and tactically choose where to allocate funds.
For customer service, analytics can track data like feedback and sentiment, revealing what inspires customer retention.
Additionally, retail SMBs can arm employees with visual analytics to track data on how certain product lines are performing – offering insights on where production can be cut back, rather than having excess merchandise.
How can analytics help “level the playing field” for small businesses competing with larger, more established companies?
While data analytics is often considered a tool for large enterprises to further business goals, small and medium sized businesses can get in on the action too, even without the big budget. There are a plethora of tools available for SMBs to analyze data at low costs, and on familiar interfaces like Google Analytics. Don’t let big business’ huge analytics deployments and data science departments fool you—freely available analytics tools are usually more than enough to earn dividends on your business’ data.
What are some of the key pieces of data that small business owners should be concerned with, regardless of industry?
For most small businesses, tracking sales numbers, budgets, inventory, resource allocation, website traffic, and customer engagement with data analytics is extremely beneficial. Through visualizing these statistics on an easy-to-use business intelligence platform, users can draw insights to aid in strategic, quick decision-making, see where efforts went wrong, and understand how and where they can improve or cut costs.
How have analytics become more accessible for small businesses without a staff that is necessarily “tech savvy?”
Even if you don’t consider yourself “tech savvy,” you can still grab a slice of the big data pie with free, simple online measurement tools. For instance, small businesses can try Open Web Analytics, which allows users to track and analyze something as simple, yet powerful as customer engagement with a website or application.
If your business has a social media presence, you can easily connect your profiles with Twitter or Facebook analytics to monitor your social media engagement through statistical data, presented in simple charts and graphs.
Are there any free or inexpensive tools on the market that can help a small business get more out of the data that can be mined with analytics?
Small businesses have a range of free options available to them – from desktop software for business tasks, software-as-a-service solutions (subscription-based software), to free, online tools. An option for those who have a company blog or website is Google Analytics, where you can examine and monitor the types of people visiting your website, where they are accessing it from, and even compare trends with competitors.
For those wanting to better analyze internal data as well as external, look to some of the larger providers such as Qlik – we offer a free, unembellished version of our software, which will be more than sufficient for a small business testing the waters of data analytics.
What resources would you recommend for small business owners and entrepreneurs looking to learn more about data analytics?
There are many free or low-cost courses online that teach data analytics. For example, MIT offers open access to its introduction to processing, analyzing and visualizing data course. Many tech companies have invested in their own free learning platforms as well, such as Big Data University where users of all levels can take online courses on a range of big data and analytics concepts and platforms.
While analytics and big data is only just starting to be offered at certain colleges, Qlik has recently implemented a new program to streamline this and make it easier for students to learn the basics of big data, analytics and visualization at a crucial point in their professional development. The program offers free digital course materials to universities, including the Qlik Continuous Classroom, which is a self-service online learning platform that features 50 modules with videos, exercises and quizzes that can be customized by professors and students.