How small businesses should handle big data

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By Lexie Lu

If you’re a small business owner, you may think that only much-larger companies invest in big data. The truth is that smaller enterprises can extract just as much value from these platforms as larger ones. Here are some tips for handling big data in your business and making the most of whatever medium you choose.

Decide how you’ll primarily use big data

The possibilities for using big data are virtually endless. Investigate where the areas of weakness or desired improvement exist. Then explore how your use of big data could address them.

Some options include using big data to:

-Minimize stock outages or shortages

-Monitor deficiencies in a supplier network

-Target customer service shortcomings

-See how new clients arrive at the business

-Identify areas for possible company expansions

-Reveal emerging trends in a customer base

It’s understandable and expected that you’d find several things on that list of interest to you. While it’s certainly OK to have large-scale plans for working with big data, you don’t want to get overwhelmed by ramping up too quickly. Start by focusing on one or two options for using it first. Put all your resources there, and only scale up once you feel your efforts are consistently effective.

Set your big data budget

Figuring out and sticking to a budget for your big data plans is one of the best ways to stop the costs from getting out of control. The perceived expenses associated with the technology often plays into why many small businesses delay their intentions to move forward with it. However, the costs may be more manageable than you expect.

The rise of the analytics-as-a-service (AaaS) industry empowers small-business owners to find affordable options. The companies in that space offer cloud-based services to help clients gather, process and study their data. People sign up for the services they need, then pay for them monthly. Whether you go with an AaaS provider or another option, aim to have a long-term viewpoint when creating the budget.

Explore how big data could improve efficiency

There are almost certainly untapped ways to save money or make your organization more productive. You can make the most of compiled information by analyzing it for possible business enhancements.

One way to do that is to identify vendor consolidation opportunities. For example, many manufacturers spend more than necessary by ordering too small a percentage from each supplier and cannot take advantage of economic order quantities. The rate paid generally decreases as the requested amounts rise. Big data platforms can also show which processes take the most time, revealing where to begin enacting changes.

Prepare your data with care

Even the most advanced big data suite available is only as useful as the information put into it. Using big data well means having a robust preparation process to reduce errors. Duplicate entries and spelling mistakes are two of the many things that can give inaccurate results and misguide your decision-making.

Create and maintain a process for handling the incoming data. Ensure that all team members working with it know and apply standard formatting to the information. Doing that decreases the need to go back and fix the content later. You can also bring automation to your workflow to save time. You may need to tweak the steps as often as every day, depending on the amount of data gathered by the business.

Show transparency about data usage

With a growing number of companies pursuing big data tech, some customers feel wary about freely providing their details to any company that asks for them. You can ease any possible concerns by being straightforward about why you request customers’ information.

For example, you might clarify that your company asks for a person’s ZIP code when they sign up for a mailing list because you want to provide them with localized content. Try to angle your requests so customers can see the immediate benefits to them. Requesting birthdates gives you valuable demographic details. However, you could also mention that providing a birthday will give a person a surprise from your company on their special day.

Create a plan for securing the information

As data breaches make headlines more often, people become more concerned about their sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. You cannot do everything to prevent such problems, but being proactive is an excellent start. Strong data security also bolsters your reputation because it shows customers you care about protecting their information.

Start by keeping an information inventory. Include the type of physical and digital data you have, its storage location and which parties can access it. A look at your detailed breakdown could show that your company keeps more information than necessary or that you don’t have adequate control over which parties can see the information. Make cybersecurity a constant priority, too. That way, your business is not an easy target for hackers.

Remain positive after missteps

Rolling out a practical big data strategy can become a major undertaking, and you should not expect to finish it in weeks or even months. You should also anticipate encountering obstacles or making mistakes. That often happens when trying anything new, and it does not constitute failure.

As you apply these tips, realize that things will probably not go precisely as you expect — and that’s OK. The crucial things to do are to stay confident and remember that you can get back on the right track. Even when your big data implementation hits a few snags, you can still look forward to measurable benefits that help your business stay competitive in an ever-changing marketplace.


Lexie Lu is a freelance designer and writer based in Williamsport, PA. She co-founded the blog, Design Roast, a resource for web designers and marketers, in 2015. She specializes in graphic design, web design, branding, UX design, and mobile app wireframes. She earned her BA from Lycoming College. While not working in her home office, she enjoys walking her goldendoodle, cooking for friends and family, and watching way too much HGTV. Lexie’s work and writing can be found on well-known sites such as, Website Magazine, Marketo, and Envato. Feel free to connect with her on Design Roast or via Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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