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Small Business, Big Data: How to use data to spot business trends

used with permission from Microsoft For Your Business

“Big data isn’t just for the big guys,” says small-business mentor Rieva Lesonsky. “The immense volumes of information available to anyone can level the playing field for smaller businesses.”

Businesses can use this data to help predict customer behavior, find inefficiencies in their operations, and analyze marketing campaigns.

“There’s an insane amount of information available for small business owners to use, but most don’t know how to access it,” adds business author Barry Moltz. “Easy-to-use tools like Power BI for Office 365 can analyze data, and show you trends that can impact your business.”

How big data can help your small business

Big data can have a big impact on several areas of your operations.

“If you collected real-time data about what your customers want, need, and are buying, you can modify your current business to fit those needs,” says Rieva.

Midas Mount, one of the companies in the Small Business Mentor Project, designs and sells specialized equipment for filmmakers. They could use Power BI to learn about similar products that consumers are buying. Bond Consulting Services is providing Midas Mount with Office 365 and a Surface Pro 3 to help them manage their business. Adding Power BI would be a good next step.

New York-based Hudson Pilates is the other company in the Small Business Mentor project. They offer classes in Pilates, Zumba, and Yoga. They also offer massage therapy. They could use business intelligence to track attendance at different classes over time. This could help them discover which classes are popular with which demographic. They could spot ways to upsell as well. For instance, if they learn that a high percentage of Pilates users also like to take Yoga classes, they could reach out to those who don’t attend both types of classes and offer a discount.

They could find out if their business has seasonal trends. Armed with this information, they would know in advance when to use offers to improve attendance. Hudson Pilates can also combine data from their new Microsoft CRM software with point of sale data to improve the view of their business.

In both cases, these growing businesses could use data to help increase their sales.

Get started with big data

Before you can gain business insights, it’s best to get your data in order. Many small-business owners may already have a wealth of information available.

“Analyzing your company with data is a good thing,” says Barry, “but most small businesses owners need to get a grasp on their own data before looking at other factors.” Gather your existing data, and find out what’s missing. Then you can think about adding additional data sources, such as publically available demographics.

“Even the smallest retail store has its own data to tap into,” says Rieva. “You probably look at your data, but you could be doing more with it.”

Use the data you have

Here are some ways to get started with business intelligence:

  • Use the data from your sales receipts and POS system to spot trends in customer behavior. By knowing more about your customers’ shopping habits, you can make smarter decisions about how to increase your sales by cross selling or upselling.
  • Import your inventory data into Power BI to help you forecast when to reorder.
  • Use a digital customer-loyalty program. One program in Southern California is Belly. Customers can sign up to receive quirky or traditional rewards. Past rewards have ranged from letting a customer name a sandwich to a gelato party for 30. Most programs provide demographic data about your customers, and you can use this to plan future promotions.
  • Incorporate your website analytics into Power BI. By combining the information from your digital marketing with other data such as competitive analysis, you can focus on areas that need improvement.
  • Use Power BI to analyze your email and social stats to see what subject lines and status updates make your register ring.
  • Integrate your customer data from Microsoft CRM with social media data to spot trends and risks in your business.


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