Big data appears as the solution to all our business problems, able to reveal what customers want, how to increase profits, and cut costs all by doing some fancy math. Of course, big data is more complicated than that, but amid all the zeal for collecting and analyzing big data, we’re forgetting the small data many companies already collect but don’t know how to take advantage of. Almost every company, from doctor’s offices to web developers have some data they have already collected that can be used to improve some aspect of their business.
Data appears in many forms, not just sales numbers and conversion rates. Anyone with a website already has mountains of data they can collect with free tools like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Google Analytics provides free web traffic information with many robust custom reporting tools, along with simple statistics of how many people visit each page, for how long, and how they got to your site. Even with low web traffic, looking at how people are finding your website (from Google searches or social media) can inform your marketing efforts. Google Webmaster Tools, a little less well known, can be even more valuable than Google Analytics because it provides extensive information about how your website appears within Google searches. Webmaster Tools tells you how high your site appears on search terms and which terms send people to your site. Because of privacy settings, Google Analytics isn’t able to give you this much information.
Beyond your website, it’s important to find the different ways you interact with clients and staff and mine these for informative data. At a doctor’s office I consulted with, we found that patients were leaving after completing their treatment, but coming back weeks or months later for different services. We asked a few of these patients why they returned and they said they didn’t know these services were offered before. Often these were services they were looking for but didn’t think to ask about. The doctor began introducing related services to patients earlier and adding additional brochures which increased the quality of care for patients and increased revenue with a minor cost and time investment. With web development, I keep track of the number and frequency of emails with clients, during and after a project. I use this to gauge how well I am explaining progress or issues with clients and have refined many ways I speak about web development to non-web developers. I also assess my own efficiency after completing projects with the number of subsequent emails and whether I need to update my technical documentation or training practices.
Small data can provide small insights (and big ones) that are still beneficial, especially relative to the time and cost with finding them. Every company has accounting records, emails, costs, sales, and other data rich with information about how well you are running your business. While all data will tell a story, not every story has to be interesting. Know where you have data and know how to understand it can be enough to open new opportunities to improve yourself work and business.