Small Business: Mining data for opportunities

Bigger businesses have harnessed their data for years,

Bigger businesses have harnessed their data for years, and now smaller businesses can do the same, thanks to the many low-cost tools available to tap into the “big data” trend. (Credit: istock)

Jamie Herzlich

Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

bio

There's no shortage of data-crunching tools available to small business these days.

This has enabled smaller entrepreneurs to tap into a vast amount of information to help them improve their operations and offerings.

This kind of business intelligence -- called analytics -- is no longer a big-business luxury, and if your business isn't managing and analyzing its wealth of data, it could be at a competitive disadvantage, say experts.

Your data is worth something, and you're not tapping its real value if you're not mining it for marketing and sales opportunities, says Nicholas Bessmer, author of "Big Data For Small Business" (Kindle; $3.25) and president of Needham, Mass.-based Bessmer IT Consulting.

Bigger businesses have harnessed their data for years, and now smaller businesses can do the same, thanks to the many low-cost tools available to tap into the "big data" trend.

"Think of big data as a reservoir of all the information about your business," explains Bessmer. It includes transactions, customer behavior, Web logs, inventory information, client records, accounting and documents.

Information overload: It can seem like an overwhelming amount of information, but not if you have a road map, he says.

Identify the kinds of data you're looking to track, notes Joe DeMicco, president of AIMG, a Lake Success-based Web development and marketing firm. Ask yourself, What is it I want to have decisive information on?

"There's an absolute plethora of information," says DeMicco, who will generally identify six to 10 metrics that are important to a client's business, such as site level engagement and conversion (those visitors actually buying or turning into qualified leads).

"Every day people are using your website," he notes. "The question is to learn what's working and what's not working to engage them."

That information can be critical as Rusty Ponce de Leon, president of Phase 1 Technology Corp. in Deer Park, learned. The company, a distributor of industrial vision and imaging solutions, started tracking its analytics more than two years ago.

Keywords are key:"It was a bit of a revelation," says Ponce de Leon, who uses AIMG for its website and analytics. For instance, he learned keywords he thought customers were using to search his company on the Web weren't necessarily the right ones.

There were more than 100 keywords embedded in his website, and "probably 70 percent were the wrong words," he notes.

By including the correct search keywords, he said, he's been able to draw more targeted visitors and get "10 to 20 qualified leads a day off the website," up from two to four.

The company also uses a lead tracking system to monitor how many leads turn into sales. While that system was customized for Phase 1 by AIMG, there are plenty of low-cost tracking tools businesses can implement.

For example, Pentaho offers business intelligence products including those for data integration, as does Talend, says Bessmer.

Google Analytics is a popular free tool, adds June Dershewitz, a San Francisco-based digital analytics expert. Among its offerings, it can help track where your visitors are coming from and how often they come back, she notes.

Other helpful tools include Crazy Egg, which generates "heat maps" that show exactly where your Web visitors are clicking, and Visual Website Optimizer, a testing tool that allows you to create different versions of your website and lands pages to see which perform best, says Dershewitz.

Which tools you use depends on your goals. Outline your goals, set targets for success and then establish data analytics to monitor and achieve those targets, she notes.

"When you break it down and take it step by step, it doesn't have to be overwhelming," adds Bessmer.