Massive amounts of data is zooming around online and through the airwaves -- data that could help your small business accomplish a great many things. But just because it's there doesn’t mean you have to worry about ALL of it. You just need to focus.

Although the Internet of Things is upon us, hovering over the Interwebs like some humongous alien spaceship, big data concerns don’t have to keep you awake at night if you own a small business. Why, then, do you have a nagging feeling that it should?

Big Anxiety Caused By Big Data

The conversation online drives a sense of urgency around big data management -- and rightly so. The amount of information being generated online is enormous, and data sources extend well beyond online. Just reading about them can be overwhelming.

Take for example Kevin Kelleher's post on Inc.com. In it, Kelleher writes about the many sources small business could mine data from, and why:

Your company's databases can be cross-referenced with the expanding galaxy of information drawn not just from the likes of social networks, government databases, and usage patterns on mobile devices, but also from increasingly specialized information sources such as digitized transcripts of call-center interactions and sensors sending updates from various steps within a supply chain.”

Are you cross-referencing your client database with multiple specialized information sets? Have you explored Beacon Technology yet? No!?

You’re not alone. Slow your roll, rabbit or you’ll exhaust yourself before even starting the race.

The Data Behind the Curtain

The whole point of this data is to generate actionable (and ultimately real time) insight that powers your inventory, ideas and customer service. And yes, harnessing it in relevant ways will ultimately weigh heavily in your success (or failure) in your space.

So why shouldn’t “big data” figure prominently in small business conversations? It should. But, as mentioned above -- it’s all about focus.

Get a Handle on Your Data

So how do we put this big data picture into focus? Or, as Andrew Blackman puts it,

... be sure to consider exactly what your needs are. Just because big data is what everyone’s talking about, it doesn’t mean you should jump in right now and start gathering all the data you can.”

Here are some Data Ready Inventory questions to consider with your client insight team before drowning in the big data pool:

Data we have today

  • What data do we currently have on current and prospective clients?
  • What date do we currently collect on each group (this may have recently changed or be in a constant state of flux, always good to check)?
  • How are we storing this data?
  • Who “owns” this data (from collecting it to managing it)?
  • What are we doing with this data?

Data we would like to have

  • What would we like to do with the data we have? List short- and long-term goals.
  • Do we have a good list of additional potential data sources? Make a list and separate into short- and long-term options.
  • Do we have the right tools to pull insight from these data sources?
  • Who will manage the process -- and how should that look?
  • What is our budget for securing and managing this data?

Turn Focus Into Action

In spite of the endless scenarios that can result from how you answer the questions above, you should at this point feel comfortable moving your business forward on one of three tracks:

1. Get a handle on your current data

Nine times out of ten, you’ll find that you aren’t using your data appropriately -- or at all. Sure, you probably have an email list and maybe even a snappy newsletter you push out, but are you filtering these folks by interest? Are you actually paying attention to what they click and sending targeted materials based on those actions?

Beyond email marketing -- what are you doing? And is it effective? Or are you just collecting data for data’s sake?

2. Vet potential data sources and set a realistic budget

Depending on the data you seek, time and budget projections can vary wildly. From social listening and real-time sentiment monitoring services to software integrations that manage your content, ideas or leads, you’ll be looking at very different internal and financial commitments for each.

Vet multiple vendors (no matter how great that ONE place looks) and create a grid to compare options. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know -- and realizing (too late) that you’ve invested in an inferior product is a morale and credibility killer.

3. Add ONE new data source to your client insight capabilities

So you know what data you currently have and you’re managing it optimally, AND you’re also keenly aware of other potential data sources you could be leveraging. You’re a small business big data rock star! Don’t let this go to your head.

If you try to add too much at once, you’ll overwhelm your staff and yourself. Remember, the whole point of the data is to help you pull actionable insight that powers your inventory, ideas and customer service. Adding one new data source at a time helps set (and keep) a reasonable pace around expectations and budget.

And if this process is an exercise in frustration because you have NOTHING in place and no idea of where to start, here’s a tip for consumer-facing folks: mobile. Make mobile first on your list and study everything around it, from making sure your site is mobile responsive to capturing cell phone numbers and understanding SMS marketing.

B2B? You options are too vast to pick just one (sorry) -- but I’m sure you can easily find a killer digital marketing strategist to guide your efforts!

Title image by Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley / Shutterstock