Utilizing big data for small businesses
Process can be affordable and insightful

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

Nov. 6, 2015

WAUKESHA — Don’t let the name fool you, big data isn’t only for the Kohl’s and GEs of the world, but can be used by small businesses to improve sales and manipulate outcomes, said Bill King, owner of King Innovative in Waukesha.

He said he thinks about big data in terms of data gathered from multiple sources and the analytics used to understand it.

“It really is more about how you bring that all together into one place so you can manipulate it and output it in a format that you can understand and can gain some knowledge from what’s there,” King said.

Benefits of capitalizing on big data

Paul Decker, founder of Maverick Innovation Lab in Delafield, said he talks about how small businesses can benefit from understanding and using big data during the marketing class he teaches at the Waukesha County Technical College Small Business Center.

He said an advantage of big data is it allows a business owner to see a trend. For instance, data can be collected on the home-buying process and broken down to see where homes are being built, how they are being built, what kind of furnaces are being installed and so on.

Decker said small business owners can use the data to help get ahead of their competition.

An example that TopLine Results Chief Information Officer Dan Boehm provided was learning how clients discover a business. Determining if more clients learned about a business through a newspaper ad or the company’s website can help the marketing dollars be used in the wisest way.

If it’s the website, from there the business can get more specific with the data and learn which pages draw the most people, Boehm said.

Over time, the data process for a company becomes more defined and marketing is more targeted, Boehm said.

Collecting data

Accessing useful data is fairly easy, Decker said. Organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Forbes all collect data and analyze it.

King said the first step to analyzing and manipulating data is to identify what data sources already exist in a company, such as a website or production system. Then identify what systems exist outside the organization, such as social media and Google Ad Words.

“The next step is to understand what it is you want to discover or learn. What is it you want to pay attention to?” King said. “Once you define those then you have an idea of what data sources to go to.”

Doreen Bridges, vice president of TopLine Results Corporation in Pewaukee, said the data harvested can be strategically used to make intelligent decisions.

Bridges said by collecting the data and analyzing it, a company can use it to determine what their next product should be and what customers are interested in a new offering.

Optimally using data is essential for small businesses to stay competitive, Bridges said, especially as buying habits change quickly.

Time and cost

There are vendors, such as Microsoft and Amazon, that provide affordable analytics services, she said.

The amount of time it takes for a small business to gather and analyze the data can vary significantly, Boehm said. It may take more time to set up a database and then manually enter information for businesses who haven’t been compiling it before.

“It may be a year or so until small businesses gather enough data to start making decisions,” he said. But Boehm said the payoff can be huge.

“It’s not a one day you do it, the next day you have (the results). It’s a journey like anything else,” King said of using big data.

King said hiring an outsider to gather and analyze the data can be beneficial in that the third party looks at the data with a fresh set of eyes. Also, that person can help the business owner learn what they don’t already know.

How to use big data

Identify sources of data located within and outside the company.

Define what you want to learn or discover.

Collect data from multiple sources.

Use an analytics service provider of system to understand the collected data.

Implement data to create next steps plan for a business.

Source: Bill King, owner of King Innovative in Waukesha, and Doreen Bridges, vice president of TopLine Results Corporation in Pewaukee