Small Business Transition Blog

03/29/2015:

Better Business Insights: understanding your business data

It used to be that if you wanted to open a business, you would find a good location with a lot of foot traffic, hang a sign above your doorway, wait for people to poke their head through the threshold to see what was inside, and rely on luck, circumstance and word-of-mouth.

No more.  As anyone who has successfully run one can tell you, being a small business owner requires you to become a jack-off-all-trades. You are forced by sheer necessity to learn skill-sets outside of your core area of expertise: Federal and State business law, contract negotiations,
accounting and accounting principles, public relations, graphic design, online marketing, programming, and a host of other esoteric and mundane skills for which you have only a passing interest or worse yet no real interest at all.

You learn these skills because they are necessary to operating a successful, modern small business.  Because there is no one available to do it for free for you.
And even if there was, you still need to know how to do all these things, yourself, so you can tell wrong from right.

Such is the case, too, with data analytics.  The small business owner needs to learn how to identify, collect, properly layout, manipulate, and interpret data that is relevant to the operation of their business, and to the needs and desires of their primary customer base.

Why? Because people rarely poke their head through the threshold to see what is inside any more. Because there is no one to do it for free for you.  And - again - even if there was, you still need to know how to do all these things, yourself, so you can tell wrong from right.

Getting better insights into their operational data has been a long-standing goal of those within the corporate and government world. More recently, there has been growing recognition among small business owners that not only do they too need to collect operational data, but that they generally lag far behind in a necessary skill set.  Pie charts, percentages and averages just don’t cut it anymore.  A nice metaphor, often used by those of us in the business transformation field, is the image of a person standing with one foot in a bucket of boiling water, and the other foot in a bucket of freezing water.  Knowing the average of the two temperatures does not accurately describe the extreme level of discomfort being experienced.

When it comes to data, for most businesses - small businesses included - Microsoft Excel is the application of choice.  Wherever the data eventually ends up being stored or analyzed, it is almost always somehow captured or manipulated in Microsoft Excel. However, despite its popularity, its versatility, and its almost three decade dominance in the marketplace, few of us can truly say that we are Excel “experts”.  That which we need to learn, we learn.  That functionality we use on a regular basis, we retain.  That which we do not need, we generally ignore. And so, even though most of us know how to use Excel for our own narrow day-to-day purposes, few of us know how to use Excel to do fairly sophisticated business analytics.

More to the point, most individuals format the Excel spreadsheet layout with priority given to presentation and readability, not analytics usability.  There is a big difference.

This blog kicks-off a series on data and data analytics for the small business owner: how to use, identify, collect, properly layout, manipulate, and interpret data that is relevant to the operation of your business.  With its popularity, its versatility, and its long-standing market dominance as sufficient justification, the focus will be on using Microsoft Excel.

Why? Because that is what most people have and what most people use on a day-to-day basis. And - one more time -  even if you have someone doing it for you, so you can tell wrong from right.



© Mark Lefcowitz 2014 -- 2015
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