From Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, to Jobs and Huffington, the US has long been a nation built on entrepreneurialism. A quarter of Americans (25%)* have considered starting a business, and almost half (49%) claim to have a great idea. But few have any idea about how to build on their vision.

Against market instability and economic recovery, would-be and current entrepreneurs are often looking for greater certainty to support business decisions. Business intelligence (BI) is able to deliver against this but was, until recently almost exclusively the domain of enterprise organizations with large IT departments – well beyond the reach of most small businesses. Not anymore. Getting started with BI has never been easier with powerful visual analytics solutions available on premise or in the cloud – including some for free – to fit a range of budgets.

Today’s analytics discussion promises greater confidence, and a sense of trust that the right decisions are being enacted. From marketing, financial planning and capex, to resourcing, small businesses can benefit vastly from BI and analytics. But how does the average business owner or user make the most of the wealth of data they have on hand?

Find the right solution: Analytics solutions aimed at big businesses can be expensive and time consuming to implement – maintained by teams of IT specialists. But as technology has developed rapidly, software has become not only more lightweight and powerful, but also more accessible. Smaller and more agile businesses have a range of options available to them – from desktop software for business tasks, software as a service solutions, to free or even freemium tools. For those wanting to dip a toe in the big data ocean, Open Web Analytics is a free resource that allows users to track and analyze how customers engage with a website or application. For those wanting to better analyze internal data as well as external, look to some of the larger providers – most offer a free, pared-down version of their software which will be more than sufficient for early adoption.

Ask and answer the right questions: It’s easy to drown in data. To be successful, businesses need to identify what they want to ask, and work out where that data sits. Any business that has been collecting customer, revenue or purchasing data in even the most basic of formats is already well armed to extract insights and make comparisons against externally available data. Trusted, affordable, ready-to-use data from external sources, and social media can add to this and provide more granular insights about customer behavior, purchasing decisions and reaction to marketing campaigns. Together these can better inform a business’ ability to target and engage more lucrative customers, and positively impact the bottom line. For a step deeper into the data waters, NoSQL and open source databases offer almost limitless answers to well-formed inquiries.

Use new insights to build vision: If the aftermath of the gold/blue/white/black dress taught us anything, it’s that the human mind is wired to process information visually. As a result, visual analytics solutions tend to be more user friendly and intuitive. There are several free options that can jumpstart business processes. Google Analytics for example, can jumpstart online engagement by showing which interactions and when touchpoints resonate best with target audiences. Equally, Twitter Analytics can drive engagement into action over social.

Data is pouring into the small business every hour, every day. Integrating visual analytics into business decisions, the smallest of today’s businesses can elevate their proposition to compete with established, larger peers head on. Not only this, but they can improve internal processes and increase efficiencies at the same time. By leveraging the right analytics solution, today’s entrepreneurs can focus on building tomorrow’s global brands.

*Figures from Gallup

The post Becoming a Data-Driven Success: How Visual Analytics Can Build Tomorrow’s Small Businesses appeared first on Home Business Magazine.

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