Is it possible for Small Businesses to use Big Data? Hell Yeah, but how?

I was answering a HARO question this past week about the tools and methods small businesses would use to get an analysis from Big Data, and I realized that is exactly what I was doing for a client right now. Plus I needed a break from our hurricane event this week!

First, if you are asking what is HARO?

HARO, Help A Reporter Out, is a systematic way to get published as an expert (on most anything). In the world of social media its a way to get readers, followers, publicity or anything in between. It was created by Peter Shankman and I use it daily for my StartupPOP Event Business. It’s also a great way to get “As Seen As” on the home page of your website!

But even in my day to day web analytic and business intelligence consulting, I am finding that sometimes HARO questions come up and try to answer them as best as I can in my current consulting field. I have come within a hair of getting published in the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, NYTimes and Forbes through HARO. I was close each time, and I was praying and hoping. My time will come. I have been published or mentioned in business journals, online blogging sites and more recently (I think). It’s a shot in the dark, but my inner writer says to me that getting published is what it is all about!

The other thing I am learning by answering HARO questions it is solidifies my knowledge, kind of like teaching a class.

Teaching is the best way to learn and keep sharp on a subject. I have taught a web analytics class once a year at Florida Atlantic University.

So, the question of how to use Big Data as a small business comes down to one basic premise. For a small to medium size business there is no single answer. Cost is always a consideration. But the reality is today the costs and barriers to very sophisticated analysis have collapsed. The only cost is a person’s time.

First off, there are probably a dozen definitions of Big Data. Obviously for a large corporation they often have the knowledge and systems and solutions necessary as well as the staff.

So how does a Small Business compete with Big Data?

In my mind it is the concept not the solution that is important. The main concept I see is bringing all the data together from various apps and systems into one place, so you can connect the dots and get some serious analysis going on.

In the case of a small business this depends on whether they are a store front, web only, have a call center, multi-channel, work at home or other. They may use a CRM/email system like Sugar, Constant Contact, Infusionsoft, Sales Force or others. The company may use Google Analytics. They may use Moma, Godaddy, MailChimp or VOIP. They may use WordPress, Shopify, Magento, Prestashop or others. They may use nothing at all, but that is rarer and rarer. And then there is your custom Database system you have already created!

The core concept behind Big Data for a small business is that they are able to answer critical questions for the business that would seem unlikely 10 years ago. The reason it was unlikely ten years ago is today, you can pull all these things together in basic .csv format into Excel and come up with a quick answer. There are also a dozen amazingly easy to use systems out there that now connect to your data and bring it all together. If you have a tech guy/gal or you are a tech guy/gal you could go much farther and create a baseline for your analysis, so you have something to go to on Monday morning to review. You could schedule or cron it and it would just be emailed to you with a nice colorful chart. Now you are starting to get it. That would mean building out a MySQL database or MongoDB dataset that unites all the data together to get a visual representation of what is going on!

Big Data for small businesses is about having all the data you need in one place to uniquely visualize your business information.

A good example of this would be for a multi-channel seller of Raw Juice. I am just pointing this out because I am seeing this Raw Juice growth trend happening, so businesses who do this both in a storefront and online and are still small may want some insights, especially in making a decision to grow or not. Let’s say they have more than just a store, like a web order form for recurring delivery orders (now you know why it is a growth business at $10 a bottle)!

How do you start with Big Data?

Well, what is the lurking question in the business that could make or break it. Often in Big Data, you don’t even know the question to ask until you get the data all in front of you. I did this for my Speed Dating business and when my partners and I looked at data combined from 4 sources, we realized many, many things that we did not already know. It was an eye opener.

For our make believe multi-channel raw juice maker, I would like to know if what days are the greatest for visitors and conversions, both online and offline. I would want to know how many people on the email list converted to MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue). I would want to know which market segment of customers we are succeeding with, male, female, younger, older, single (especially single), married, income level and how do we perform per income level. I’d also like to know how many bottles we dump every day in relation to online visitors, meaning was their an opportunity to invite them to come by at closing time for a last minute 75% off deal, since we were going to dump it anyway!

Let’s examine the tools and skills you will need and whether or not.

You almost always start in Excel. Companies that try to use Google Spreadsheets, well, let’s just say if you just use Google, you may be good at it and quick at this point, and you may have figured it out, but you need to try Excel, because it is 1000 times easier to work in and master. (just my opinion).

So, Excel is just a place to start. Knowing pivot tables next is critical. And Excel is just the start. If you are hiring a programmer or someone like myself to figure this all out you have to stop and put a value on getting it completed and in a nice to view graphical report!

If I could answer all these questions for you weekly, monthly, daily, what would be the value of the final report? Couldn’t this be the thing that determines if you are in business next year? The answer is it is worth a lot!!! At least more than $10 a bottle of raw juice…

Next you need to bring down all the data, if you have it. From Shopify get their .csv file. From Google Analytics get their .csv file. From Mailchimp get their .csv report. You would have to pull all this data into MySQL if you did it the old school way I do it. There are other answers, but I just don’t exactly trust them and many are out of price for small businesses like Tableau. I have looked recently at Necto by Panorama and Periscope data and they look promising. In the end, we are still in need of a great (and cheap product) to do this type of analysis. Now there is some promise that Google itself will allow for this type of analysis right within their BigQuery product. Problem is it just smells of enterprise when you look it over here:

We are talking small businesses, not even medium size business, so let’s just stop right there with Google. They may have something eventually but right now, you need to hire a programmer. Sorry about that. At least you may be able to get away without a programmer if you are an Excel hack like me. Well, either way you now know it is possible to get this stuff into a chart.

Talking of Charts

I am partial to Google Charts or charts.js. This is a library of charts that blows away anything you can do in Excel or Google. It can be used to create beautiful, colorful, geo/mapped, barcharts, lines, pie charts, and everything else you can think of. I have put together 100+ charts on a single page using charts.js. The problem is this requires even a different programming skill to implement (javascript), so not going to happen for most small business owners without a consultant or your 16 year-old genius cousin, especially since you need to have it on a web server somewhere and not on a desktop to implement. (Trust me it is a little more difficult than setting up WordPress…) Don’t even think of 5err for this, since they never will understand it!

Most people will stay within Excel for everything they do. Even large enterprises do this. It it is easiest and easy enough to replicate on Monday morning, but it will never be automated that way. You will have to hire someone to download, enter data and maybe crunch this or that. But it could be worth it.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed my Big Data discussion for Small Business. It looks like my full-time contract is ending this week, so I am actually on the hunt for consulting work right now either in Web Analytics (Google, Adobe/Omniture, Coremetics, etc) as well as Business Analyst or Business Intelligence work. That is a skill I have dabbled in for 15 years if you know me well. So, please contact me if you want me to build this solution for you or figure out a way to get it done! I can be reached at

As for my other gig, StartupPOP Events, we are running the next Tech Startup Pitch Event with product demos and networking in Boca Raton at The Greenhouse on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. We are expecting 75 to 100 attendees. Up to 10 companies will be pitching. There is a panel of investors arriving that night. Contact me at if you want to pitch. The spots almost always fill up… Please sign up here on Meetup:

If you are demo’ing your product or service then you should signup on our Eventbrite here:

Have a great weekend or week and I will see some of you at our next StartupPOP event! If you are not in South Florida get on our email list at so you can attend when we hit your town (like NYC, DC, Tampa, Orlando and Miami to name a few). Sign up for our list here:


This article was originally published on 10/07/2016 on Linkedin here

Founder SEO Turbo Booster,, Writer, Speaker, Consultant. Email me at to contact me.

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