As a small business owner, you’ve likely heard two words over the past few years that may both intrigue and intimidate you – Big Data. At one time, data analysis was only available to large corporations that could pay outside analysts, IT specialists, and data scientists. But that’s no longer the case – data analysis software has become more affordable, and more powerful, than ever before, expanding analytics and reporting to businesses of all sizes. What does that mean for small business owners? It gives even the smallest businesses the opportunity to benefit from - and grow through - better insight into their data. But just because data analysis is more affordable and accessible than ever, it still requires some training to undertake effectively. What’s are the best ways to learn data analytics? Below, we’ll cover that - as well as why it’s so important for your business to understand.
Why big data matters
51 percent of small businesses acknowledge that analytics are critical, yet only 45 percent actively track their performance data. Meanwhile, 73 percent of small businesses list finding new customers as their top priority, while 67 percent rank retaining existing customers as a main concern. The best way to meet both of these needs - along with the myriad of other things you need to do on a daily or weekly basis to grow your business? Analyzing your data. Small business owners agree that finding and retaining customers is a top priority, and businesses need to use data to entice new customers, boost sales, and gain a competitive advantage over competitors. Data analysis has been proven to help small business owners meet their financial goals. But many business owners still assume they don’t have the time, skillset, or resources to track and analyze their data in a meaningful way. So - how do you overcome those barriers?
Starting the process
So - where do you begin in the data analysis process? It starts with knowing what exactly you’re looking for. Knowing how deep to dive into the data analysis pool and finding the right tools to help you get there is not only key, but the best way to learn data analytics for small business owners. Chances are, you already understand data analysis more than you realize. Have you ever explored your credit card statement or looked at how many of your recent marketing emails were opened? These are examples of data analysis - but you can do a lot more, and a lot deeper analysis in order to help grow your business. Think of things like:
- Which marketing channels help you acquire the most new customers?
- Which of your products are most profitable?
- Who are your highest-value customers?
- Which products or categories are they most likely to buy?
- What are your most effective promotions and discounts?
We’ll cover helpful resources in just a moment, but before we do, make sure you understand what type of data you need to interpret - and who at your company should lead the charge. Ask yourself the following:
- What type of analysis will help my business the most? Do you need to evaluate your customer segments or your product performance? Evaluate your marketing channels for profitability or optimize your email open rate? Do you want to look at historical data or predict future trends? Ideally, you’ll do some combination, but take some time to figure out what your business needs most so you know where to start.
- Am I the right person to interpret the data? If you’re an ecommerce merchant or a business owner, your talents may be best used elsewhere than digging deep into the data on a daily basis. Take the time to learn the basics, but if you have the resources and human capital, make someone else on your team the expert - whether it’s your marketing manager or a dedicated data analyst. If you are the ideal person for the job, consider the best way to learn data analytics for your budget and schedule.
- What do I want to get out of data analysis? Do you want to improve your customer experience? Are you hoping to increase acquisition or drive retention? It’s impossible to measure your progress without having your goals in place. If you’re having trouble figuring out what to look for, gain some inspiration from our ecommerce tips.
Now that you have a better idea of the who, what, and why behind your company’s data analysis, you can get started with the following resources.
The 5 best ways to learn data analytics
Companies all over the world collect and analyze massive amounts of data, about everything from their customers and clients to their suppliers and social media activity. In fact, you may not realize that you already have many sources of data available from your day-to-day activities, from your social media and website analytics to your ecommerce sales and email performance. For example, nearly all social media, ecommerce and advertising platforms offer free analytics tools within their platforms that can be accessed at any time. But, like anything else, they take time to learn - and a major downside is that you’ll only be able to see data from that specific platform. If you want to take your data analysis to the next level, you’ll need a business intelligence platform that combines multiple data sources and gives you the opportunity to slice, dice and filter your data in whatever way you need to to gain insights. And for that, you’ll want to build your data analysis skills. If you’re willing to spend time on training, there are numerous free and affordable options today for you and your employees (like these guides, videos and webinars from Glew). If you want a more formal data analysis education, there’s wide array of online courses available, covering a range of data analysis topics. We’ve reviewed five of the best options:
EdX is a one-stop shop for online courses from leading institutions all over the world – from Harvard and UC Berkeley to MIT and Stanford. The Analytics for Decision Making course from Babson College in particular is a good option for those interested in learning the skills required to analyze data - and make smart decisions using data - for small businesses. The four-week course is free to complete, while a $249 option offers a professional certificate after completion. Another great option on edX for small business owners is Statistical Thinking for Data Science and Analytics, offered by Columbia University. This five-week option teaches data collection, analysis, and inference. Choose from the free option or a $99 course that includes a professional certificate.
Coursera’s analytics offering has an impressive name behind it – the Wharton Business Analytics Certificate – and this option is available to all levels of professionals, including those with no prior analytics experience, who are interested in learning data analysis. Coursera has five courses that introduce the processes needed to describe, predict, and inform data-driven business decisions: Customer Analytics, Operations Analytics, People Analytics, and Accounting Analytics. Each course runs four weeks and, after a free seven-day trial, costs $49 per month.
3. Machine Learning through Coursera
Another impressive (and free!) option through Coursera (or $79 with the professional certificate option) is their Machine Learning course. This course, offered by Stanford University, is a comprehensive starting point for those interested in learning about data science. Not only does this program discuss what machine learning is, how it works, and how it is applied, it also delves into the world of data mining and statistical pattern recognition.
Udemy offers numerous business analytics courses. Three we would recommend for business owners and merchants are:
- Statistics for Data Science and Business Analysis
- Statistics for Business Analytics and Data Science A-Z
- Introduction to Data Science Using Python
The first two are moderately priced, and the third is free. All offer tools for data analytics in the business world: descriptive and inferential statistics, hypothesis testing, regression analysis, confidence intervals and, in the third option, learning how to use Python and Scikit as well as the basics of data science and analytics.
5. Columbia University
The ColumbiaX MicroMasters Program in Business Analytics is more academic and more robust than the previous four options. This program offers four Masters-level courses that cover the following:
- Analytics in Python
- Data, Models and Decisions in Business Analytics
- Demand and Supply Analytics
- Marketing Analytics.
The end result? Users will gain skills and understanding in analytics – using data and quantitative and statistical analysis – in order to improve business performance, predict decision outcomes, and strategize future actions. Upon completion, users receive a MicroMasters Program Certificate. NOTE: This option is a professional and academic credential, with credits available for transfer towards the Columbia University Master’s Degree. Applicants to the MS degree must have completed the GRE as well as the MicroMasters program.
Other data analytics resources to consider
Once you learn the basics on analyzing data from the experts, you can then turn to your internal tech stack and other helpful resources in order to create a true data analysis platform. Like we mentioned, most technologies that a business uses - like social media, ecommerce, advertising, inventory management and more - have their own internal resources for you to explore. But these only give a single side of the story rather than providing the full picture of your data. For that, you need a platform that connects your disparate data sources. Business intelligence platforms like Glew compile product and customer analytics, sales reports, marketing channel performance and more in one place, allowing you to perform data analysis across your technology stack and identify opportunities in your multichannel data. And if you use a robust business intelligence platform like Glew, you’ll find plenty of internal resources within the software to help you grow your data analysis skills.
Power your data analysis with Glew Glew connects all of the data sources you use in one place, for seamless analytics and insights. You'll also benefit from data analytics resources, ongoing strategy and education and training specific to your account. Start a free trial to check it out:
No matter which route you choose, your business can use data analysis to forecast workflow and business performance, make better decisions about your company and identify any changes that need to be made to ensure profitability and drive growth. The best way to learn data analytics is to simply dive in. By determining your business’ data goals, choosing the right courses and methodology to learn how to comprehend the data, and then using the proper software to internally analyze and use this data, your business will flourish and benefit from data analysis.