1. Have a very clear handle on what problem you’re solving or what decision you’re making.
With the abundance of software and data collection tools available to small businesses, figuring out where to start and what data to look at can be overwhelming. As such, it’s best to work backwards from the problem or decision at hand: What within your business needs to be improved the most? What decisions are most pressing or high-impact for your business? Once you’ve decided that, you can then go straight to the data sources that are most relevant and be very focused in your approach to analyzing data.
2. Spend a bit of time cleaning up your data, focusing on what could actually muddy your findings.
Let’s be honest, data can be really messy. There’s user error in inputting data, there are outliers that can mess with calculations, and there are all the nuances of your business that can impact data in ways you might not be able to anticipate. Even with all these complexities, data-driven insights can be worth pursuing—you just need to put in a little bit of elbow grease up front to prepare your data for analysis.
The first step is to think about your business and identify where your data might need to be cleaned. In other words, where could your data potentially be incorrect, unclear, redundant, or out of date? For example, do you have different types of customers that need to be treated differently when you're analyzing data? If so, you will want to bucket them and build in that nuance based on what you know about your business and your internal processes.
3. Look to surface “the story” with your findings and tell that story to your team and / or other stakeholders.
Figures, numbers, and data are not meaningful out of context. To make your analytical findings as impactful as possible, tell a story. First, set the stage for your audience: What is the challenge or decision at hand? How did we get here? Second, explain the key takeaways and learnings up front in a succinct way, so that your audience can internalize the most important information. Last, share critical stats, details, charts, and / or graphics that bolster your findings. The first half of the battle is gaining the insight—but the second half, and perhaps most important part, is turning that insight into improvements and optimizations within the business. To enable that change, telling a captivating story to mobilize your team is critical.