Why analytics is ruining your small business.

As a small business owner we’re constantly told that we can look at the stats for pretty much everything we do and how insightful and useful they will be to us. Well, possibly controversially, I have to tell you it’s not true!

There is a fantastic amount of data out there readily available to us. The insights provided on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pintrest, not forgetting of course Google Analytics, is mind blowing, seriously, even if you’ve ever looked at the information available I would bet that you’ve not experienced the full plethora of data and have only really scratched the surface.

We’re constantly told by all the social media gurus and the marketing experts (whose adverts conveniently pop upon Facebook when we have just looked at our stats) that we should, no we must use all the analytics and insights available to us in order to have a successful business and to drive our market influence to a point where people come to us. We are coerced into looking at graphs, economic, social, geographical, heck even psycho-graphic demographics, and are made to feel slightly inferior if we haven’t analysed our analysis to a point of exhaustion. If you don’t know the exact time of day that your best customers (and you know who they are through extensive analysis of your customer base) are on your pages and website you’re domed to fail. You’re expected to know which channel they prefer to buy your services from, what other business they like to interact with, what they had for breakfast, what newspaper they read and that their dog is called Fred. And that’s the problem.

There is so much information out there that it’s easy to get bogged down in the numbers, the graphs, the analytics, the collection and presentation of the information. Don’t get me wrong, I love these sorts of numbers, the power they have to help consumers find the exact right product, at the right price, in the right place at the right time for them is incredible. The ability for businesses to be able to use information to target their products and the marketing of them to an audience who not only wants them but has a need for them is overwhelmingly exciting for me. The power of data is phenomenal and with my history as a database marketer it’s no surprise that I love this sort of information but it used to be my full time job to collect, analyse and present and make decisions on this sort of data, now it’s a small part of all the other jobs I have to do in order to run my own small business.

I’ve done it myself, I’ve thought I’ll have a look at my Google Analytics, see where my website traffic is coming from and who they are. Or maybe even looked at my Facebook page analysis to verify who interacts with Lubylu on there. Whilst it’s important to keep a check on the high level information, I’ve been known to think I’ll just create a spreadsheet for the data so I can analyse the trends going forward. I’ll just colour code those columns and cells in the spreadsheet and then maybe even add a conditional format and throw in a pivot table to aid with my analysis later on. The problem is at this point I’ve probably wasted half a day, time I should have been either making candles, ordering new supplies or actually contacting customers and maybe even trying to actually grow my customer base. Analytics can be used as distraction technique, one which you can pretend to yourself isn’t actually a waste of time and in fact it’s something you practically have to do in order to survive the bear pit of a market place out there. I call this ‘Procrastination Analysis’!

It reminds me of when I was studying for my ‘A’ levels and the lengths I would go to to create the most beautiful revision timetable. This was in the days before computers took over everything graphic so it was all hand done, multi-coloured pens were used to co-ordinate topics and subjects, stickers, drawings, plans were made, themes were introduced and be called revision. It wasn’t of course, it was a delaying tactic to try and put off the studying of the Tudors and the Stewarts and the European Wars of Religion and other such subjects that were never going to be as interesting as who was doing what with whom in the 6th form common room!

As small business owners we have a finite amount of time to get everything done. The team running the business is often very limited and the number of tasks that need to be done very large. Whilst data is your friend and it is necessary that you have an understanding of what is available to you, how to use it and a high level knowledge of some of the key insights, it’s not necessary for small business owners to spend their very valuable time and effort trying to get to grips with data that wont help them make their day to day decisions.

The key element for me is to ask ‘What decision will I make from this information?’ If the data available to you is really just of interest and it’s not going to impact how you market your product, the strategy of your business or even your product design going forward then I would suggest that spending time on them is ruining your business.

Lucy Pimblott,

Owner of Lubylu Ltd ethical home fragrance products and previously a data geek!



If it’s free it has no value

I recently read an article bemoaning the fact that Facebook uses data gathered by your actions on its site as a means for assessing which commercial adverts to show you. It also went on to declare shock and horror about the number of apps that use your Facebook login to gain information about you and your friends, the places you go, the food you eat and what your favourite cocktail is.

What surprises me is that people are shocked by this. If Facebook and other such companies didn’t gather insightful information for its advertising partners, the data would have no value and therefore the advertisers wouldn’t pay. Facebook is a business with shareholders who want to make money out of their investment. It is in a unique position that approx. 1.5 billion people all over the world want to use it as a platform for telling their friends, family, acquaintances about their every move and meal meaning that Facebook has a rare ability to know more about us than we know about ourselves. If it wasn’t for the boosted posts, the paid for adverts and the sponsored links, we as users would have to pay to use Facebook! How much would you be prepared to pay to keep the ability to share status updates with friends, check in at your favourite restaurant, inform your world that ‘it must be 5 o’clock somewhere’, show your geographically distant family pictures of your children doing cutely comical things and generally show off your life to those who matter most to you?

Consider music sharing sites such as Spotify, you can have the free version and have to listen to some adverts every once in awhile. These don’t seem to be targeted, but they may be influenced by the music you’ve selected to listen to (the adverts selected for me will be based on what my 9 year old listens to!!) You can select to pay £10 per month to remove the adverts and access the ability to download your playlists. Where a business is being run, money needs to be made and one of the most valuable assets any business has these days is information, something which facebook has in abundance. I’m guessing that if Facebook said that it would remove the adverts but that everyone who used it had to pay £10 per month, the number of users would drop dramatically even though the cost is less than a round of drinks in the pub these days.

It seems it’s not so much about cost as value. If it’s given to us for free we place no value on it. The same could be said for art and culture in the form of free libraries, museums and galleries. We don’t value them or the service they have provided until they are either taken away or someone starts charging for entrance. Technology needs to be viewed in the same way. Facebook, and other social media platforms upon which we have all become reliant, need to be paid for by someone and if it’s not you directly then they have to make their commercial offering attractive enough so that businesses will want to pay for what they have.

The thing with Facebook is that you are and always have been in control. Whenever you post a status update, photo, video or tell your friends how you’re feeling at that exact point in time, you can change the audience. When you sign up to an app using your Facebook login because let’s face it, it’s much easier than having to remember loads of usernames and passwords (thanks Facebook for making our lives easier), you can select who will see your posts, only you, friends or public. You are fully informed about how your data will be used (not that anyone ever reads the user agreement but the information will be there). You can change your preferences and privacy at any time by using your settings keeping you completely in control, it’s your decision. Just as the decision is yours as to whether to visit the local art gallery and museum, the ability to choose what data and how it’s shared is yours and, at the end of the day, if you really don’t like it, you can always come off Facebook!