Understanding Big Data for the Small BusinessAs a small business owner, chances are that when you hear the term “big data,” you immediately think the concept isn’t relevant for your business. For most people, the term big data conjures up images of massive amounts of information that only giant retailers like Walmart, Target and Amazon or large government entities could handle. But big data is also exceptionally important to the little guy, as it provides the very information small businesses need to propel their success. Here we’ll explore big data, revealing what it really is and how it can be utilized by your small business.

What is big data, exactly?

Although man websites feature complex and difficult to understand definitions behind big data, this post will stick with a relatively simple one: big data is data management that centers on the customer. Some examples of big data include consumer transaction histories, social media activity, website activity logs, online videos and online databases, among others.

You may be wondering why any organization would be interested in some of this data, and that’s a good question. Having a record of a single transaction here and there might not provide much useful information. However, collectively, this data can be effectively analyzed, assisting both large and small organizations in determining shifts in consumer tastes or emerging trends that can be wildly useful—not to mention profitable—in the marketplace.

The big data concept is certainly not a new one. In fact, research on this topic dates back to 2001, when research analyst Doug Laney described big data as a three-dimensional concept involving volume, velocity and variety. As of 2013, our highly connected society is sending out 200 million emails, uploading 100 hours of video to YouTube, sending 300,000 Tweets and performing 2.5 million queries on Google… every single minute. But how does all that data help your business?

Where big data meets small business… and how this can help your business

Let’s face it: gathering big data sounds like an expensive and time consuming process, involving market research firms and data analysis teams. But your small business can still get involved and typically spend a lot less money than you might think too!

Having the right software and tools to work with is critical so here’s a short list of free and low-cost tools you can access right away to get started.

  • Apache Hadoop: This open-source software provides scalable and reliable software capable of processing large data sets using a simple programming framework.
  • Google Analytics: Google Analytics is a valuable tool that small business owners often overlook. This can help you locate, analyze and reach your target audience through a variety of channels, including social media, search and mobile apps.
  • Google BigQuery: Google BigQuery offers you an unprecedented opportunity to analyze huge amounts of data, interactively. This tool offers on-demand pricing and you can sign up online and allow this software to become your data analyst.

For best results, understand how you plan to utilize the data before going in. For example, do you want to improve your website, predict sales or identify your target market? Having this kind of focus in mind will also help as you learn to utilize the data management software you select. Once you’ve gathered the data, you may find on-site data storage to be challenging and, if so, a wise alternative would be a cloud computing approach for your data storage or other IT requirements.

Finally, remember that in business, regardless of the size of your operation, the best new ideas and products are the ones customers want and are willing to pay for. This has always been true in business, and implementing big data strategies for your small business can allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of your consumers and stay up to date on what they want and will pay for.

Emily Miller is a marketing professional and small business technology blogger who helps manage and contribute to Technected. She writes to help startups and small businesses implement the most efficient tech solutions for their companies.