Data is Not Scary

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Recently, I completed the Sales Fundamentals learning path on NWFA University. The Data Management course hit a major chord with me as most of my days are spent reporting on, analyzing, or creating new solutions around data. You may think that a database topic is similar to watching paint dry, but I am here to convince you that you can use a database to develop your business without possessing an IT degree or hiring a consultant.

DEFINE END GOALS
First, forget about data and technology. Instead, consider some long-term goals for your business. Begin with the end in mind and develop the technology needs from that.

Your end goals may be things like expanding your customer base, boosting repeat business, or increasing profit margins. Ask yourself, “What is the desired outcome for my business?” and “Why do I want to do this?” This is similar to choosing the right flooring for a room. What is the desired look? In what room is it being installed? How will the space be used?

Once you identify the end goals, consider the processes that will allow those goals to materialize. At that point, it becomes clearer what data needs to be stored. For example, if the goal is to track your customers, the data needs are simple: store all current customers with complete contact and address information. If the goal is to increase profits, however, the task is slightly more challenging as all costs including labor, products, overhead of all installations, and of course, all invoices need to be stored.

LET’S TALK A LITTLE TECHNOLOGY
Next, make sure you have a way to keep all the data you need easily. If you use accounting software, you already have a system that can store the data. Or, you may already have spreadsheet or database software on your computer.

If you need a new or different solution, options abound. Spreadsheet options are plentiful. Many of these programs can be acquired at a nominal cost or even free. From Microsoft to Google and others, a spreadsheet may be the best fit for you if you’re just dipping your toe into data management.

If you are looking for something with more power than a spreadsheet, in the August/September 2017 issue of Hardwood Floors, I wrote about Hubspot CRM and Zoho CRM (CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management). Both offer free software plans for small businesses. This software offers additional capabilities beyond standard spreadsheets, including sales pipeline monitoring and lead management, among others.

Spend some time researching and even test driving all your options. Cloud-based solutions may turn out to be your best choice as these are available anywhere and remove the need for backing up your data.

HERE COMES THE DATA
Once you have a place to store your data, you are ready to begin using the technology to grow your business. Remember the time spent defining the goal, the process, and the data required to meet your objective? Now you can reap the benefits of beginning with the end in mind.

If the process above is followed, this step should not be overwhelming. Think of the database as a tool necessary to complete the true goal. Similar to a saw or nail gun. It’s worth the effort to research your preferred tool, and it is necessary to accomplish the goal, but the tool itself is not the end goal. Using a database is no different.

Dig in and create the fields already defined and start filling them in with data you already have, adding in data you acquire in the future. Make sure not to let a lack of data from the past deter you from a new goal. You can always start now and just move forward. In many cases, it’s usually better to do something for 50 percent of your customers than not doing it for any.

KEEP ON KEEPING ON
While implementing the solution, you may have found improvements upon the original idea. Make sure to keep the original goal in mind, though. If you find other ideas along the way, great. Either add to those to the original, or better yet, create a new goal if expanding the original goal makes the project too complex.

After filling in the data, take time to document the goal, process, and technology involved in the solution. Then, adopt that technology and follow the process.

Remember that this tool, like others used in your business, needs maintenance. Decide how often to review the data, looking for bad or stale data. Although databases aren’t scary themselves, bad data most certainly can be.

Finally, rinse and repeat for other business goals. You’ll be reaping the benefits of using technology to advance your business in no time.

Jodi O’Toole is Director of IT and Web Development at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at jodi.otoole@nwfa.org.

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