Three data challenges facing small businesses

Mike Schmoker once said “Things get done only if the data we gather can inform and inspire those in a position to make difference.”

Making sense of data requires some degree of skill but the main question is whether most small businesses pay attention to data. Depending on the nature of a business, small businesses collect and keep data relating to customer details, customer orders, product catalog etc.

For small business owners who are not IT savvy, they store data on paper and are faced with the burden of having to be in the same physical location as the paper in order to access it. Business owners who are in tune with technology make use of software applications such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel or other word processing and spreadsheet applications. While these tools may be sufficient in some business environments, it may not cater for all data collection and storage needs.

Data collection challenge
Having a medium to collect data is critical. It is easy to write things on paper, all you need is a pen. As easy as writing on paper is, it comes with its challenges. For example, it is difficult to find specific record/text especially if you have large volume of pages to skip through. If you have organized your written records properly, things maybe a little easier. If other people were to access your written data, it may be quite challenging since they have to learn the structure you created in filing the records. Apart from the time it takes to find data, you also need to have your paper documents with you in order to access them. What if three or more people were to use the same paper documents, how will they share access to it? There is an obvious limitation collecting data on paper.

For business owners that collect data using word processing or spreadsheet applications, such category of people have a leverage over business owners who are still using traditional paper. The obvious advantage is that spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel have some kind of structure (rows and columns) which every user of such application needs to understand before using it. With basic understanding of spreadsheets, functions like collecting data in tabular format and searching records become an easy task.

Using a spreadsheet application for example does not eliminate the challenge of having access to your data at all times. Because your data resides in your computer storage, you need your computer to access it. With the advent of cloud storage services like Dropbox, you data can be stored in the cloud and made available to you on several devices. This may solve your data storage and sharing problem but what happens if you want to share data with the public. Sharing spreadsheet files with potential or existing customers may not sound like a good idea especially if the data is not fit for purpose.

It would be better to put data in more presentable and engaging format and to make it available on devices which majority of your target audience own, like a mobile phone.

Data storage challenge
If you are storing data on paper, record retrieval will continue to be a problem except you have developed an exceptional storage and retrieval mechanism. A characteristic of a good storage system is speed and ease of data retrieval. If your storage system does not provide you with this capability then you need to look elsewhere. As a small business owner who works with electronic documents on a computer, organization of files into folders is a necessity otherwise data retrieval will be challenging. Most storage systems provide you with search functionality but organizing your files properly has its advantage.

If you cannot afford a computer or have one but unable to put it to good use due to electricity related issues or other challenges, you may consider finding a suitable mobile application that would meet your needs. There are tonnes of applications available for free. You are sure to find something that works for you.

Data sharing challenge
Businesses do not share all the data they collect with the public. Some data are meant for internal consumption like sales records while some are meant for public consumption such as product catalog, price list etc.
A website is a good medium to share information with your audience. As as a small business, owning a website come at a cost, not to mention yearly renewals and constant updates required to keep it up to date.

Consider a situation where a small business owner wants to share her product catalog with prospective or existing customers, sending customers a word or spreadsheet document won’t make much sense because customers would be required to have similar software application to access such document. A proper way to go about it is to put the data in a format that is accessible on a business website. This entails learning some web content authoring skills or paying someone to do the job. This approach may not be cost effective for a small business.
A way out for small businesses who are interested in solving their data challenges using simple tools
With the array of technologies available today, simple tasks such as data collection, storage and sharing have been addressed by a number of software applications and platforms. One of such application is Tattara. Tattara is a mobile and web application developed to solve challenges of data collection, storage and sharing with focus on portability.

With the web app, users can create a structure for the type of data they want to collect. The data structure created which is referred to as an “App” can be accessed via a mobile phone and on the web. Collecting data is as simple as filling out forms and the data is stored in the cloud. Cloud storage means that the data can be access at any time even via a different web or mobile device. There several features provided by the app to make it easy for users to work with their data. Don’t just take my word for it, sign up for a free account at