Small business owners today have a problem. They’ve got too much information.
Between Google, Facebook, and Twitter and the spreadsheets that are generated on behalf of your business, it all gives new meaning to the phrase “Too Much Information” (TMI).
Google Analytics alone has more than 150 default metrics. This is criteria that can be explored any number of ways—and often is, without any conclusive insight to show for it. These days, a default Facebook export includes seven spreadsheets with 10 or more columns of data for each. If that weren’t enough, a default Twitter export includes 40 columns of data.
You’d think having this much data at our disposal would make life easier and yet, in most cases, it doesn’t, does it? One thing that undoubtedly does make life easier? The habit of asking questions.
When you get in the habit of asking questions, you acquire a more clear-eyed mindset that eventually leads to the ability to identify patterns and pull a story from a set of raw numbers. This—I don’t need to tell you—is a major advantage. One quick disclaimer: it’s not a mindset you’re likely to develop if you’re giving all “key performance indicators” equal consideration. In other words, if a set of data isn’t applicable to what you’re measuring, it’s only going to make it harder for you to see telling trends. Ditch it. If you don’t know how a stat is calculated, or what it refers to, it will only make it more difficult for you to uncover patterns.
Before you start questioning the wisdom in this (ignoring that other data can admittedly make you feel a little insecure), remember who develops those analytic reports. Even Facebook, Twitter, and Google can’t accurately anticipate what’s going to be important to you. Only you can know that.
So then—before you even start looking through that trove of data, try asking yourself, “What am I hoping to find in this information?” Then, once you know what you’re looking to encounter, turn it around and play devil’s advocate. Try envisioning a case for the “other side.” What outcome would you expect to see if you were wrong? The routine paves the way to finding useful patterns. It also has the added benefit of being less strenuous and more conversational than attempting to confront all forms of data. Learn to spot patterns and you'll be able to put the data in perspective, quiet the noise around you, and pay attention to what really matters.