Get Comfortable With Big Data in 3 Steps Many small-business owners are feeling intimidated about the big-data wave, it doesn't have to be scary.

By Debra Kaye

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With big data making waves, many of today's entrepreneurs are faced with a conundrum: How to crack into the bottomless well of facts and figures the online world provides us. We know it's out there. We know it can give us useful information about potential clients or customers. But what we don't know is how to gain access to enormous data sets without spending similarly enormous funds to collect and analyze this fruitful resource.

While it may seem frustrating at times and an impossible task, it can be done -- and on the cheap.

Here are three inexpensive but effective ways an entrepreneur can put big data to work.

1. Start small. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it? Yet, that's one of the beauties of big data -- there's so much of it around, you can plunge in at virtually any point and come up with valuable new knowledge.

Even the least tech-savvy among us knows about Facebook and Google searches. From these sources you can gather information about your current customers that will enable you to give them more personal service. You can also use this kind of information to build a profile of what your potential clients will most likely look like.

Consider Justin Roller, maître d' at acclaimed New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park. According to a recent interview in Grub Street, each afternoon Roller does some quick internet research on each guest who is expected for dinner that night: Even small details are useful.

"If I find out a guest is from Montana, and I know we have a server from there, we'll put them together," Roller says in the interview.

Related: How Big Data Helps Us Keep Pace (Infographic)

This data mining ensures that Eleven Madison Park patrons will have an evening like no other -- and hopefully will tell others.

2. Let someone else do the work for you. While there are tools out there like WealthEngine, a service that provides data and analytics to nonprofits, luxury goods, retail, and financial organizations, allowing them to get a deep understanding of a customer or prospect's wealth, lifestyle and spending behavior, they do cost a pretty penny. But that doesn't mean there aren't other resources freely available that will give entrepreneurs a sophisticated grasp on key demographics.

For instance, there are state and regional databases that can help you pinpoint an unfilled need within a community or increase your knowledge of your customers' lifestyles. The Pioneer Valley Regional Data Portal (PVRDP), which serves Central Massachusetts, is one such resource. It consolidates regional economic, planning and workforce data through a publicly accessible portal specifically designed to support economic development in the region.

Related: Big Data Isn't Just For Big Businesses Anymore

If you have already have a product or service you're ready to offer, the United States Postal Service can help you create a direct-mail campaign by giving you access to its big data through its Maponics Online Store, a resource that has a variety of reports an address lists available at reasonable cost.

If data collection and analysis is just not your thing, don't run screaming into the night. Instead, consider talking to the internship office at your local college or university to find a student majoring in data science or analytics who will bring up-to-the-nanosecond expertise to your endeavor for the relatively minor cost of his or her internship. Who knows? You might just find your first employee.

3. Think ahead. Your business won't always be in startup mode. Think ahead to the day when you have amassed a large client list of your own. That's your data gold mine. So do your future self a huge favor and start keeping good records now. The more you know about your customers, the more you can reach others like them -- and find new ways to keep them interested in your product.

Related: Not Using Big Data for Hiring? You May Be Missing Out on the Best Candidates.

Debra Kaye

Brand Strategist and Partner at Lucule

Debra Kaye is a brand and culture strategist and partner at Lucule, a New York-based innovation consulting firm. She is author of the book, Red Thread Thinking (McGraw-Hill, 2013).

Editor's Pick

Related Topics

Business Ideas

This Teacher Sells Digital Downloads for $10. Her Side Hustle Now Makes Six Figures a Month: 'It Seems Too Good to Be True, But It's Not.'

When one middle school teacher needed to make some extra income, she started a remote side hustle with no physical products and incredibly low overhead. Now she brings in six figures each month, and offers courses teaching others how to do the same.


'I Haven't Ticked All the Boxes Yet.' Hilary Duff Reveals Her Next Venture After More Than 2 Decades in the Spotlight — and the Surprisingly Relatable Key to Her Enduring Success

The actor talks entrepreneurship, secrets to success and her latest role as chief brand director for Below 60°, a product line of air fragrances.


Great Leaders Must Be Great Coaches — Here's How to Become One

To be a successful leader, you must become an expert in how to help others grow and develop. Here's a research-driven approach for entrepreneurial leaders to coach and effectively develop their teams.


How to Win Over the Room With Effective Persuasion Skills

The art of persuasion is not just about the notes, the data, and the pitch; it's about creating a connection that resonates with the audience. We explore how a blend of story, active listening, and genuine interaction can not only capture attention but also win hearts and minds, setting the stage for achieving success in any meeting.

Business News

An Ivy League University Is Teaching the Secret of Taylor Swift's Success

Several major universities have added courses dedicated to studying Swift's star power.


Google Is About to Delete Inactive Accounts. Here's How to Avoid A Massive Gmail Bounce Rate.

Google will start deleting inactive accounts soon. For businesses like yours, that means many Gmail contacts will probably bounce. Here's how you can avoid that – and keep your business emails landing in the inbox.