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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 Edited by Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily

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).

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