How to Grow Your Small Business in 2021 Using Business Intelligence

With the coronavirus pandemic still going on and the world in the grip of an economic downturn, small businesses have never faced a more challenging business environment. Business budgets and consumer spending have both shrunk dramatically in response to global political and economic uncertainty.

Even large corporations and household names have filed for bankruptcy, so no business can afford to be complacent – all the more so with small businesses.

Over the course of the past year, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation, as businesses scrambled to gain the digital tools and capabilities they need to support remote working, survive and thrive in a rapidly changing market. That includes data analytics and business intelligence (BI) tools, which aren’t just for large companies any more.

SMBs can’t afford to overlook the edge that data has the potential to give them for staying competitive, and cloud-based SaaS tools make BI accessible even for businesses that have to count their pennies. Spreadsheets aren’t enough for cutting-edge business strategy, no matter how advanced your Excel skills may be. While business instincts matter, you need data to determine the best decision.

But as with every tool, unlocking the potential of BI is not just about what you have but how you use it. If you want to justify the cost of licenses for your BI tools and make the most out of your subscriptions, you need to apply them in the right way.

Collect Your Data in a Single Location

BI tools work best when they can access all your business data in a single location. It’s easy to underestimate the number of datasets and sources that you possess, but even a small business can be drawing information from a CRM, Google Analytics, quarterly financial reports, quality checks, and more.

Create ideal conditions for your business intelligence tools to deliver insights and predictions by proactively gathering all your data in one place.

Even better, look for cloud-based BI tools that can collect and store data in a single repository, saving you from repeatedly hunting down isolated datasets scattered across your organization.

Remove Silos to BI Insights

Cross-fertilize your data-driven decision-making by opening up access to BI tools to more departments. BI tools can improve every single department in every industry and vertical, so take action to remove silos by looking for easy to use tools with intuitive interfaces that don’t demand data science expertise.

Most SMBs can’t afford to field a data science department, but even if you can, you need them for other tasks. You don’t want your few analysts to spend all of their time responding to requests for reports and visualizations.

You also need to run effective training for all your employees in using your BI tools, so that your analysts don’t turn into support reps, constantly helping other employees troubleshoot their ways through the system.

Empower Employees to Use BI Systems Independently

You want your employees to feel confident about tapping into BI insights on a regular basis to guide their decision-making, but that will only happen if they’re able to use your tools independently.

Look for solutions with a strong knowledge base, contextual prompts, and video guides that are integrated into the system. AI-powered BI platforms can train users while they experiment, using self-learning to adapt to the language and workflows that users need.

Help employees along by choosing which datasets to surface with your BI deployment and having data scientists craft dashboards that prioritize the most relevant data analytics. Integrate BI tools into familiar workflows so that it becomes second nature for employees to apply them.

Craft an Overarching Data Strategy

Big data can be overwhelming for small businesses. A significant part of the role of BI tools is to serve you, helping you to filter through the data to focus only on the datasets you need, but it needs your input to direct it to the path.

Begin by outlining the challenges and opportunities ahead of you so you can define a coherent data strategy that harnesses AI and ML to help you and not distract you. Think about how markets, suppliers and your whole business ecosystem is evolving, considering what you might need one, three or five years down the line.

This is particularly important in a small business which might not have a dedicated data science team to control the data narrative, and where most users aren’t likely to have data science experience.

Look at the Biggest Possible Picture

Initially, you’ll use BI to analyze traditional datasets like customer behavior, sales metrics, marketing events, financial reports. But your tools can glean insights from many more data sources.

Keep on expanding your understanding of your target markets, business processes, and internal efficiencies by continually adding new data categories to build the biggest possible picture.

Just make sure that you do this without losing track of your core business strategy.

BI Tools Are the New Must-Have for SMBs

As we enter 2021, BI tools are not just within reach for small businesses; they have become a vital part of their toolbox.

For SMBs to survive and thrive in a competitive environment, they need to use their BI tools to the max by preparing a data strategy, collecting data in a single location, removing silos and empowering employees to access insights, and constantly adding more data sources so that visibility into the business keeps growing.


Alex is a small business blogger with a focus on entrepreneurship and growth. With over 5 years of experience covering the startup and small business landscape, Alex has a reputation for being a knowledgeable, approachable and entrepreneurial-minded blogger. He has a keen understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing small business owners, and is able to provide actionable advice and strategies for success. Alex has interviewed successful entrepreneurs, and covered major small business events such as the Small Business Expo and the Inc. 500|5000 conference. He is also a successful entrepreneur himself, having started and grown several small businesses in different industries.