Data is everywhere today. Yet, the situation reminds me of that old saying, “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Yes, you may be floating in an ocean of data, but that data won’t help you if it’s not usable. That’s where business dashboards come in. They help bring data together in one easy-to-view place, so you can use it more readily.
Here are 10 ways that small business owners are using dashboards today:
- Stay on top of sales with real-time data
The problem with reports is that often there is a lag between when something happens and when the report is run. A dashboard can be set up to give real-time insights, such as for sales forecasts. By seeing how orders are trending right now, you may be able to take quicker action than waiting until the end of the month for a report to find out that sales are down.
- Jump on receivables faster
Your DSO (days sales outstanding) rate is a crucial indicator to make sure you are collecting receivables promptly. By having a running calculation updated each day, your receivables will stay top of mind and you are prompted to act on them.
- Unlock previously unknown insights for new opportunities
How often do you run into data that is one software system, but not in another? You may have information in your email marketing application that never gets connected with your sales system. By pulling data into a single place, and with use of some analytical tools, you may be able to spot opportunities you couldn’t “see” before.
- Serve customers better
Companies may have data signaling customer satisfaction issues. The problem is, the information may be scattered in several systems such as the help desk system and invoicing system. But the dots may not be connected or seen by the right people. With a dashboard you may be able to connect cause-and-effect or related impacts to spot and resolve customer issues.
- Save time monitoring social media
Social media is powerful, but a common complaint is how much time it takes. Save time by picking a few key metrics and then monitoring those in a single dashboard. Hootsuite, for instance, allows you to monitor up to 30 social platforms from one place. Other platforms, like Dasheroo, enable you to monitor numerous social signals along with other critical business data.
- Manipulate data quickly
Have you ever wanted to know just one more thing about some information? What if you could ask a question in everyday language and get the answer? Today’s newer tools are starting to do that. One example is Microsoft’s Power BI. Many dashboards offer different views at the push of a button, so that you can see different time frames, different metrics, and so on—all almost instantly.
- Manage smarter by seeing “more”
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Wouldn’t you rather view something in a beautiful chart, as most dashboards offer, than wade through a detailed spreadsheet?
Visualizing data is not just about prettiness. Charts and graphs often pack a more powerful punch because they highlight important data better. In a spreadsheet or narrative report, important points can be buried in extraneous detail. In a graph they stand out.
- Save staff time
With a dashboard, you or someone on the team doesn’t have to run around logging into various applications digging into data. If your business is anything like mine, you probably have 20 to 30 applications with business intelligence. Accounting software, inventory management, sales order system, invoicing, payroll, Google Analytics, CRM, social media accounts and email marketing—to name a few.
Key data can be automatically ported into one place. In turn you free up staff time that can be redeployed elsewhere. Cyfe.com, for example, automates pulling in a lot of data into a single dashboard.
- Cut down the number of reports
A business dashboard does not completely replace all reports. Dashboards tend to give a high level view. Reports take a much deeper dive into the details. But how often today do you run reports when merely seeing the high level numbers would be sufficient? With a dashboard you can simplify your daily business life, by saving the reports for when you have time to dig into the details.
- Use as a communications tool to align the entire team
How often has this happened: you understand and see an alarming trend that needs to be reversed. But the rest of the team is not there yet in their understanding. Do what we do in our company: Review the dashboard in staff meetings. By doing so, you quickly get the whole management team on the same page.
Today’s business dashboards are easy to get started with. Many are cloud-based, meaning you do not have to install software on a server and instead you set up an account online. They feature built-in integration with popular software applications used by small businesses, so that all it takes is connecting the dashboard to them with a few clicks. They require nothing more than a couple of hours to get started.
Anita Campbell manages several online communities and information websites, reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually—including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, andBizSugar.com, a small business social media site.