Running a business is a journey without an end: every successfully completed project or product launch merely clears the way for more and bigger projects in the future. If you stand still, you immediately begin to fall behind, so to keep up you need to keep one eye on the future at all times.
Making bad choices about how you pursue those future projects could have serious negative consequences for your business. For all that you need to maintain momentum, if you pursue projects recklessly the risk to your business builds and builds until a single stroke of bad luck can swamp you. You need to make sure you’re making choices that lead to a sustainable, long term future for your business and the people it employs, and that means using data.
Injecting data into your decision-making process lifts some of the burden from your shoulders: finding the right outcome doesn’t rely solely on your judgement any more. Instead, you can lean on objective facts and figures to help predict which options will be the most successful, based on how your business has performed in the past and the state of the market.
As you establish your business, build in data gathering and feedback from the ground up. It’s far easier to make these values and processes a part of your company from the beginning than it is to impose them at a later date: any change, even for the better, will encounter resistance from employees who have got used to working in the original way. Knowing how many questions your customer service team can handle, how quickly your sales team can generate new leads, and how fast you can ship products adds to an understanding of your ‘capacity’ – how much work your business can do at any one time. This allows you to ensure you expand responsibly, without driving your staff into burnout.
To get data from outside your business you need more expert help. Brand intelligence companies and market researchers can tell you what consumers are thinking, how your brand ranks with your competitors and what your competitors are planning. This allows you to begin to anticipate what people are likely to want tomorrow so you can start to get ready to deliver it to them today.
Using data means making your decision-making processes iterative: for each decision or project you undertake you have to assess how it performs, and find out if your predictions have been matched by reality. If you’re encountering unpleasant surprises rather the expected results, your use of data isn’t providing the predictive power you need. The key is not to expect perfection immediately, but to refine over time: each choice and feedback process makes you better at using data to inform your decisions.