Data is everywhere to be found in the running of almost any modern business, big or small. Data represents at once an opportunity to be effectively used and an imperative to be responsibly used. Just as the effective management of data will see your business make savings and expand its customer base, handling sensitive data brings to bear on your business a whole host of data regulations which are there to ensure the data rights of customers and staff are not violated and that sensitive data is stored and used securely.
Perhaps a downside, however, to this ubiquity of data is that it makes demands on small businesses which can, at times, seem pretty onerous, complicated, and difficult to keep up with. For the medium-to-large scale enterprises, data management is often handled by a specific department made up of data specialists. In turn, such data management experts are backed up by a legal department that can ensure all data laws are complied with and that data protection audits are always met on time and passed.
Data Challenges Facing Small Businesses
The problem with running a small business, on the other hand, is that such specialist departments rarely exist or, if they do, are run by the leader of the company. If this person is you, the chances are you’re not fully qualified in all the areas – legal and technical – that make up the corpus of effective data management. It can be pretty tough to have so many plates spinning at once but, luckily, this is a path that many have been trodden before. In the US, for example, it has been estimated that half of businesses last at least until their fifth year. Accordingly, this means that the sorry of a small business owner who has to balance sales, legal, tax, and marketing all at once is a well-told one – and there are many examples you can follow.
The Future is Data
As time marches on, data will become ever more a fact of life for more and more businesses. As things stand, it would be a particularly odd thing for, say, a butcher’s shop to have to devote much energy to data management. Nevertheless, this could be something set to change before too long.
One thing that has made data management so ubiquitous is that fact that so many things are sold remotely or by electronic means. In order for a customer to transfer money to the company from which they are buying something, data is essential in all cases where physical cash is not simply being handed over. And one effect of the global pandemic could be that the handling of physical cash could become rarer and rarer. This implies – in all cases – the handling of at least a small amount of personal customer data.
And with more businesses (in fact, nearly all by now) storing their employee data electronically, safe data management and compliance with data protection laws has become a necessary task for even those in less traditionally electronic professions – like the butcher we mentioned above.
Data for Small Businesses
So you run a small business, have no resources for a distinct legal or data management department, and you don’t feel qualified to manage the data yourself – on top of every other responsibility you have to account for. What can you do?
Well, the good news is that, while seeking some professional help is recommended (even essential), you can actually manage it yourself. It is all about becoming acquainted with the rudiments of data management and the several best practices that have been built up over the many years that data management has been a reality for most companies, large and small. Here then follows some top tips for data management.
Make Sure You’re in Compliance with Data Regulations
Foremost among these data regulations is the GDPR. While you may be handling this yourself as part of a small business, there is a lot to be said for paying for a consultation with a specialist – just to ensure everything is above board. Otherwise, there are many resources online you can make use of, such as GDPR checklists.
Visualise Your Data
Data is not only a legal headache and an unwelcome necessity. In fact, it can be extremely useful to your business and, thus, one of the best things you can do is to set it out in such a way that you can understand it, work with it, and learn from it. The key is data visualisation – made possible by data visualisation tools. These many different data tools can make your data into eye-catching graphs and other visuals, allowing you to visualise trends at a glance. By doing so, you can not only answer your data needs of the present, but you can also project into the future as well.
Make Sure You Cover the Fundamentals of Data Protection
We have spoken already about making sure your data use is in compliance with all the regulations. But there is also a series of best practices that will make sure your data is stored and used securely. For example, data should always be encrypted when it is stored, and you should make use of multi-layer security such as firewalls and multi-factor authentication as well. You should always make sure that your systems are protected by anti-virus software – and this includes everything from a complex storage system down to a single laptop. It is also wise to organise regular data-security training sessions for your employees. What form that takes though is heavily dependent on your specific circumstances.
Have a Data Recovery Plan in Place
However well you protect your data and however responsibly you use it, security violations are always a risk and, therefore, so to is the loss of data. You should always have a data recovery plan in place and, of course, you should have everything backed up precisely for this eventuality. A good recovery plan will include a strategy for recovering the data, a delegation of responsibility for the task (even if that is just you), and a timeline for the recovery.
Proper data management is therefore essential, not only to facilitate its effective use in the growth of your company, but also to ensure your small business stays on the right side of the law, preventing any data disasters which could prove seriously disruptive. Regardless of what type of small business you have, you simply cannot ignore this.