We built The Skillery to serve creative entrepreneurs — the folks who are passionate about making and doing and crafting and creating. And one thing we’ve come to accept, sometimes about ourselves, is that creative inclinations and a drive toward hard numbers don’t always go hand in hand.
Writers aren’t always super passionate about filling out tax forms. Chefs don’t necessarily prefer tallying up food costs to developing new dishes. That said, even those of us who view hard data as an evil need to view it as a very necessary evil — without a foundation to base decisions on and feedback to tweak your assumptions with, the business side of your creative business usually ends up getting a little wonky.
So, yeah, data matters.
Depending on your business, you’ll end up dancing with lots of different kinds of data, from break-even points to inventory. But something most small business folks have in common: marketing efforts, and the data that tells us how we’re faring with it.
We can always take what some people call the spray-and-pray approach — just toss what we do out there, and hope others see it and pay attention. But guidance — i.e. data — will make those efforts more pointed, more efficient, and ultimately more successful.
Tracking data doesn’t have to feel crass and commercial
Ever feel a little gross about the way everything we ever do on the Internet is tracked and logged and charted? Understandable. But looking in on how your users and/or customers are responding to your efforts doesn’t have to feel crass and weird. You’re not trying to peep on your people; you’re ultimately just trying to get a better sense of what they want, so you can give it to them more consistently. You’re looking at a blueprint of how to do a better job of communicating to them, for them. (And, well, for you. You’ll waste less time and less money when you’re not taking approaches that don’t suit your fanbase.)
Types of marketing data and why it’s worth looking at it
Entrepreneurs’ marketing efforts can be as simple as tweeting a few times a week and as all-out as print/digital ad campaigns and full-time reps and so on. Let’s think about something of a midpoint. We’ll assume you’ve built a website, that you engage in social media, and that you’re building up an email mailing list.
Your website: Even if you’re not selling stuff directly through it, it’s kind of your digital storefront. It gives prospective clients/customers/fans a sense of your vibe, welcomes them in or doesn’t, showcases your work or doesn’t, helps bring them into your orbit or doesn’t.
Your social media presence: Kinda your digital concierge — gives people the lay of the land, keeps them abreast of changes, helps them with problems, always has an open ear.
Your e-mail newsletter: It’s your bullhorn. Or your skywriter. A platform for announcements, a place to highlight what’s new and next with your business.
In all three cases, you want people to look at your stuff, engage with it, and like it enough to keep coming back. Data is the brutally honest friend who tells you whether or not you’re being easygoing and likable and whether or not folks want to hang out with you.
Tools and tracking
There are a bunch of ways of getting at the data that tells you how you’re doing with all this, and how you can improve.
Your mailing list
Odds are you’re using a platform like Emma or MailChimp, which are great tools for designing and sending your emails and keeping your list current. They also have useful tools built in, offering access to all kinds of data, from your open and click rates to what folks clicked on the most, where in your email they tended to click, whether they used mobile or desktop and whether they quit the scene (i.e. unsubscribed) afterward.
You can get really in-depth — down to who did and didn’t open your emails, who clicked on your links, what your top openers’ email domains are — or you can just make sure to eye the overview to get a sense of what’s working and what you might want to tweak.
The important thing is not to ignore that part of your email shouting. If, bare bones, your open rates and click rates are tanked under your industry’s average, you want to know, so you can do some tinkering and make better use of your time and that tool.
Emma has a cool feature that visualizes clicks, so you can easily see where your campaigns are drawing mice. You might see that images are working better, and do more of that. MailChimp does a good job of graphing how your email is doing over time, so you might look for trends there, and see if your folks tend to open more morning emails than afternoon ones. Simple data, simple tweaks — and a very worthwhile use of your time.
Your social media outposts
With how broad the social landscape is and how quickly it changes, it can feel disheartening to try and keep up. But you don’t have to be on every social network, and you don’t have to go nuts analyzing the response to every tweet or every Instagram post. If you’re a solopreneur or on a small team and your time is squeezed, you can dig into the social platforms that suit you best and be smart about paying attention to the big picture of how people are responding to you.
Specifically, you might try a tool like Buffer — it not only lets you blast to multiple platforms at once, but it also offers a pretty user-friendly breakdown of data.
You can check out response to your recent Facebook posts at a glance, see what got the most interaction, then switch to your Twitter feed and do the same. Even with a quick scan every few days, you’ll see trends emerging — “When I post photo-heavy stuff, it gets more shares,” and that kinda thing. The better sense you get of what your social circle likes, the better use of that time you’ll make.
Data here might be the most important to pay attention to, particularly if you’re selling directly through your site. This is often where an intrigued party becomes a client or a customer, so your hope is that your site reflects well and makes that transition super easy (and desirable). You know if that’s the case by looking at the data.
Getting the data picture straight here means an analytics platform, and there are a bunch of options. We like Google Analytics for a lot of reasons (starting with the fact that it’s dynamic and pretty user-friendly). Knowing how to use it to its full potential can really give you the power to make your customers’ experience better, which makes them happier customers — which maybe makes them repeat customers, and advocates.
You can see how people are finding you through searching, which can help you optimize your site to make more people find you via search engines. You can get a sense of how people are moving through your site — whether they’re following a trajectory from content to buying something or reaching out to you, or if they’re bored and bouncing. You can see where in the world your visitors are concentrated, so you’re aware of a pocket of superfans in Boise, and able to focus more energy there. You can see where folks are coming to your site from — maybe you get a lot of traffic from Facebook, so it’s worth boosting some more posts there; maybe you’ve been getting a boost from a local press outlet, so you can send them a big thanks and make sure to consistently keep them abreast of your happenings.
The value of data like that is pretty huge, and not too time-consuming to track. It just requires a little know-how. Which is why we’re hosting an Introduction to Google Analytics class at our place on May 20 with Analytics guru/digital and measurement strategy consultant Joshua Oakes. He’ll give you the keys to making good use of Google Analytics. And that’ll ultimately help you make better use of your time, your money and your typin’ fingers. All good things.
Any thoughts about wrangling data you’d like to share? We’d love to hear some feedback.
And if you’d like to read a little more about entrepreneurial concerns, we’ve been compiling a whole Starting a Business series, tackling topics like these.