William R Collier Jr- Being profitable and avoiding dangers to your bottom line requires accurate business intelligence. This is something lacking in many business decisions today, especially among small and medium-size businesses, but even among large businesses which actually should know better than to move forward with blinders on.

Recently, I made a decision to join a team at a company called ECON First to provide business intelligence. My expertise in the area of web presence overall, in all its aspects, and background in traditional marketing and marketing research, lent itself to this project. We worked on a joint project for one of my clients in which I utilized economic data from ECON First as a foundation for web analysis. The result was a compelling report which ultimately led to the business deciding against a costly program which looked good on the basis of web analysis alone, but not with the economic analysis as its foundation. But what follows is meant to raise your awareness of the need for business intelligence, and you don’t have to utilize the services of ECON First to develop your own business intelligence regimen or program.

Business intelligence is not one thing, it is not just understanding trends versus an accurate picture of your web profile, it isn’t just understanding emerging economic trends and customer habits, and it isn’t just understanding such factors as your reputation, website ergonomics, or operational efficiency. Business intelligence is all of these things, and more: it is accurate information about all current and emerging factors for yourself and your competition that impact your ultimate profitability and overall revenue performance. Business intelligence is necessary if your business wishes to remain and profit over the next five years.

What is your current level of business intelligence? Do you have a means of collecting, organizing, analyzing, and interpreting data from many areas and using this to create an overall picture of where you and your competitors are and where things are headed? Do you know the underlying economic information that reveals, with absolute precision, what your customers want now and how they want it to be presented, packaged, and delivered? Do you know what is working and what is not working in your market segment?

There are many tools that allow you to build your own business intelligence network, and by this I mean a network of resources and tools you can find online to start tracking all the necessary factors which go into business intelligence. These factors resources economic data released often weekly or monthly by government agencies, trend tracking using search platforms and social media as well as subject-related alerts, deep web analysis of your website and your competitors’ websites, consumer survey data and reports released by various agencies and organizations, tools that analyze your web presence and search engine presence and track them daily, and even your own surveys provided to your website visitors or customers.

The collation of all this raw data into something actionable is as much as art as a science. For every business line there are different profiles and the importance of certain factors can vary. For instance, a car repair business may have to seriously check reputation and overall social media footprint, but is less concerned with website ergonomics that, say, an eCommerce retailer selling camping gear. An online shoe retailer with customers throughout the US, a whole machine parts seller with global clients, and a regional sporting goods store will all have to look at different sets of economic data. For instance, the online shoe store might not only have to look at US trends, but regional trends and focus their online retail efforts toward specific regions: one might sell more hiking boots in Colorado than in New York City, for instance.

The first part of solving a problem is to understand that you have a problem. If you cannot sat with conviction and certainty that you have a fingertip feel for where you and your competition are in the market and where you and your competition are heading, as well as where your market is heading over the next 1-5 years, then you must say that you lack complete business intelligence. You will be facing surprising, some very unpleasant, which could actually have a major negative impact. The pain of uncertainty, coupled with the pain of unpleasant surprises, can be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated, if you have a comprehensive business intelligence program in place, and if you maintain it.

Business intelligence is built on sound economic data, foremost. If you do not have that data as a foundation, and access to a professional resource which knows both how to gather and ultimately interpret that data, then all the other data you gather is, at best, flawed in part and, at worse, deceptive. Economic data about incomes, jobs and spending in an industry by region or locale, consumer confidence, and more reveals what is happening now and, through the understanding of both trends and events which will effect economic activity, what is most likely to happen.

Future trends in technology could spell doom for your business model, for instance.

Consider the potential impact of the self-driving car on cab companies or businesses like uber. Imagine a fleet of self-driving cars that picks up passengers and efficiently takes them to their destination, for instance. If your company sells accessories for vehicles, it might be worthwhile to consider what kind of accessories would be useful to companies that own and operate such vehicles. If you own a cab company, you might consider researching this emerging technology so you can eventually utilize it and get ahead of the curve, because in five years this might become a real thing, based on current development trends.

You have to have a 30,000 foot view of the world, but you also have to know when to zero in to an almost microscopic level of data gathering, organizing, analysis, and interpretation. So your effort to have a strong business intelligence regimen must enable you to see a lots of data at a glimpse, and then allow you to zero in on that intelligence at the lowest level both as needed and with regularity. Depending on your business, you may need a daily briefing on all major areas of business intelligence, a weekly more narrowly focused report on just your industry, and a monthly report on you and your competitors in terms of actual standing in the market and actual trends.

How do you build a business intelligence regimen? There are three ways: build it with in-house resources and make sure you hire the right people who can manage your business intelligence network; utilize various resources, including economic analysis, market research, web analysis, web presence analysis, and the such and have a team who can collate that data in a useful manner: or use a service that develops and manages your business intelligence network for you. You can also use a combination of these approaches.

What you need, in essence, is a daily view of all these factors which go into business intelligence, a weekly report on your specific industry but from a 30,000 foot perspective, and a monthly report on your company and your competitors which shows where you are now and where things are headed in relation to the market.

This is not about the web. This is about your business. Whether you use the web or not, this kind of information exists and can be gathered from the web, but, increasingly, businesses are finding that even if you do not operate a website or social media property, people may be talking about your business online, and so, in essence, you are likely already on the web even if your don’t know it or manage that presence.

But the web is obviously not the only place where your market exists, at least for most businesses. Your business intelligence profile, which is the list of resources and the collation of data relevant to you, will vary from other businesses, but it is likely to be similar to your competition. For instance, if you have no real web presence and your competitors do and they are doing better than you, then you know you have to change your approach. On the other hand, before you heavily invest in the web, you need to know how your competitors operate online and if they barely have a web presence this should be a clue that being online is less important than you thought.

One company is developing a business intelligence resource, based on economic data. As part of their effort, they plan a daily email summery of major headlines including economic statistics, marketing research, SEO, social media, website analysis, consumer statistics, sales and marketing, and more. Through this free daily summary, you will be able to see, at a glance, the previous day’s headlines, and you will get an instant alert to major breaking news that impacts business in general. The company, called ECON First, as in “economics first”, will also offer an initial comprehensive business analysis package plus ongoing reporting which can be a stand-alone asset to provide you business intelligence or an adjunct asset to ensure the accuracy of your own in-house program.

ECON First is staffed by a team which includes an economics experts with decades experience in investing and financial analysis and team members with backgrounds in marketing research, web marketing and analysis, reputation management and public relations, and other disciplines which lend themselves to a comprehensive business intelligence program.

The free business intelligence service will be available through The Stapleford Report, whose editor, John Stapleford, is the president and founder of ECON First. Sign up for the free newsletter to be on the list when the daily business intelligence summary is made available, or sign up for a free web-based analysis of your business.