Designing a website is much easier when you have a lot of data to work with. After all, data will show you where to best use your budget and what types of techniques have worked in the past to deliver a high number of customers and conversions. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, companies that used data-driven marketing in 2012 were 6% more profitable, and 5% more productive than competing businesses.

Unfortunately, while the advantages of using data may be helpful to pre-established companies – when you’re just getting started with a brand new digital marketing strategy, or building a web presence for a business that has yet to make its mark on the online world, you’re left with a significant problem – you don’t have any data.

Startups and young companies have yet to determine who their best customers are, or which strategies are most lucrative to their business, because they haven’t had the time, or the opportunity to transform data into helpful information. What’s more, even when data does begin to build, many organizations might not have a structure to use that data until a much later date. So what can you do if you haven’t been around long enough to generate the numbers? How can you make smart decisions without data?

Step 1: Be Purposeful – Define Success

It’s hard to determine whether your initial business decisions have been successful, when you haven’t had a chance to define what “success” means to you. For some companies, “success” means earning 500 new followers on social media within a month, whereas for others, it means making $10,000 in revenue per month. The best decisions will come from a careful consideration of how certain steps will help you to meet your goals – even if you don’t have the data to provide a quantitative insight into your choices.

Instead of simply checking boxes with your decisions, supplement lack of data with passion and curiosity, taking a step back to determine how each choice serves your cause, and how you will measure your definition of “success” in the future. This mentality will also help you to avoid number blindness when you do have data later on, by framing a focus for carefully considered future decisions. After all, it’s no good using data to drive results, if you’re driving results that don’t really matter to your company.

Step 2: Identify Your Options

Just because you don’t have historical data, doesn’t mean you’re completely clueless about your business. Lay out the options you have based on your understanding of what’s available to you, and what has proven to be successful for companies in a similar position.

If you’re trying to figure out who you should market to, you might start by eliminating certain customer types that don’t fit with your brand. For instance, a company selling stair lifts for the elderly wouldn’t advertise to children and teenagers. While it’s easy for new companies to believe the entire world needs their products, the reality is that only a specific portion of the population are actually going to buy from you. Devote some time and thought into figuring out what that population looks like.

Once you have a general idea of your options, gather as much information as possible about them. This could mean researching different customer segments to gain further insight into your potential market, or examining the strategies of similar brands for inspiration.

Step 3: Use Trial and Error, then Evaluate the Outcomes

Without data, most of the decisions you make are educated guesses based on what you believe to be right for your company. In other words, you’re going to have to use some trial and error if you want to separate the bad options from the good ones. Execute new initiatives one at a time, and watch the results to reduce some of your blindness. Be sure to give each initiative enough time to see results. If something works, double down and figure out why it’s working. If an initiative fails, then tweak it, try again, or drop it if it continues to deliver poor results. When evaluating each decision, ask yourself:

  • Did my choice contribute to my definition of success?
  • Could I improve my success by making changes?
  • How can I determine the advantages and disadvantages of each decision?

It may not be the most cost-effective strategy, but trial and error remains to be one of the best ways to gather information when you’re lacking in data. Keep in mind, just because something works doesn’t mean that it’s giving you the best possible results. Fine tune your approach piece by piece, using the data that you gather as your business begins to grow and evolve.

A Holistic Approach to Decision Making

Making good decisions for the present, and future, of your company is a challenging experience. The more your business grows, the more you will be able to assess data and use it to your advantage. When you’re just getting started, you may find that you need to rely more on your gut, and the knowledge you can find through careful research and evaluation.

Try to remember that as your business grows, the data that you collect should still combine with personal insight into your company if you want to make intelligent, and informed decisions. Use the information that is available to you, but don’t be afraid to keep on listening to your gut too.

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