BI For Beginners

5 business analyst skills to know and master in 2020

If you're thinking about building a career as a business analyst then you might be wondering which business analyst skills you will need to succeed.

As the data ecosystem expands and more companies understand the importance of data, this question is becoming tougher to answer.

In this post I'm going to list what I consider some of the most important business analyst skills you will need to learn and sharpen in 2020.

Since my focus is online businesses, this list is going to be somewhat biased towards analysts that are operating in this space.

Skill #1 - SQL

how to make your databases more bi-friendly

SQL stands for structured query language and is the most common language used to communicate with databases.

Since the primary focus of a business analyst is to use data to help a company perform better, knowing how to fetch data from a database is a critical skill.

SQL is like any other language, there are layers to mastering it.

You can get by with the basics but as you improve you'll amaze yourself with what you're capable of achieving with the right know-how.

If you don't know SQL, or are looking to improve your SQL then I recommend checking out this popular post, SQL for dummies: How to learn SQL for free in 30 days or less.

Skill #2 - Database design and data storage best practices

As an analyst you will be at the mercy of the data silos you work with. These silos fall into two categories, silos you directly own, and silos you indirectly own.

In the case of silos you own you will rely on your company's developers, data engineers and database admins for making your life easy.

Having basic knowledge on different data types, naming convention best practices, and how to best store different types of data in a database will make a huge difference.

As an analyst you will be positioned perfectly to act as a second pair of eyes and help address any issues you notice early on in the data infrastructure. So much time, energy and frustration can be avoided if issues are caught early and you can bring massive value to the company by acting as an extra QA person.

The best way to develop this knowledge is through exploring different data sets and working with a company which already has a well-designed data infrastructure. I explain how to find such companies in this post, how to accelerate your career as an analyst.

Skill #3 - Tableau / PowerBI / Looker or a similar solution

Every year the data visualization space is becoming more and more crowded. More competition means lower prices and less barriers to adoption for companies.

Tableau tutorial

As more businesses purchase licenses of tools like Tableau and PowerBI, the more of a need there is for analysts which know these tools.

I've personally been using Tableau for over 4 years and often introduce the tool to my clients. In most cases the clients wants me to train someone in the company to use the tool.

You might be asking, "but Justin, there are so many solutions, which one should I learn?". This is a great question and the short answer is that it doesn't really matter.

Let me explain why.

All of the popular data visualization solutions have a level of complexity that you'll need to master. By going through that process you'll start understanding some of the core concepts that all of these tools have in common.

For example, connecting to different data sources, or the difference between date, data time, and string data types.

As you master one tool you'll develop the skills and wisdom that will help you easily learn a second tool.

In my case I started with Tableau which is what I recommend you start with as well. Tableau is the market leader and statistically you're more likely to find yourself at a company that uses it over any of its competitors.

After 2.5 years using Tableau I started working with a client that used PowerBI. I was able to use my knowledge of Tableau and learn the basics of PowerBI in a single afternoon.

If you want to kick start your study of Tableau then check out my useful guide, What is Tableau? – A guide and tutorial for analysts.

Skill #4 - The power of cohorts, normalization and other advanced analysis concepts

As a business analyst you have many different ways to tackle a problem. A skilled business analyst has a large toolbox filled with methodologies that can be used to quickly answer different types of questions.

Cohort Analysis
The image above is an example of a cohort analysis.

I've spoken to many analysts in my career which are missing some fundamental tools that they should be using daily. It's like talking to a carpenter that has never heard or seen a hammer or screwdriver.

Below are some of the main concepts that you must master as a business analyst. I've provided links to some useful articles I've written on some of these concepts.

Skill #5 - Self-service business operations

I struggled to come up with a great name for this skill so bare with me.

The skill I'm referring to when I say "self-service business operations" is the ability to address your own needs as an analyst using free or cheap online tools, systems or processes.

One great example is tagging users in mass in Intercom using Zapier and Google Sheets. You can set up this hack in a matter of minutes for free without bothering a soul.

Another might be creating a sales report in Google Sheets which can then be used in Google Data Studio.

The more tools you know as an analyst the more you'll be able to solve your own problems and provide value to the company.

There is no clear start and end point for learning this skill. It comes with experience and is generally maximized by analysts which have a desire to learn, and an early adapter mindset. It also helps being in a company which encourages self-reliance and learning.