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Susan Walsh wears many, many hats. Some of you may know her as the Classification Guru, or as the Fixer of Dirty Data. Susan is also a known thought leader, speaker, expert in her field, and founder of her own company (also named The Classification Guru). Having successfully built a brilliant personal brand – and accumulating thousands of followers along the way – Susan really is top of mind for many when it comes to data experts.
Intrigued by her presence and expertise in data, we spoke with Susan to find out more about the woman behind The Classification Guru.
Hey Susan! Thanks so much for joining us today. So, by the sounds of things, life must get pretty busy! Can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you?
Thanks! And yes I’m very lucky that things are busy. I think it’s safe to say that if you know me, you know there’s no such thing as a typical day. I’m trying to get up early and walk in the morning with my friend, then I spend the day doing things like working on client projects, being active on LinkedIn, speaking at online events, recording videos for content, having calls with prospective clients… and a bit of Candy Crush for balance.
How did you get into data and come to be so passionate about data classification?
I fell into data by complete accident. My first business – a ladies clothes shop in Guildford – failed after 8 months, and after racking up a lot of debt I needed a job – any job – just to pay the bills. I found an ad on Gumtree for some data entry/data classification work with a spend analytics company, and that’s where my journey began.
Pretty quickly I realised I was good at data classification, I think because of my background working in large corporates, and then at some point I also found I really enjoyed it as well, and it didn’t feel like work to me.
And then I found that the data cleansing part of projects was treated more like a dirty little secret than a valuable piece of the project, so I wanted to bring it to the fore and highlight its importance and skill involved.
If I said to you “data is the new oil”, what would your response be?
Nooooooooo! While I like that we should be thinking of data as a commodity, and that it’s an investment not a cost, I don’t think this is the right analogy.
Data as oil suggests you could run the business without it, and that’s just not the case. Well, you could, but it would end pretty catastrophically. Data is more like water or oxygen; it really is the lifeblood of an organisation, and when it’s accurate and maintained, it can tell you so much about what is going on in your business, good and the bad…
You’ve now been running your business for three years, which is awesome! What was going into business by yourself like?
So this is my second business; this time round has definitely been less stressful than the first one, but it’s not been easy and has been a huge challenge. When I set the business up, I didn’t have a single connection in procurement or data, and I’ve had to build up my network from nothing.
Most consultants when they start out get their business from connections they know or word of mouth referrals. I didn’t have any of that so it took a long time (10 months) to get my first client, and years to build up a brand and a reputation.
It’s thrilling, terrifying, lonely, stressful and so very rewarding and fun. I love it, and wouldn’t swap it for the world!
Finally, what’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to bad data habits?
Laziness! That’s how a lot of dirty data happens; people can’t be bothered to fix a mistake they see, or can’t be bothered to double check the data, or make sure that the totals add up etc… I won’t say any more or I’ll be here all day!