Hungry for Market Research? FREE Resources Abound
October 2, 2010
By Nicolette Warisse Sosulski, MLIS
(From Focus on Small Business, the Small Business Association of Michigan’s member-only magazine.)
As a prospective entrepreneur, or the owner of a small or growth-stage business, market research may be the last thing that your budget can cover at the moment. However the data that you seek may be the difference or the edge between you and success or failure. Since firms are trying to sell you market reports or mailing lists from the time you get your DBA (“doing business as…”), the question may boil down to whether or not the information that you want needs to be purchased. As a business librarian, I get dozens of requests of this nature, so I will share some of my top resources in business research, either those that are free on the Internet or often available onsite or remotely from libraries.
Sometimes you need lists — people in a particular industry who could be customers or markets or suppliers or competitors, or people already in business in your fi eld. For this purpose, the tool I value most is a database called ReferenceUSA, published by InfoUSA. It contains directory information from every phone directory in the United States, but contains far more from other conduits of company executive information, company income, and financials. There is also a residential component, so if you know your ideal customer makes $75,000 to $100,000 per year and lives in a house in a neighborhood with a value range of $200,000 to $225,000, you can search for neighborhoods with that demographic.
Search results can be saved and downloaded into Excel so that you can further manipulate the data within. ReferenceUSA is a subscription source, purchased by libraries for access by their patrons in the library or remotely using their library cards. It is not cheap, so many libraries do not have it, but it is worth asking your library if yours has it, or perhaps making a road trip to a library that does. Ask your librarian what types of company directory sources the library owns.
These can be a goldmine of information. You can identify them by Googling a particular industry sector with the word “association,” or you can find them in library sources like The Encyclopedia of Associations or association directories, both online or in print to which your library subscribes. You may not think you want to join anything, so why would this be useful? The members of an association are deeply invested in their sector of the American industry landscape. They may commission studies, reports being made available to their members, of trends in an industry such as the growth of the green cleaning sector market share in the household cleaners industry, reports that could cost a lot from a market analyst. They have newsletters or websites with membership lists. I have found specialty niche sales professionals for a manufacturing company this way. Lastly, as I tell my patrons, all of us want to keep cold foods cold. However, if I am an ice cream truck vendor, I need information about the kind of high performance mobile cold storage that is not going to be found in Consumer Reports. Ads and evaluations of this type of equipment will appear in a publication dedicated to this industry. You may decide to join the association or you may just look at their web page. You should feel free to contact associations to see what kinds of reports and studies they make available to their members.
Article Databases and the MeL Business and Jobs Gateway
You are lucky. You are in Michigan. The libraries of your state have banded together to purchase databases — collections of online articles from professional and industry journals — and have made them available to every possessor of a Michigan drivers license or Michigan library card. You go to www.mel.org and look for where it says MeL (Michigan Electronic Library) Databases. Click on that and you will get a list of the databases available to you. Business and Company Resource Center and General Business File ASAP, both published by Gale, are two of your choices. You can search by company, by industry, or by article keywords, so that you might find an article on a competitor, a prospective vendor, or a company with whom you wish to partner. You can search for things like personal concierges or make-and-take meals. Articles like this give you a much greater familiarity and understanding of your field, whether You are writing a business plan, creating a marketing campaign, or thinking of expanding with a new line of business. If you are not finding what you think you want, contact a librarian and see if she can assist you with terms to use, or other ways to design your search. She may also recommend other sources, such as more specialized databases available by a trip to a college or university near you.
While you are on the www.mel.org site, look to your left and click on the Business and Jobs Gateway. This link brings together free sites found and vetted by librarians that could be very useful to you whether you are starting or growing a business, looking for information on participating in federal or state contracts, or looking for particular types of statistics. These are resources brought together for you to assist you as an information hungry businessperson.
Valuable, directly applicable information is available to businesses of all types and sizes. Just take a few minutes to check out these resources or call your local librarian to steer you in the right direction.
Nicolette Warisse Sosulski is a Business Librarian in the Portage District Library.