Market research can be time-consuming for any small or mid-sized business. Access to “big data,” despite the ubiquitous hype, can be overwhelming and costly. You should be gathering and analyzing your own data from your website, your blog, and your social media presence and interactions. Yet, if your business is like many other small to mid-sized firms, you might be overlooking a key source of free market information.
Is Romeo, the little black dog, overlooking a bag of his favorite treats?
A vast amount of helpful insight is available – free of charge – from the U.S. Government. If you are not familiar with these resources, you should make it a priority in 2013 to explore a few websites.
1. The small business administration (SBA) – An array of resources is available at http://www.sba.gov to help you start, manage, and grow your business. The site provides vital information about legal and taxation issues for small businesses, as well as hiring and other human resources guidance. You will also find several very helpful tools to help you write a business plan, a marketing plan, and a succession plan. In addition, the overviews of business structure types will help you decide how to set up your business and understand the implications of your choice. Help with a problem or a challenge is available, as well as new insights and updates from blogs.
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Analyzing and updating your understanding of your competition should be done regularly. A new tool available from the SBA makes your analysis faster and easier. The SizeUp tool creates reports and statistics about your industry, your business, your competitors, your suppliers, and your customers. It also offers suggestions for advertising opportunities. The SizeUp tool is critical for business plan creation and for strategic planning.
2. The Census Bureau – A wealth of information is at your fingertips when you visit http://www.census.gov/. This site offers reliable data about topics many business owners do not expect. In addition to the population data obtained in the latest census, there is also information about industries and businesses. The bureau also produces a Business Report. All data is searchable and manageable. It can also be accessed with specialized tools available on the site.
A very helpful tool for many small businesses is the 2012 Census Interactive Population Map. With this tool, you can analyze data by region, state, city, and block. You can also compare neighborhoods to reach a very detailed understanding of your market.
Census Bureau data also provides information about industries and professions, economic trends in cities, the products within an industry that are trending upwards in sales. This information can help you market to your community effectively and efficiently. It can also help you pinpoint the ideal location for a store or office. If you are uncertain what businesses or industries are most likely to buy your products or services, you can find the answers in these data.
Assessing opportunity is possible with another data set available in the Census data. You can evaluate the potential for success by researching the number of businesses like yours that open or close in your neighborhood or your industry every year. Combined with sales trend data, it is possible to analyze and assess the risk to your fledgling business.
The economic indicator data enables business owners to understand economic and industry trends affecting their success. This data can be used to understand the micro-level changes and trends affecting sales in a specific store or to guide your long-range planning for growth or consolidation within your business. Understanding global or national industry trends and economic factors enables you to determine potential opportunities or challenges. By understanding trends affecting your business, you can plan strategically for success.
3. The U.S. Department of Labor also provides helpful information about changes and trends in the workforce, laws and policies affecting employment and salaries, and data about specific issues affecting small businesses. For example, a quick analysis of the data will provide the industry average salary for employees in your state or city. The website, http://www.dol.gov, also provides instant access to unemployment data, consumer price index, and workforce projections.
We have seen small businesses spend thousands of dollars to firms that provide the demographic and statistical data needed for business start-up and ongoing analysis. Are you overlooking a key source of free market information? Before you spend a fortune to get the information or take unnecessary risk by acting without the information, you will likely find it worth your time to review and assess the data and other resources available from the U.S. Government to help small business owners succeed.
We wish you success and prosperity in 2013.