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Using the Internet for Market Research

Sam Richter, President, James J. Hill Reference Library

As an entrepreneur, you already know the Internet offers a wealth of information to assist you with business and strategic planning. But do you ever have that "needle-in-a-haystack" feeling when trying to locate a critical piece of information?

Despite powerful search engines like Google and Yahoo, it can be difficult to sort through the wealth of information available for the golden nugget you need. Plus, much of the good business information is hidden in "the invisible Web"—the 80 percent of the Internet not accessible to popular search engines. Often the really great information is under "cyber lock and key" and available only to large companies with budgets to pay for subscription databases.

The good news is there are free and low-cost ways to access business information online-if you know where and how to look. Following are some valuable Web sites to visit the next time you need information for your business or strategic planning.

Demographics

CensusScope - Knowing the attributes of your buyers and their community can be critical during planning. Unfortunately, the official U.S. Census Bureau's site can be overwhelming. CensusScope takes census data and makes it easy. Click on the Maps tab and select a state. In the lower-left corner, choose a county and then the type of information you want. A chart will appear; now you can right mouse click and copy/paste directly into your own document or plan. Underlying data can also be copied.

Company Information

Manta - Locating information on private companies can be challenging. You can look at a company's Web site, but remember you're only going to see what the company wants you to see. Manta leverages the Dun and Bradstreet database to feature information on more than 45 million companies. Free registration is required. Type in the name of a company and learn things like revenue and employee figures, industry data, and contact information. You can also search for companies by geography or industry.

Industry Information

Alacra Wiki - The Alacra Wiki features a Spotlight section where site users contribute information and resources specific to a particular industry. To visit the Spotlight, click the Alacra Spotlights link on the left-side navigation, then choose an industry. Each Spotlight gives a description of the industry with direct links to information resources where you can learn everything from industry financials to trends and issues.

Inside Information

Technorati - A blog is a Web site or online diary written by an individual (usually the blog writer) about a topic of interest. However, some blogs are filled with industry market data and you can access them by using Technorati's Blog Directory. Type in a broad search term in the search box (e.g., pharmaceutical); and in the pull down menu next to the Search button, choose "in blog directory." Your results will contain blogs that feature industry news, commentary, and also links to other industry resource sites.

Industry Market Research

MarketResearch.com - MarketResearch.com features thousands of market research reports. Use the search engine to locate a relevant report, and purchase it if it is critical to your business. If money is tight, however, write down the report's name and the publisher's name. Then go to Google, type in the name of the report surrounded by quotation marks (so the name of the report is treated as a phrase) and then the publisher. On the search results, you'll most likely find other sites trying to sell you the same report. Sometimes, however, you can find an article that contains the "meat" of an expensive research report, and often all you need for planning are key statistics and data.

One Stop Biz Info Shop

BizToolkit - BizToolkit is a free program of the non-profit James J. Hill Reference Library, the nation's premier practical business information organization. BizToolkit features direct links to the best Web sites as they relate to planning, marketing, managing, and growing a business. The Marketing area in particular features excellent links to helpful market research sites, including the Special Issues Index under "Research and Industry" where you can order reports from the Hill Library's expansive trade journal collection. Also note the Biz Site Recommender on the left side navigation, featuring direct links to the best "Invisible Business Web." For $7.95, you can upgrade to a BizToolkit Premium membership, which features additional resources including expert, live help (just click a button and let a Hill Expert search for you) and the BizRewards program.

Power Research

HillSearch - HillSearch is considered the most powerful business research engine available to individuals. Use the OneSearch tool to instantly search the "open Web" plus virtually every company in North America, and every key newspaper, magazine, and industry trade journal. Or use the Custom Search area for specific databases to meet your research needs, including industry metrics and market research reports. HillSearch is just $59 per month for access to the same types of expert research tools that big companies have. You can get a HillSearch trial. HillResearch is the Hill Library's professional research service; for $100 per hour, the experts do all of the work for you. You can get a complimentary reference interview and discuss your project with an expert by sending an e-mail to info@jjhill.org.

You can access expert market research information, without having to be a market research expert. You just have to know where to look, and what free and low-cost resources are available.

In today's globally competitive environment, those with the right information win. If you make use of resources like the ones highlighted in this article, you will not only save a tremendous amount of time versus searching with just popular search engines, you'll also access relevant and credible data that can make a big difference in ensuring that your plans succeed.

© 2007 Sam Richter. All rights reserved.

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