Small businesses often don't have a lot of money for anything extra -- and business research is often considered an extra cost. But you can't ignore business research -- for competitive intelligence, building a business plan, or even finding sales contacts. If you're a small business owner without a lot of money, you can try your own Internet research. But using a business information publisher who charges by the download can be less expensive in the long run. Many leading business information publishers offer reports for small businesses. Pay for what you use when you need it and avoid monthly or annual fees.
You can pay a clip service or Lexis-Nexis to keep you updated on current company news about any business that interests you. But it's not so hard today to build your own online news service. Between Google news alerts and blogs with RSS feeds, you can set yourself up relatively easily to receive email alerts every time current company news is published. Best part: It's all free and you can create as many alerts as you want.
Public companies doing business in the US are required to release financial data on a quarterly and yearly basis. All of this information is available online in the SEC's EDGAR database. This is a great place to start if you're looking to do public company research. Also, try to find the company's annual report, and check for recent news articles about the company in online archives. You can also purchase a company profile from a business information publisher.
Company profiles are the backbone of business research. A solid company profile obtained from a leading publisher of business information should tell you about the company's finances, where it stands in its industry segment, any outstanding court cases or recent judgements -- even the names and contact information for current company officers. If you're looking for business profiles, they're easy to find online. You can even get some for free at sites like Yahoo Business. If you're looking to purchase company profiles from a commercial publisher, make sure you choose one that has a good company profile database -- in the millions -- and offers a free trial, or at least examples of what you'll find when you actually purchase a profile.
It's one thing to obtain a company profile from a business information publisher. But to really do competitive intelligence, you need access to information across an entire industry or industry segment. So how to do you find sources for industry-specific business research? There are two ways -- both relatively easy. You can go to a business research umbrella site that offers up research across dozens, even hundreds, of industry segments. But with a little Googling, you should be able to find sites that offer industry-specific business research for the actual industry segment in which you are interested.
Doing a company credit search is surprisingly easy. Credit information isn't as private as you might think it is. The big three credit reporting agencies -- Experian, Equifax and Trans Union -- will sell credit reports on any business to anyone who can show a legitimate business need, which isn't too hard to do. You can also conduct a company credit search through many online business research sites, which will resell credit information as par of a larger company profile.