Here is a list of resources for finding business information.

  1. We recommend that you get in contact with your closest Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The SBDCs are funded by federal, state, and higher education funds, and they tend to offer valuable consulting and information at unusually low fee levels and often have several free resources.
  2. In general, though, the problem of information is not where to find it but how to wade through all that’s available and find the right stuff.You must, simply must, be able to search the Internet. Search in google, Yahoo!, and Bing, at the very least. Change your search terms, be creative, spend some time with it, it’s absolutely essential. If you are reading this, then presumably you can already do that, so you are ahead of the game. Be sure to investigate the following:
  3. For more formal research, look for a trade association that focuses in your business area. There are lots of them. A good reference library can get you a reference book that lists trade associations. Once you find an association, contact them to see whether they publish a directory or (better yet) a statistical review. You can also use the SBDC’s website research and statistics that has links to these resources.
  4. Next, look for magazines. In most businesses, there are magazines that focus on your type of business, so they can sell ads to the businesses that want to sell to your type of business. Subscribe or buy the magazine, get some back issues, and look for industry reviews. If you don’t already have more than you can handle, get back to a reference library and look for indexes of published articles, and find some articles related to your business.
  5. Most important, as far as I am concerned, is what I call “shoe leather” research. Find some similar businesses and find out as much as you can about them. Whatever business you’re thinking of, look at Google or Yahoo or even your old-fashioned Yellow Pages and see how many are listed. Call them, find out about prices and things. If they have a location, park by it. Count their customers. Then get a phone book for a town a few hundred miles away, call some similar businesses, and find an owner who will talk to you about it. After all, you’re not a competitor, and people like to talk to people about their business. Ask them as much as you can, until they can’t stand answering questions anymore.
  6. If you can find somebody selling a business like the one you’re interested in, contact them. Consider buying theirs. At the very least, you’ll get access to their past financial data, which will give you an idea of how the industry works.
Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.