Look on the blog for the latest. These sources change fast. Do a web search for “industry profiles.” As I write this now, some of the leading sites offering standard industry data include www.hoovers.com, www.zapdata.com, and www.business.com. Banks still look for standard industry ratios from Risk Management Association, at www.rmahq.org.

What you’re looking for is one or more of the compilations of standard financial information for different industries. The data providers compile reports breaking companies into their SIC or NAICS (these are standard business classification systems) categories, and report on the average financial statements and financial ratios.

Reports in Business Plan Pro
I haven’t talked much about Business Plan Pro in this book, because it’s about the plan-as-you-go approach, not about specific software. However, Business Plan Pro does include standard industry reports like the ones suggested here.

For example, you can fairly easily find out the average gross margin for restaurants, or sporting goods retail stores, and other retail stores. Find out some standard financial ratios, such as return on sales or debt to assets, by type of industry.

Your company will almost never match the standard. But in this section we’re talking about supporting information for outsiders, so you have to assume that outsiders will have access to the standard reports and will expect you to explain the difference between your company and the standard. Usually you can, because there is almost always a difference between any company and the standard composite for any industry.

Tim BerryTim Berry

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