When creating a new business model, you don’t necessarily do it using financials from some other existing businesses. You can create your financial assumptions by estimating the specific details and adding them up. Your expenses are a finite list of estimable items such as rent, insurance, payroll, and so on. Your sales are the product of units times price, and your cost of sales is the product of unit cost times price. Many business plans are developed by adding up detailed estimates.

On the other hand, it is better to compare your numbers to existing businesses when possible. This will give you an idea of how your business will stand within the industry.

  1. Check first whether you’re looking for numbers of a publicly traded company, or whether there are one or more publicly traded companies operating in the industry segment you need. To do that you examine the stock market and look for public reports related to stock market companies. My favorite way to do that is through Yahoo! Finance. There are lots of competing services offering financial information over the net, and even the SEC has a site, but that’s my personal favorite.
  2. If you’re hoping to find financials of a specific existing business that is privately owned, that’s hard to do. People do have a right to keep their information to themselves. However, there are some Internet resources that might help.
    • Hill Search is one of the most powerful online research tools available, although it has a cost. Signing up from Bplans.com will save you $100.
    • Dun and Bradstreet offers some limited financial information on lots of different companies, but that information doesn’t include expense breakdowns and it isn’t free.
    • Dow Jones & Company offers excellent information on some industries, including good listings of websites for companies, associations, and publications. If they cover one that you’re interested in, you’re in luck.
    • Integra Information Systems has very good industry profiles, but they are for sale, not for free.
    • b2bsalesandmarketing.com (formerly iMarket) offers basic industry data reports by SIC code. Much of what this site offers is for sale, but what’s free is pretty good. You have to register even for the free data. You can get a free industry review by SIC code, giving you how many companies, average sales, and employees.
    • The Risk Management Association offers financial statements by SIC code for collections of companies at different sales level. You don’t get the individual company but you get a composite for the industry, with a lot of supporting detail. They sell a single industry report for about $60, and the entire database for less than $200. [Editor’s Note: Prices may have changed since publication of this article. Please see RMA Associates website for current prices.]
    • Hoovers business database has a series of search tools. Here too you can get information on a lot of different companies, but expect to pay for it.
    • CEOExpress has an excellent compilation of additional sites you might try.

That’s a lot of homework for you, but it should move you forward a lot too.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

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