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How to Research your Industry and the Competition

Adapted from content excerpted from the American Express® OPEN Small Business Network


Throughout the "Market" section of your business plan, you will need to provide up-to-date, reliable information about your market and the companies and products against which your business competes. But how do you find this information?

There is no single source for this type of data. Some will originate from government and business reports, newspapers and magazines, trade associations, and university studies. You will also want to conduct some first-hand investigations by speaking with customers and suppliers to gain an understanding of industry trends. For information about your competitors, talk to sales reps and suppliers - they often know what other companies are up to. Other data can come from a simple phone call directly to your competitor.

You probably want to make your local business research library your first stop. Libraries have a wide range of government and market statistics; a selection of directories with information on all types of business; and a variety of newspapers, magazines and newsletters. Many also have access to online business databases that can be quite expensive to subscribe to. Research librarians are one of the great untapped resources for small businesses. They will likely be able to point you in the right direction for the market and competitive data you require.

Many of the directories listed here are published by commercial companies, and are therefore expensive to purchase so you might want to use them in the library. There are a number of excellent "free" sources of information, however. The government regularly makes industry studies available. Colleges and universities are another excellent source, since faculty and students regularly conduct research. Many of these studies are available through university libraries, or through business/management departments.

Use the following to find publications and resources to help you with your research:

Trade Associations
Directories of Industries and Companies
Newspapers, Magazines, Trade Publications, Newsletters
Demographic/Census Data

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