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Small Business Development Center Network

Research and Planning

Research is an important component throughout the business planning process. As you consider the business type you wish to start, look for demographic information, competition, and other information to help you make many decisions, websites and databases can prove useful

  • Small Business Administration
  • Data & Information Systems Center
  • Small Business Development Center National Information Clearinghouse

General Sites (Business Advice)

AllBusiness,offers a number of short articles on all aspects of running a small business. You can find information on topics such as starting a business, incorporation, sales and marketing, accounting and finance, franchises, buying and selling a business, insurance, and Internet and technology. A variety of business forms and guides are available for purchase.

Business Week Online - Small Biz, offers news and advice for entrepreneurs on topics such as marketing, sales, leadership, and technology. There are special “resource centers” on opening a franchise, comparing salaries, and purchasing health insurance and retirement plans.

Entrepreneur.com, has a vast array of resources on starting a business, buying a franchise, growing a home-based business, business opportunities, money and finance, sales and marketing, management, e-business, technology, and other topics.

EntrepreneurialConnection.com, powered by the National Association of the Self-Employed, offers free learning modules on topics vital to the success of the self-employed and micro-entrepreneurs (with less than 10 employees). Some of the topics covered include creating a marketing plan, financing, outsourcing, and wireless networks. You can also subscribe to a free e-newsletter, Get Connected.

My Own Business is a free Internet course for anyone starting a business. It provides 12 lessons covering topics such as business communications, e-commerce and online marketing, and small business marketing. The course textbook may be purchased for a donation of $45.00.

Peerspectives from the Edward Lowe Foundation, features articles on topics such as business planning, market definition, finances, legal issues, operations, human relations, and technology. Case studies are included.

Small Business Administration has sections on starting a business, financing a business, managing a business, business opportunities, and disaster recovery. The site’s library offers more than 200 free publications, as well as forms, business magazine links, and frequently asked questions. The SBA’s Online Women’s Business Center, http://www.onlinewbc.gov/, also has a section called “Business Basics” that covers topics such as accounting and finance, growing your business, marketing, and procurement.

Small Business Advancement National Center provides databases of local SBA offices, the Small Business Institute network, and a research archive of publications from 18 organizations such as the Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship and the Marketing Management Association. The website also offers industry profiles, business plans, research articles, loan information, conference details, and international and domestic contact information.

Small Business Development Center National Information Center Clearinghouse is a virtual library of resources for small businesses. It includes annotated links to websites containing forms and regulations for business start-ups, demographic information, company information, patent and trademark information, industry research, finance, small business trends, marketing, and many more topics. You can also access the SBDC Counselor Toolkit, which contains actual examples of business plans, marketing audits, finance matrices, and other resources. This site is a good place to start your search for information and resources.

WSJ Startup Journal is part of the journal’s Center for Entrepreneurs. It includes how-to advice, news, and articles on topics such as marketing and sales, franchising, financing, running a business, and e-commerce. You’ll find a section of tools that walks you through creating a mini business plan on line and doing a trademark search.

Business Plans

The Business Planning Expert offers more than 60 free sample business plans that you can view online. It also features interactive calculators to determine cash flow, starting costs, conversion rate, and other figures to use in a business plan, and includes feature articles on topics such as starting a business, marketing and advertising, growing a business, and managing your e-business. The company’s Business Plan Pro 2005 business planning software is available for purchase through the website.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh lists types of small businesses and a corresponding sample business plan, profile or book about each type with sources provided after each entry.

SBA Business Plan Basics offers help in writing a business plan, including an outline of what should be included in the plan.

Small Business Development Center – Business Plans links to sites with specific business plans and other business planning tools and resources.

Business, Demographic, and Economic Statistics

United States

EconData.Net, “aims to be a convenient, comprehensive first stop for anyone searching among the vast, disparate array of public and private [socioeconomic] data sources on the Web.” The site offers links by subject (e.g., demographics, income, output and trade) and provider, and indicates which sites charge for their information.

Economic Indicators, is a monthly compilation of economic information on prices, wages, production, business activity, purchasing power, credit, money and Federal finance. Data is available from April 1995 forward.

Economic Statistics Briefing Room, provides links to economic information produced by a number of Federal agencies on employment, income, international trade, money, output, prices, production, transportation, and social statistics.

Federal Reserve Board Economic Research and Data, includes a section on current interest rate statistics, some of which are released almost daily, others monthly or quarterly. They include bank prime rates, foreign exchange rates, U.S. government securities rates, conventional mortgage rates.

FedStats, is a “gateway to statistics from over 100 U.S. Federal agencies.” Links to statistics are organized by topic, by geography, and through a general search. There are also links to published collections of statistics such as the Statistical Abstract of the United States and the State and Metropolitan Area Data Book. Other useful resources include a list of agencies that provide statistics and links to selected agency online databases.

The Gallup Organization, contains links to various polls, reports, trends and audits of public opinion conducted by The Gallup Organization. The main page and the “Gallup Poll” link contain the majority of useful free information. The site contains a search function. You can subscribe to the full content of the site for $95 a year.

National Center for Health Statistics, is the Federal Government’s principal vital and health statistics agency. It includes healthcare industry trends as well as information about vital statistics and topics such as health insurance coverage.

National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Foundation, is the research arm of the nonprofit small business advocacy organization with more than 600,000 members. NFIB produces the National Small Business Poll, a series of regularly published business survey reports based on data collected from national samples of small business employers. Eight business survey reports are produced annually. The website offers downloadable copies of recent survey reports, as well as the monthly Small Business Economic Trends and the Regulatory Impact Model Forecasts.

North American Industry Classification System, contains a searchable list of 2002 NAICS codes (with links to definitions), as well as tables showing correspondence between NAICS 97 and SIC, and tables showing correspondence between NAICS 97 and NAICS 02. NAICS was developed jointly by the United States, Canada, and Mexico to provide new comparability in statistics about business activity across North America and has replaced the U.S. Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system.

Salary.com, contains all kinds of information relating to compensation. While most of the content is available for a fee, there are several free “wizards.” The Salary Wizard lists salary statistics for hundreds of positions by geographic location. The Cost-of-Living Wizard compares living-cost indexes and salary differentials between any combinations of 300-plus U.S. cities. It also reports the salary adjustment needed to maintain a particular standard of living, and what salary increase or decrease is likely given local market factors.

SBA Office of Advocacy, offers research studies and data on small businesses, finance, business owner demographics, regulation, exporting, and other topics. Among the dozens of downloadable reports is The Small Business Economy, an extensive annual report that provides information on small business’ performance in the economy. You can also subscribe to a number of e-newsletters on small business research.

Social Statistics Briefing Room, provides easy access to current Federal social statistics produced by a number of Federal agencies. The website includes crime, demographic, education, and health statistics.

Statistical Resources on the Web, from the University of Michigan Documents Center, is an annotated index to statistical websites and individual statistical publications arranged by broad subject category. Subjects covered include agriculture, business and industry, consumers, cost of living, demographics, economics, education, energy, environment, finance and currency, foreign economics, foreign governments, foreign trade, U.S. government finances, health, housing, labor, military, politics, science, sociology, transportation, and weather.

StatUSA, is a low-cost subscription service ($175/year) offered by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The site’s State of the Nation library contains files and data relating to the U.S. economy, including general economic indicators, employment data, information about the housing and construction industry, quarterly financial reports on manufacturing and retail, and monetary statistics. There is much useful information here, but the search interface leaves something to be desired.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, offers information on such key issues as U.S. economic growth, regional economic development, and the position of the United States in the world economy. BEA’s National Income and Product Accounts, http://www.bea.doc.gov/bea/dn/nipaweb/index.asp, provides “an aggregated view of the final uses of the Nation’s output and the income derived from its production; two of its most widely known measures are gross domestic product (GDP) and gross domestic income (GDI). BEA also prepares estimates of the Nation’s stock of fixed assets and consumer durable goods.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Data, includes time-series data covering employment, prices and living conditions, compensation and living conditions, and productivity and technology.

U.S. Census Bureau Economic Programs, provides economic statistics by geography, sector (e.g., construction, retail trade, and transportation), and frequency. The site includes the Economic Census, which profiles American business every five years, from the national to the local level. You’ll also find statistics on county business patterns, e-commerce, foreign trade, monthly wholesale and retail trade, and many other economic topics.

USA Today Money, provides daily updates on domestic and world markets, treasury securities, commodities, currencies, key interest rates, and other economic indicators.

 

International

FAOSTAT Statistics Database, “is an on-line and multilingual database currently containing over 3 million time-series records covering international statistics” in the following areas: production, trade, food balance sheets, producer prices, forestry trade flow, land use and irrigation, forest products, fishery products, population, Codex Alimentarius food quality control, fertilizer and pesticides, agricultural machinery, food aid shipments, and exports by destination.

Infonation, offers the ability to view and compare statistical data for the member states of the United Nations. Select up to seven countries for comparison, and then select statistics and other data fields to compare among the identified countries. Included are statistics on geography, economy, population, and social indicators.

International Telecommunication Union, offers free electronic copies of its reports and free statistics such as telephone lines by country, number of PCs per country, and telecommunications indicators.

NationMaster.com, allows you to graphically compare economic and demographic statistics among nations. “NationMaster is a vast compilation of data from such sources as the CIA World Factbook, United Nations, World Health Organization, World Bank, World Resources Institute, UNESCO, UNICEF and OECD. Using the form above, you can generate maps and graphs on all kinds of statistics with ease.”

National Statistics, contains the latest comprehensive range of official U.K. statistics. The site is organized around 12 separate themes such as commerce, energy and industry; education and training; and social and welfare. Summaries and detailed data releases are published free of charge.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, issues demographic and economic reports on an ongoing basis for their 30 OECD member countries, as well as occasional reports for an additional 70 non-member countries. These resources include international trade statistics for the G7 countries, economic projections, and data tables covering areas such as demand and output, wages, supply side data, and interest rates. You can browse the site by topic or country.

Statistical Sites on the World Wide Web, provides links to government statistical agencies in the United States and in several dozen countries around the world.

United Nations – Economic and Social Development, publishes a Statistical Yearbook, World Economic Situation and Prospects, and numerous other studies on issues such as population, international trade, human rights, and sustainable development. Some reports are available as downloadable PDF files.

Export and Trade Information

StatUSA,, is a low-cost subscription service ($175/year) offered by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The GLOBUS & NTDB section of the website provides international trade resources, including the NTDB Global Trade Directory, Country Commercial Guides, International Market Insight (IMI) reports, agricultural market research, and Industry Sector Analysis reports, all organized by country. There is much useful information here, but the search interface leaves something to be desired.

Trade Information Center, provided by the International Trade Commission of the U.S. Department of Commerce, “is a comprehensive resource for information on all U.S. Federal Government export assistance programs.” The site offers an Internet Guide to Export Trade Leads, The National Export Directory, articles on exporting issues, tariff information, country information, and general export counseling.

U.S. International Trade Statistics, “provides a broad and comprehensive range of foreign trade statistics that are available on a monthly, annual, and historical basis. This includes information on up to 18,000 import commodity codes, 9,000 export commodity codes, 240 U.S. trading partners, 400 U.S. ports, over 50 states and territories, and 45 districts. Some of the statistics include quantities, values, shipping weights, methods of transportation (air or vessel), duties collected, unit prices, and market share.”

See also entries above for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, http://www.oecd.org, and the United Nations, http://www.un.org/esa/.

Financing Resources

Business Finance.com, allows you to search the funding criteria of over 4,000 sources for business loans, venture capital, equipment leasing, and commercial real estate financing. You can search by type of funding (e.g., working capital or equipment finance), or you can limit your search to funding sources for businesses already in existence for four months, for businesses just starting up, or for purchase of a business or franchise.

National Association of the Self-Employed, is a professional association for the self-employed and micro businesses (up to ten employees). The website offers a section on the ABCs of Finance that provides an overview of topics such as setting up a chart of accounts, inventory basics, financial ratios, and Small Business Administrations loans. You can also submit a finance question that will be answered by an “experienced consultant.”

SBA – Financing Your Business, provides information about raising capital for your business. It includes information about eligibility and preparation, SBA loans, contract surety bonds, equity capital, and special purpose loan programs.

Other websites that offer in-depth help in locating or managing business finance include Peerspectives – Acquiring and Managing Finances, and Entrepreneur.com.


Tax Resources

The IRS Tax Center provides links to www.IRS.gov web pages specific to the needs of business owners and tax professionals within the small business community. These links provide you direct access to various IRS services, information, forms and publications. The links are listed below so you can find one that meets your needs:

Small Business Self Employed Tax Center: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/index.html

Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/selfemployed/index.html

Tax centers for specific industries: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/industries/index.html

Virtual Small Business Tax Workshop that is designed to help new and existing small business owners understand and meet their federal tax obligations. The workshop consists of nine lessons. http://www.tax.gov/virtualworkshop/

IRS en Español, the IRS.gov Spanish counterpart, is available for translated information: http://www.irs.gov/espanol/index.html?navmenu=menu3

 

Marketing Principles and Strategies

Association for Progressive Communications, offers the Mission-Driven Business Planning Toolkit, a free web-based resource that includes a forms-driven market analysis approach, a method for ascertaining client satisfaction with a company’s products and services, and a description of how to develop a marketing plan.

CCH Business Owner’s Toolkit: Marketing Your Product, is a free web-based resource designed to introduce the small business owner to some of the concepts and strategies that professional marketing experts in large companies use.

Mplans.com, contains a collection of free sample marketing plans. It also offers articles and advice for managing a business. “Mplans.com includes practical advice on planning, interactive tools, and a panel of experts who have answered more than 1,400 questions from people like you.” The website is a free resource owned and operated by Palo Alto Software, Inc., which also sells its marketing software through the site.

Peerspectives – Defining and Serving a Market, offers a number of short articles and resources on topics such as exporting, market strategy, and multicultural marketing. A particularly helpful resource is the in-depth article, “How to Prepare a Market Analysis,” which includes a checklist of resources for gathering market data.

SBA – Marketing Basics, provides helpful information about all aspects of marketing, including market research, marketing strategy, and targeted marketing. The SBA’s Online Women’s Business Center Marketing Mall, http://www.onlinewbc.gov/docs/market/, covers a wide variety of marketing topics, including the principles of marketing, multicultural marketing, and marketing on the Internet.


Marketing Lists

Several companies sell customized business and consumer marketing lists online. InfoUSA offers pay-as-you-go options for business (B2B) and consumer (B2C) lists. A nonprofit version of their product, ReferenceUSA, is available through libraries, but offers a limited number of downloads per screen. Other commercial web-based companies include Zapdata (B2B only), and AccuLeads (B2B and B2C). These websites allow you to create marketing lists of businesses or consumers based on multiple criteria, usually downloadable in a variety of formats. You can figure roughly $.10-$.15 per lead for a standard mailing list; additional features (e.g., phone numbers, sales figures, and other parameters) will add to the fee.

Several companies sell customized business and consumer marketing lists online. InfoUSA offers pay-as-you-go options for business (B2B) and consumer (B2C) lists. A nonprofit version of their product, ReferenceUSA, is available through libraries, but offers a limited number of downloads per screen. Other commercial web-based companies include Zapdata (B2B only), and AccuLeads (B2B and B2C). These websites allow you to create marketing lists of businesses or consumers based on multiple criteria, usually downloadable in a variety of formats. You can figure roughly $.10-$.15 per lead for a standard mailing list; additional features (e.g., phone numbers, sales figures, and other parameters) will add to the fee.

AccuLeads, offers leads from 18 million businesses and 127 million households. The site also offers lists from real estate records, lists of new borrowers, and a list of affluent professionals. You can search the database for free and create customized lists based on a wide range of parameters. AccuLeads is often the least expensive alternative for generating lists, but they have a $50.00 minimum order.

InfoUSA, lists more than 14 million businesses and 200 million consumers (104 million households) in its database. You can create a customized list of businesses or residents based on dozens of categories such as geography, demographics, and sales figures. You can also purchase lists of new homeowners. Searching the database is free.

ListFinder, offers a searchable database of more than 50,000 direct mail lists. You can select the type of list you want (e.g., e-mail, postal mail, or telephone) and search by keyword. Summary information is provided for each list, with the option to pay for a subscription for more information or to contact a list broker. You can also send a message requesting information or a quote directly to the list manager. In addition, the site features articles about direct marketing, web marketing, direct mail legal and regulatory issues, and other topics.

SRDS.com, is the granddaddy of direct marketing lists. It requires an annual subscription fee (single user license was $586/year in 2004) to search the database of around 48,000 domestic and international lists. The subscription includes the printed version of the list as well (which is cumbersome and difficult to use).

Zapdata.com, from Dun & Bradstreet, offers business-to-business marketing leads. Selection criteria include location, number of employees, annual sales, SIC code, job function, and specialty data such as import/export flags or IT demand. Individual records range in price from $.16 to $.87, depending on the parameters selected.


Market Research - General Sources

AllBusiness - Secondary vs. Primary Market Research, explains the difference between secondary and primary research, and links to several short articles that provide an introduction to the basic types of primary research.

Calgary Business Information Centre, identifies the pros and cons of different types of primary market research.

Condensed Guide to Market Research, from Informa Research Services, provides an overview of market research, including data collection techniques, available research methodologies, and when to conduct research.

Inc.com – Market Research, has a collection of articles about market research, including low-budget suggestions for conducting your own market research.


Market Research – Secondary Research

Secondary research refers to data that already exists. Many government websites contain free or low-cost information about demographics and markets (see the section above on statistics). Generally speaking, there are no free sources of market research reports published by commercial firms such as Gartner, Frost & Sullivan, and Datamonitor. You can sometimes find useful market information on industry and professional association websites.

MarketResearch.com, is a searchable database of market research reports covering all industry sectors, both domestic and international. The site offers free searching, abstracts, and tables of contents, but the actual reports are fee-based, often costing thousands of dollars. You can sometimes buy “by the slice” to get specific pieces of a report.

Mindbranch, is similar to MarketResearch.com in that it aggregates syndicated and custom industry research from 350 independent research firms through a searchable interface. Searching is free; the actual reports are fee-based. Description and table of contents are available for most reports, and purchased reports are downloadable in PDF format.


Market Research – Primary Research

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of market research firms that conduct primary research (e.g., surveys, focus groups, and interviews) on behalf of companies. If you want to conduct your own primary research, here are a few tools:

Focus Groups: A Facilitator’s Guide, is a PDF file from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that contains helpful information on setting up and facilitating focus groups. Another useful resource on the site is the PDF file, Focus Groups: When and Why to Use, http://www.wisc.edu/improve/improvement/focusgroups.pdf.

Gathering Evidence – A Guide for Using Focus Groups, is a British government site that explains clearly what a focus group is and how to conduct an effective focus group.

SurveyMonkey.com, allows you to create professional online surveys, collect responses, and analyze results via the web. A basic subscription is free and includes all of the basic features of SurveyMonkey. Basic subscribers are limited to a total of 10 questions and 100 responses per survey. A professional subscription is $19.95/month (or only $200.00/year), and includes an unlimited number of surveys, and up to 1,000 responses per month. The service is straightforward and easy to use. There are numerous competitors for this service (e.g., Zoomerang, Active Web Survey, StatSurvey), and you can link to their websites through SurveyMonkey’s section on pricing.

UNESCO Internal Oversight Service – Evaluation Manual, offers basic information about how to evaluate a program or services and includes questions to ask at each stage of an evaluation exercise, a guide to the preparation of questionnaires, a guide to the preparation and conduct of group interviews, and a glossary.


Company & Industry Information

Most in-depth company information is not available for free. Below are a number of websites that offer some free information. Company websites are often a valuable source of information on all aspects of a company. You can usually find annual reports and other basic information about the company, as well as press releases about new products and developments, key personnel, and financial information.

AnnualReports.com, “is the most complete and up-to-date listing of Annual Reports online. We are America’s largest annual report service. Our directory is a free Internet service that will enable potential investors to review a company’s annual report in an easy, convenient manner. This free service provides access to annual reports in their actual format.”

BizJournals.com, offers recent news from more than 40 local business journals. You can search and view articles by topic, industry, or market location. When researching a particular company, this is a good place to view recent news articles about them.

Harris.com, has a section of 85 industry reports covering topics from aerospace to apparel. Available for less than $30.00 apiece, each report contains industry descriptions and developments, density maps and breakdowns, listings of major companies, full profiles on 15 major companies, SIC and NAICS product listings, employment level breakdowns, and more.

LLRX.com – Business Filings Databases, is a helpful compendium of annotated links by state to corporate and business filings available online. “All 50 states make some level of corporate and business filings available online. In a few instances only limited information (such as name availability) is retrievable. The majority of the states, however, use their Web presence to disseminate a range of public business records -- and most of them offer access at no charge.”

New York Public Library – Searching for Company Information, includes a free online course, “Prospecting for Business Information.”

SEC Filings and Forms (EDGAR), provides free access to U.S. corporate filings. All companies, foreign and domestic, are required to file registration statements, periodic reports, and other forms electronically through EDGAR. The website offers links to the complete list of filings available through EDGAR and provides instructions for searching the EDGAR database.

Thomas.net, is an industrial search engine that provides information on more than 650,000 manufacturers, suppliers, and service providers. You can search for product information by category or name; for example, glass bottles or fence posts. You can also search for company information by region or for the entire United States and Canada, and for information by brand name. Other options include millions of CAD drawings, a radius search from a specific location, and company certification information. The website is free.

You can also find quite a bit of useful information on companies and other economic data through state agencies. Most states collect information on corporations, sales tax revenues, demographics, wages and employment, licensed professionals, and other data that you can access via the Web, usually for free or a small fee.