Even small businesses can access a variety of free resources for insights about competitors, customers and trends. Before anyone sinks a lot of money into anything, I suggest any business do online research service. Below is only a few in a wealth of free tools and resources that can help you gather valuable market-research information.
Survey Monkey Basic
Portland, Ore. www.surveymonkey.com
Cost: Free. Enhanced plans with additional services run up to $65 per month.
What It Is: An online survey and opinion poll service. How to Use It: You can creative surveys free of charge for your own audience. For a fee, you also can get feedback from your target audience via SurveyMonkey’s own samples.
Get the Most Out of It: Beyond the answers to survey questions, respondents may provide additional insight in their open-ended comments.
Camp Hill, Pa. www.bizstats.com
Cost: Free. What It Is: Free business statistics and financial data for various industries.
How to Use It: The various filters help you find financial information about other companies in your field that are of similar size. The site also provides calculators and others tools to help you understand profit-risk ratios, cost of goods sold and valuation factors for your business.
Get the Most Out of It: Use BizStats to see the revenue potential for your start-up and to determine how much you should be spending on advertising. You can also compare your inventory turnover with that of your competitors.
West Chester, Pa. www.economy.com/freelunch
Cost: Free. Registration required.
What It Is: Economic, demographic and financial data.
How to Use It: The data, covering everything from consumer and labor markets to gross domestic product and inventory ratios, will give you insight into economic and population trends.
Get the Most Out of It: Check out the reports on 387 regions, including gross metropolitan product, migration flows, population and descriptions of the area’s characteristics, strengths and weaknesses.
Hoover’s Free Edition
Hoover’s, a unit of Dun & Bradstreet
Austin, Texas www.hoovers.com
Cost: Basic profiles are Free. Pay-as-you-go options are available for in-depth reports and lead generation.
What It Is: A searchable collection of business profiles, including financial data, key personnel and an overview of the company and its markets. How to Use It: Search for key business-to-business prospects and competitors to get hard-to-find data, including information on privately held companies.
Get the Most Out of It: It isn’t free, but Hoover’s Lead Builder promises to deliver B2B leads matching your criteria for as little as 34 cents each.
Kennesaw, Georgia http://www.mympact.com/
Cost: Free What It Is: A scoring index of online influence and a tracker of social media topics.
How to Use It: Sign in with one of your social media accounts. Then you’ll get a report that includes your online influence score — a measure of your social media connections and how often your content is reposted — as well as a list of influential social media users in your areas of interest. Topic searches reveal what people are saying online about your brand — or just about anything else.
Get the Most Out of It: mPact provides tips on increasing your visibility and influence in the online world.
Lots of new searching to do now!
Keith Thorn, Managing Partner