Researching your business idea may not be the most glamorous part of starting a business, but it is essential. Doing your homework upfront will help ensure that your business is as successful as you envisioned it would be – and it could save you time and money in the process. Putting your hands on the information you need to start your business may not be as hard as you think. Take advantage of the many resources at your disposal.
Read the newspaper regularly. Each issue is full of ideas and information that can help inform your business decisions. Talk with the business editor of your local paper, he/she is well informed about local business trends.
No matter what your interest–from potato chips to computer chips to chocolate chips–there is probably an association dedicated to your cause. These associations offer a wealth of information and often have magazines, listservs and newsletters worth subscribing to. The Encyclopedia of Associations, published by Gale Research is a great resource for finding associations and is available in most libraries.
Learn to Love Your Librarian
Libraries are an underappreciated and underutilized resource. No matter what information you’re looking for, someone has probably written a book about it–even if it is an obscure topic. If you need a lot of help, call ahead to set up an appointment with the reference librarian to ensure that you’ll have his/her full attention.
Size Up the Competition
If you want information about the competition, think like a customer. Where do customers get information? Newspaper, magazine, television and radio ads, the yellow pages, talking to other customers, and visiting the business are great ways to find out how the competition stacks up.
The World Wide Web offers instant access to information from around the globe. Take advantage of the countless publications, listservs, newsgroups and informational web sites out there.
Your accountant may have some tips for figuring out how the money will work in your business and can help you make sure that all of your financial bases are covered. She/he may also be able to put you in touch with other helpful resources.
Bank personnel review business plans on a regular basis. Your banker may be willing to share what she/he looks for when evaluating a business plan. She/he may also be aware of consultants and other resources that have helped other clients achieve business success.
Back to the Future
No one can predict with 100% accuracy what people will buy in the future, but researching upcoming trends can help you make more informed business decisions. Business-focused publications like Entrepreneur, Inc. and The Wall Street Journal offer the latest information about what’s new and what’s next in business. See what these resources have to say about the future of trends that impact your business.
Economic Development Authorities
State and local economic development authorities and Chambers of Commerce are an excellent resource for demographic information, state and local economic development priorities, local needs, trends, regulations, potential locations and even funding sources for your business.
Be Your Own Best Resource
If the information that you need isn’t out there, create it yourself. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to conduct research. Conduct surveys with potential customers. Park yourself in front of a potential business location and count how many people walk by. Visit your competitors to compare their pricing strategies. Talk to other business owners. Conduct a focus group.