Business Research? Dont Forget "dot gov"
"With a top-notch research department, your business could take over the world," writes free lance author Gregg Keizer in the February 2000 issue of PC Computing Magazine.
Unfortunately, if youre a small business, you cant afford a "standing army" of expert researchers. "No sweat," Keizer continues. "Youve got a powerful information-gathering tool at your disposal: the Internet."
In his article on business intelligence, "You Know Its Out There Heres How to Find It," Keizer provides an impressive array of websites to help small businesses answer some of their most challenging research questions. "Best of all, most of these Web resources wont cost you a dime," he says.
Many sites in Keizers list are commercial, but some industrial-strength federal sites made the cut.
The Securities and Exchange Commissions EDGAR Database lets you search through any public companys SEC filings, he says. "Its a good way to find out what kinds of perks the top brass at the competition are getting."
"If youre on a tight budget, check out the free information at the U.S. Census Bureaus County Business Patterns site. He explains how you can "drill down to the appropriate county in your state for a list generalized industries" to reach "more specific trades (such as brokers, insurance agents) to find the number of employees and payroll information. "Its a quick way to find out if theres room for opportunity or if a markets already saturated," he says.
And if you have a new product in mind, and maybe even a name for it, Keizer suggests that you do a trademark search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database. If the product name you want isnt taken, you can register your trademark on the spot just fill out the online registration and pay the fee.
If youre thinking of starting a new business, or expanding your business into a new market, Keizer steers you back to the U.S. Census Bureau and its American FactFinder site for demographic information. When youve clicked on Facts About My Community, and then Community Profiles, next you "simply choose the town or city youre interested in" and create a report from such data profiles as General Population and Housing Characteristics and Income and Poverty Status. The report, he says, "tells you everything youve ever wanted to know about a community" such as statistics on home ownership and rentals, educational levels, and languages spoken at home.
To find the qualifications and average salary of jobs you need to fill, Keizer recommends the U.S. Department of Labors Bureau of Labor Statistics, and its online publication, the 1998-99 Occupational Outlook Handbook. "You can search for more than 250 occupations," he says.
And what about government regulations? "To follow these rules, youve got to know what they are," he says. He suggests heading to the Department of Labors Regulatory Compliance Assistance page. "Part of DOLs Office of Small Business Programs, this page links valuable resources for small businesses, including The Small Business Handbook, a solid summary of the relevant laws," he writes.
For specific Labor Department regulations like hard hats and safety he says the eLaws Advisor page is the "best bet."
"Its not smart to blow your companys limited funds on brand-new office equipment," Keizer advises. After listing some commercial sites where a business can get great deals, he reminds his readers that one of the largest purveyors of used goods is Uncle Sam. "The General Services Administration (GSA), the federal governments purchasing arm, regularly unloads surplus mostly used property to the public through sealed bids, auctions, silent auctions, and first-come, first-served fixed price sales," he says. " If you know where to find the stuff, your business can save a lot of money."
Since GSA sells surplus property through its 11 regional offices, he recommends this Personal Property Sales/Auctions page, which links to each offices public sales information.
Accompanying Keizers article is an interesting sidebar, "Watch Your Back," in case another company is researching your business. What if your records in public and private databases are wrong? How do you correct misinformation? If you dispute the information, he points you to the Federal Trade Commission website for what to do.
And, if someone has stolen your identity and ruined your reputation, Keizer says go to the Identify Theft site.
And Theres More
Freelance writer Gregg Keizer found a goodly number of government sites to help businesses in their fact finding, but Id like to point out a few more.
The Small Business Administrations popular U.S. Business Advisor is a handy one-stop shortcut to government regulations, forms, and other business-related information. And businesses are singing the praises of the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations Online Advisors. An Online Advisor is as good as having an OSHA safety expert at your side and maybe better if youre a little nervous about compliance.
And theres good news about buying used property from Uncle Sam. The federal government's FinanceNet is a one-stop shop. You can get information on the sale or auction of just about anything that any government -- federal, state, local or international -- offers for sale or auction to the general public electronically.
And more good news: the year 2000-2001 Occupational Outlook Handbook is scheduled to go online in February 2000.
About the Reviewer
Patricia Wood, Editor of Access America Online Magazine, also manages the National Partnership for Reinventing Government website. She also oversees the activities of the Federal Communicators Network. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 694-0063.
January 31, 2000