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Business Research? Don’t 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 you’re a small business, you can’t afford a "standing army" of expert researchers. "No sweat," Keizer continues. "You’ve got a powerful information-gathering tool at your disposal: the Internet."

In his article on business intelligence, "You Know It’s Out There…Here’s 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 won’t cost you a dime," he says.

Many sites in Keizer’s list are commercial, but some industrial-strength federal sites made the cut.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR Database let’s you search through any public company’s SEC filings, he says. "It’s a good way to find out what kinds of perks the top brass at the competition are getting."

"If you’re on a tight budget, check out the free information at the U.S. Census Bureau’s 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. "It’s a quick way to find out if there’s room for opportunity or if a market’s 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 isn’t taken, you can register your trademark on the spot — just fill out the online registration and pay the fee.

If you’re 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 you’ve clicked on Facts About My Community, and then Community Profiles, next you "simply choose the town or city you’re 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 you’ve 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 Labor’s 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, you’ve got to know what they are," he says. He suggests heading to the Department of Labor’s Regulatory Compliance Assistance page. "Part of DOL’s 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."

"It’s not smart to blow your company’s 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 government’s 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 office’s public sales information.

Accompanying Keizer’s 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 There’s More

Freelance writer Gregg Keizer found a goodly number of government sites to help businesses in their fact finding, but I’d like to point out a few more.

The Small Business Administration’s 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 Administration’s Online Advisors. An Online Advisor is as good as having an OSHA safety expert at your side — and maybe better if you’re a little nervous about compliance.

And there’s 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 or (202) 694-0063.

January 31, 2000