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Hacking the U.S. Census for Market Research

Hack the CensusChances are that you filled out a form in 2010 with information about your household as part of that year's Census. What you might not realize is that Census.gov has useful information and resources for your business.

"Census Bureau data and user tools allow businesses to pull together economic and demographic data, and by doing so can provide valuable insight for determining potential markets," says Phil Thompson, acting small-business ombudsman of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Demographics: Demographic characteristics and trends are useful for everything from backing up a business plan's premise to developing targeted marketing campaigns, says market research expert Marcy Phelps, author of Research on Main Street: Using the Web to Find Local Business and Market Information. The County Business Patterns section provides the number of businesses, employment counts and payroll by industry, size and geography, which can help you judge the density of businesses in an area and get a sense of the prevailing pay rate.

Competition: Economic Census data provides detailed statistics about businesses such as sales, receipts, value of shipments, revenue, inventory and expenses, broken down by industry and geography. The Survey of Business Owners details characteristics of business owners by industry, gender, race, ethnicity and veteran status, and can be distilled to the city and county level.

The Census Bureau even employs someone to help you navigate the somewhat complex online matrix. The small-business ombudsman, who is dedicated to helping the small-business community, can be reached by phone at (866) 564-5431 or on the internet at census.gov/econ/osbo

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the October 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hack the Census.

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