Researching Your Market

Secondary Research

Secondary data is outside information assembled by government agencies, industry and trade associations, labor unions, media sources, chambers of commerce, etc., and found in the form of pamphlets, newsletters, trade and other magazines, newspapers, and so on. It's termed secondary data because the information has been gathered by another, or secondary, source. The benefits of this are obvious--time and money are saved because you don't have to develop survey methods or do the interviewing.

Secondary sources are divided into three main categories:

  1. Public. Public sources are the most economical, as they're usually free, and can offer a lot of good information. These sources are most typically governmental departments, business departments of public libraries, etc.
  2. Commercial. Commercial sources are equally valuable, but usually involve costs such as subscription and association fees. However, you spend far less than you would if you hired a research team to collect the data firsthand. Commercial sources typically consist of research and trade assocations, organizations like SCORE (Society Corps of Retired Executives) and Dun & Bradstreet, banks and other financial institutions, publicly traded corporations, etc.
  3. Educational. Educational institutions are frequently overlooked as viable information sources, yet there is more research conducted in colleges, universities, and polytechnic institutes than virtually any sector of the business community.

Government statistics are among the most plentiful and wide-ranging public sources of information. Start with the Census Bureau's helpful Hidden Treasures--Census Bureau Data and Where to Find It! In seconds, you'll find out where to find federal and state information. Other government publications that are helpful include:

  • Statistical and Metropolitan Area Data Book. Offers statistics for metropolitan areas, central cities and counties.
  • Statistical Abstract of the United States. Data books with statistics from numerous sources, government to private.
  • U.S. Global Outlook. Traces the growth of 200 industries and gives five-year forecasts for each.

Don't neglect to contact specific government agencies such as the Small Business Administration (SBA). They sponsor several helpful programs such as SCORE and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) which can provide you with free counseling and a wealth of business information. The Department of Commerce not only publishes helpful books like the U.S. Global Outlook, it also produces an array of products with information regarding both domestic industries and foreign markets through its International Trade Administration (ITA) branch. The above items are available from the U.S. Government Printing Office .

One of the best public sources is the business section of public libraries. The services provided vary from city to city, but usually include a wide range of government and market statistics, a large collection of directories including information on domestic and foreign businesses, as well as a wide selection of magazines, newspapers and newsletters.

Almost every county government publishes population density and distribution figures in accessible census tracts. These tracts will show you the number of people living in specific areas, such as precincts, water districts or even 10-block neighborhoods. Other public sources include city chambers of commerce or business development departments, which encourage new businesses in their communities. They will supply you (usually for free) with information on population trends, community income characteristics, payrolls, industrial development, and so on.

Among the best commercial sources of information are research and trade associations. Information gathered by trade associations is usually confined to a certain industry and available only to association members, with a membership fee frequently required. However, the research gathered by the larger associations is usually thorough, accurate and worth the cost of membership. Two excellent resources to help you locate a trade association that reports on the business you're researching are Encyclopedia of Associations (Gale Research) and Business Information Sources (University of California Press) and can usually be found at your local library.

Research associations are often independent but are sometimes affiliated with trade associations. They often limit their activities to conducting and applying research in industrial development, but some have become full-service information sources with a wide range of supplementary publications such as directories.

Educational institutions are very good sources of research. Research there ranges from faculty-based projects often published under professors' bylines to student projects, theses and assignments. Copies of student research projects may be available for free with faculty permission. Consulting services are available either for free or at a cost negotiated with the appropriate faculty members. This can be an excellent way to generate research at little or no cost, using students who welcome the professional experience either as interns or for special credit. Contact the university administration departments and marketing/management studies departments for further information. University libraries are additional sources of research.

Source: The Small Business Encyclopedia and Knock-Out Marketing.


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