Q: I am trying to gather market data for a business plan that I am putting together. I have been all over the Internet trying to locate this research, but I haven't found any useful sites. I need information about the size of the market, market penetration, competition, etc. Do you have any suggestions?
A: First, check out my article "Do Your Research" for information on how to do some footwork on your own. Your future customers will usually be glad to tell you what their problems are, who their current vendors are and how satisfied they are with those competitors.
Customers are only one piece of the puzzle, however. Suppliers may also know your market surprisingly well. I'd be willing to bet that sugar companies can tell you the relative market share of Coke and Pepsi as well as anyone in the soft drink industry. You can also turn to the makers of add-ons or related products to find out about a market. Manufacturers of software often have a sense for hardware market data, since their livelihood depends on the hardware market.
Most formal market research will cost you something. The people who collect and gather it know its value and rarely give it away for free. Trade magazines are a happy exception. If the industry you're thinking of entering has any trade publications, they often gather statistics about an industry. At the least, if you call them directly, they may know where you can find such numbers.
On the Web, there are many fee-based resources:
- MarketResearch.comaggregates the needs of individual consumers of market research and allows you to buy market research "by the slice." They even provide assistance finding the relevant research.
- BizVidadoes custom research or can sell you prepackaged research. They charge by the project but have free content you can access just for registering.
- The Wall Street Journalmay have relevant articles in its archives. For about $7 per month, you can access the archives and purchase individual articles. I've found the Journal to be a great source of targeted information, and you only pay for what you need, so a few hours with their search engine can let you know whether they have answers.
- Harvard Business School has a portal called HBS Working Knowledgethat includes a variety of useful articles and services.
- Forrester Researchpublishes research reports on the technology sector. Their research can be pricey, but you can buy reports online, and they're generally considered a reputable source of market intelligence.
- Your reference librarian is a low-tech resource with knowledge of how to track down information quickly-often free of charge. Just pick up the phone and call, and you'll have your answer quickly. Do it soon, though-the Web and IT are making reference librarians a dying breed, thanks to the (fallacious) assumption that keyword search can take the place of human judgment and tenacity in sifting through information.
As an entrepreneur, technologist, advisor and coach, Stever Robbins seeks out and identifies high-potential start-ups to help them develop the skills, attitudes and capabilities they need to succeed. He has been involved with start-up companies since 1978 and is currently an investor or advisor to several technology and Internet companies including ZEFER Corp., University Access Inc., RenalTech, Crimson Soutions and PrimeSource. He has been using the Internet since 1977, was a co-founder of FTP Software in 1986, and worked on the design team of Harvard Business School's "Foundations" program. Stever holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a computer science degree from MIT. His Web site is a http://www.venturecoach.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.
Stever Robbins is a venture coach, helping entrepreneurs and early-stage companies develop the attitudes, skills and capabilities needed to succeed. He brings to bear skills as an entrepreneur, teacher and technologist in helping others create successful ventures.