The Small Business Administration has taken a big step toward leveling the playing field on which small businesses compete with large ones.
It’s now providing a new online information service called SizeUp that gives small-business owners free access to data on some 14 million companies in virtually every industry and geographic region in the country.
The free service culls industry, demographic, and labor force information from a wide range of public data sources, including the U.S. Census, Post Office, IRS, county courthouse filings, and phone directories.
By means of easy-to-use, intuitive webpages, the system lets you: view industry statistics in any geographical area; compare your company’s revenue, salaries, and expenditures to the competition’s (locally, statewide, or nationally); learn how much consumers are spending on the types of?products and services you sell; and map the locations of your competitors and potential suppliers and customers.
Simple reports are available anonymously, and more complex ones require only that you provide an email address. All user information is kept private, and there’s no cost to retrieve any of the data. (You can even set up a recurring report that periodically lets you know how well your business stacks up against your competition.)
In addition, SizeUp’s Resources page provides links to loans, the Association of Small Business Development Centers, QuickBooks and other accounting software, business planning apps, franchising opportunities, marketing resources, credit score information, and business buy/sell details from various vendors.
SizeUp and other market research tools are invaluable for:
- Developing, shaping, and fine-tuning product and service offerings that are focused and accurately targeted at viable markets;
- Making business decisions on the basis of hard intelligence rather than hunches;
- Minimizing the risk of starting a business or changing the way an ongoing one operates;
- Communicating better with your prospects and customers (that is, making sure they get the messages you’re trying to send, and that you’re hearing what they’re trying to tell you);
- Gauging how well you are meeting expectations, serving needs, and satisfying desires;
- Determining what you are doing right and what you could do better;
- Demonstrating that you care about your prospects and customers by asking what they think and taking that into account;
- Identifying new opportunities (products and services, locations, ways of operating, and more); and
- Measuring your performance against benchmarks and your progress toward goals.