Grow Your Business/Grow Your Community
Potential clients often ask me—“Well, isn’t it all free on the internet?” The answer, of course, is yes and no. There is a great deal of free information out there, if you know where to look and how to interpret it. In the interest of letting you know what is indeed “out there” here are some free tools to get you started.
If you can’t afford Dun & Bradstreet for prospect lists give MANTA a try. Manta is a free tool that accesses many of the same data sources as Dun & Bradstreet and Hoover’s. It has access to information on both closely held and publicly traded companies, just type in your criteria or search by company name and you are good to go. The downside is that you can’t print the lists you pull. But, it is a nice tool to begin building your own prospect list. You can claim your own company on MANTA and make sure your own information is being accurately reported.
Linked-In has a search option which can be used to identify contact people within an organization. Go to the search tab and choose company, then hit the search button without entering a company name. Detailed search will show up on the left of the screen. Enter parameters and you will get a list of companies that meet the selected parameters. Zero in on a company and you will get a list of their employees who are on Linked-In, both inside and outside your network.
U.S. Census Data is available online, at the American Fact Finder. This is the official source for U.S. Census Data on populations, communities and economic trends. Tutorials in how to download the tables and access the information are available at the site.
ESRI collects demographic, lifestyle segmentation, consumer spending, and business data for profiling customers, analyzing markets, evaluating competitors and identifying opportunities. Although, there is a fee for software and reports, the Tapestry Segmentation page gives a unique perspective on the characteristics of a population in any U.S. zip code. Just type in the zip code and you will get some interesting demographics on that area as well as the top three lifestyle segmentation categories.
Freelunch.com is an excellent source if you want to get your feet wet in economic trend reporting. They have a number of free data series which you can view or download into Excel. This is general data used to identify trends, such as changes in unemployment by zip code. Their free data is pulled from other free sources, but it is nice to have them all in one place.
City Forward is another trend analysis tool that uses free data government data. Searches, called Explorations, are saved so that you can begin your search by building from what other members of the City Forward community have created. This is a good example of a tool that is traditionally used by city managers and Economic Development professionals, but has great potential for small business.
This is another crowd sourced application that pulls from the massive amounts of data that Facebook has collected. You can filter the data by a number of demographic and psychographic keys for customer analysis. The data is confined to data collected from FB, rather than the general population, but with close to 900,000 million FB users it is a robust source.
So there you have it. My top seven go to choices for doing business research for free on the internet. All it costs is your time.
beth plutchak consulting llc
business intelligence for the rest of us