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How do I research an industry?

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Writing a Business Plan mentor Rhonda Abrams responds to the following question frequently asked by inc.com users:
I'm planning a new business and finding a lot of general information about starting a business. Where do I find specific data that applies to my particular industry -- information about topics such as suppliers, market research, typical expenditures, etc.?

Rhonda Abrams responds:
The further you get into starting (and running) your business, the more you need specific, detailed information that relates to your particular needs. This info can be hard to locate, but a lot more exists than you'd imagine.

Start with the trade associations serving your industry (and related industries, such as suppliers or distributors). There are thousands of trade industries and professional associations; I'm betting that your industry is covered by at least one.

On the Web, go to the American Society of Association Executives' Gateway to Associations. You may need to be patient, however, because in my experience, the technology can be glitchy. Nevertheless, it's probably still a better resource than a general search engine or directory (which will result in far too many inappropriate responses) or a general business portal.

The difficulty is that associations often use names that make the one you need hard to find. For instance, if you type in the words "real estate" at the Gateway to Associations site, you might not come up with the National Association of Realtors, a major organization serving that industry. So search the Gateway list by category. You may come up with dozens of associations, so start with groups that contain the name "National," "International," or "American," rather than local organizations. Don't be afraid to look at national sites that aren't from your country because they often have information such as standards, glossaries, other site listings, etc.

Go to a number of sites and look around. You may find a wealth of information, depending on how sophisticated the associations have been in developing their sites. Typically, however, you'll find they list "publications," "trade shows," "bookstores," and often lists of other industry-related sites. You may find an amazing amount of info at such sites, such as market research or supplier lists.

Visit the sites of industries to which you're going to market. You can often buy lists of their association members (including mailing labels or e-mail addresses), giving you a built-in database of sales targets.

Attend industry trade shows. Trade shows are an efficient way to meet a lot of people in your industry, scope out suppliers and competitors, and attend workshops on emerging trends and skills.

Check out the Web sites of potential competitors and suppliers. Read all their press releases and the section "About the Company". You may find mentions of research studies, strategic alliances, or other interesting info.

Many industry-specific Web sites are also starting to emerge. One good place to check is www.verticalnet.com.

Also on the Web, you can go to industry market research companies, such as Forrester, Jupiter, or Dataquest in the technology industries. A good way to find some of these is by doing searches on general search engines by using the industry plus terms like "market research" and also by looking for news stories about topics in your industry. Often such stories will quote industry research studies.

Don't be afraid to talk to people. Talk to suppliers about where to get info. Talk to those in your industry in other locations. Even talk to competitors. In this day and age, a lot of competitors work with each other, and they may be a source not only of information, but of potential alliances and income.

Copyright © 2000 Rhonda Abrams

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