You're researching a hot new market and need the lowdown on potential competitors. No time to run to the library. And you can't afford the large market-research houses, which often require monthly retainers and don't like to take on small research projects. There's an alternative, known as the "information broker." These fact finders are expert gatherers of competitive intelligence, adroitly handling the library and CD-ROM databases. Among the brokers we surveyed, hourly rates average $60 to $100. One-day turnaround is common. For longer projects brokers will quote you a flat rate. To find an information broker near you, see "Resources: Fact Finders for Hire" (December 1992, [Article link]). An Inc. sampling:

Corporate Fact Finders, West Chester, Pa. Cost: $75-$100/hour, $400-$500/day, on average $150-$400/project. Specialties: business and competitive analysis, insurance, international. Recent Projects: researching number of burglar-alarm systems installed in homes and businesses (three hours' work, $250); pricing new drug for pharmaceutical company.

DataSearch, Fort Wayne, Ind. (219-432-0292). Cost: $60/hour, on average $120/project. Specialties: competitor intelligence, plastics, former Soviet states. Recent Projects: gathering import/export data on Japanese competitors for small X-ray-equipment maker (four days, $2,000); setting up program for insurance company to monitor all financial releases of competitors.

Fluxdata Research Services, London, Ohio (614-852-0202). Cost: $80-$300/hour, on average $240-$1,200/project. Specialties: competitor intelligence, human resources, psychology, trademark research. Recent Projects: gathering statistics on exporting tobacco to Russia (two and a half hours, $430); overview of advanced technology available to truck drivers; analysis of protein in horse feed.

InfoLink, Montrose, N.Y. (914-736-1565). Cost: $75-$125/hour, on average $250/project. Specialties: marketing, advertising, consumer products. Recent Projects: researching children's education and learning habits to help launch national children's magazine (four months, $5,000); research on African tribes.

InfoQuest, Portland, Oreg. (503-228-4023). Cost: $60-$75/hour, on average $120-$225/project. Specialties: international trade, competitor intelligence, telecommunications. Recent Projects: researching German exercise equipment (six hours, $500); analysis of trade barriers in Japan for small export-consulting firm.

Information Aliunde, Madison, Wis. (608-241-3372). Cost: $40-$45/hour, on average $135/project. Specialties: environmental and legal research, government documents, legislative history. Recent Projects: research on how to design an incinerator to avoid chemical reactions (two and a half hours, $100); history of a bill on child custody; helping a small company build a corporate library.

Med-Info Search, Denver (303-757-3622). Cost: $30-$35/hour, on average $30-$70/project. Specialties: health, medicine, psychiatry. Recent Projects: research on dangers of asbestos in office environment (three hours, $100); monthly update on new product introductions for medical-monitoring-equipment manufacturer. -- Researched by Vera Gibbons