Whether you’re planning on starting a business, launching a new product, entering new markets, moving business locations or simply looking to understand changing market conditions and demographic trends, market research is an essential part of your business plan.
Market research takes many intertwining forms. Some of it can be done in-house; other times you may want to hire a specialist to help you understand market needs and perceptions. One source of market research data that may be of interest to small business owners comes in the form of consumer trend and demographic information freely available from the U.S. government. Whether you sell to consumers or other businesses, the data and statistics you find can help inform decisions about potential markets or the best location for your business.
The data is also easily minable, thanks to some nifty online tools that do all the work for you.
Here’s a selection of some of the free market research data and resources that Uncle Sam has to offer:
1. The U.S. Census Bureau
One of the best sources of data (and the easiest to navigate) is the U.S. Census Bureau. As you would expect, this repository of information is vast. But thanks to a variety of Data Access Tools, such as the 2010 Census Interactive Population Map, you can pinpoint census data to the block level and compare one community to another. Another tool, The American FactFinder, brings in data from other sources (not just the Census Bureau) that lets you build a profile of demographic indicators and trends by any number of social, race and ethnicity, economic, geographical and industry criteria. Want to know which states have the most restaurants or auto shops, or which counties are the most active in new construction? Check out the Measuring America – County Business and Demographics Map. You can also compare communities across the U.S by key criteria. Not sure how to use this data? The Census Bureau hosts training seminars for business owners across the country to help them use this data for business plans, community revitalization proposals and more.
2. Business Data and Statistics from SBA.gov
For a one-stop shop listing of everything the government has to offer in terms of business statistics and data, take a look at SBA.gov’s Business Data and Statistics page. Resources are divided into clear categories such as economic indicators, income and earnings, trade statistics, consumer statistics, demographics and more.
3. Quickly Find Data by Specific Industries or Subjects (from 100+ agencies)
Looking for data on health, agriculture, transportation and more? FedStats.gov is a no-frills portal that collects market data from over 100 agencies. So if you need data and aren’t sure which agency produces it, this tool does the work for you. You can search by subject or agency or browse until you find the subject of your choice (see Topic Links A to Z).
4. Economic Indicators
Check out Economicindicators.gov for up-to-the-minute economic indicators from the U.S. Department of Commerce on everything from retail sales, durable goods, manufacturing, and construction, to new home sales and more.