Whether your small business is just starting up, or growing and you’re hoping to stay ahead of the competition, information is key to success. Well, one of the best sources of information for any small business is absolutely free—but too few people take advantage of it. I’m talking about U.S. Census data.

The Census is taken once every 10 years and the new data from 2010 has just been released, giving entrepreneurs access to a wealth of data on everything from competitors to clients. This year, for instance, the Census found enormous growth in the Hispanic population in the U.S., which has major ramifications for marketers, employers and every small business. You’ll also find overviews of age, race and sex composition of the U.S. population and how various populations are growing and changing. And, of course, the Census looks at where people live, where they’re moving to, and where they’re leaving, and how households are changing (such as growth in single-parent families or more families having multiple generations under one roof).

Get started accessing Census data at the 2010 Census home. You can also drill down within states into census blocks, tracts, voting districts, cities, counties and school districts by visiting American Factfinder.

The decennial Census isn’t the only one, however. The Census Bureau provides lots of other data that can help your business make decisions. Here’s a rundown:

Economic Census

Conducted every 5 years, this provides a detailed picture of the U.S. economy on the local, state and national levels.  It can help you measure and predict your competition and economic growth or shrinkage in the region your business or customers are located.

Census of Governments

Also conducted every 5 years, this provides data about governments including their finances, their employees and their payrolls. If you target government agencies as clients, this can help you forecast whether their budgets are likely to be growing or shrinking and whether they might be outsourcing more work.

American Community Survey

This annual survey provides data about local communities, including population stats and housing information. This can give you a more up-to-date picture of your local market.

Demographic, Economic and Other Surveys

In between censuses, the Census Bureau constantly conducts surveys to give us an overview of U.S. social and economic conditions. Some of these surveys include the Current Population Survey, Women- and Minority-Owned Business Survey, Survey of Business Owners and County Business Patterns.

Economic Indicators

The Census Bureau also releases ongoing economic indicators on factors such as manufacturing, retail and service sales, housing ownership and international trade.

You can connect with the Census Bureau on Twitter, via email notifications and myriad other ways so you’re always on top of what’s new.

There’s one other great source of small business information that’s absolutely free, of course—and that’s SCORE. Free guidance from a SCORE mentor 24/7 can help you make sense of the Census data you find. Visit the SCORE website to get connected with your mentor today.

About the Author(s)

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and

CEO, GrowBiz Media

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