Tips for Doing Business-Planning Research Online
These days, the Internet is the first place most people search for business planning information. Plenty of websites offer useful tips on business planning. In particular, the federal government provides heaps of solid information on planning, starting, and operating your own company through its Small Business Administration site. Even the IRS presents helpful planning tips in its handbooks.
Spend a couple of hours online looking for useful resources on your own. To avoid being overwhelmed, enter the keywords business plan along with keywords specific to your business area (nonprofit, retail, travel, financial services, and so on) in your favorite search engine.
You can also use the Internet to uncover information about competitors, markets, business trends, and new technologies — all the factors you need to put together a complete picture of your business environment. Going to the home pages of your competitors is a good starting point. Reading reviews posted by customers offers invaluable insights. You can also enter online pressrooms with current news announcements, executive bios, recent publicity, and other information.
Unlike magazine articles, which are typically checked and rechecked for accuracy, online content isn’t always validated or confirmed by anyone beyond the person who posts it, so follow three simple rules when you use the Internet for business research:
Check the date. Many online documents aren’t dated, so you may not know whether you’re reading the latest scoop or dated material. Look for a publishing or posting date. If you can’t find one, dig a little deeper to see whether or not the information is still relevant.
Verify the source. Be suspicious of information that a credible source doesn’t back. For instance, if you read a rave review of a new software program that’s an excerpt from a respected business magazine, you can attach a different level of faith in that information than you can give to information that appears without a source.
Double-check key facts and statistics. If you use specific pieces of information — about business trends, markets, competitors, technology, or whatever — as the central building blocks of your business plan, make darn sure that the facts you gather from the Internet are correct.