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Introduction to desk research

A pile of books on a deskDesk research, or secondary research, is any intelligence or data that already exists. While it may not be able to answer specific questions, desk research can provide you with a lot of extremely useful information, much of it for free

Finding the right information may take some legwork but it will help you make informed decisions about how to market your products and services. There are many sources of secondary research:

Directories

If you operate in a local area, it's a good idea to look through the local phone directories to see who your competitors are, where they are located and how they market themselves. All the paper-based directories also have online versions. If you are a business-to-business firm, get hold of the specialist directories for your sector. They will list your competitors and may provide further information about their products and services. They could even help you to see where there are gaps in the market.

Internet research

You can find out a lot about your market and your competitors by going online. You can see how competitors are marketing their products, what their unique selling points are and directly compare prices for different products and services.

Libraries

All large libraries have business sections and access to online services. The biggest, the British Library, in St Pancras, London, has its own Business and IP Centre specifically for entrepreneurs. Here you can browse through business books, journals and reports. The British Library offers access to resources such as COBRA, the Complete Business Reference Adviser database, and GrantFinder, a comprehensive, UK database for grants and loans. There is also free access to market research reports from Mintel, Key Note, Datamonitor and Frost & Sullivan. In addition, the FAME database provides detailed company information on 1.65 million UK and Irish public and private companies.

Market research reports

Sector surveys and reports from the likes of Mintel and Key Note can tell you a lot about market conditions and trends. They often indicate the threats and opportunities in a sector and can highlight where there are gaps in the market. If you want to get a specific report and it is not yet freely available at the British Library, you can always buy a copy. Reports like these can cost thousands of pounds but it is often possible to buy a small part of a report that covers the specific area you are interested in, for much less. Go to www.marketresearch.com for lists of thousands of market research reports and where to obtain them.

Trade associations

Industry and business associations are a great source of information. Many trade bodies give their members access to industry statistics and reports. Other useful organisations include special interest and lobbying groups that often do their own research and publicise it. It is also worth approaching your local Business Support Organisation or Chamber of Commerce to see what resources they have.

For further information, see: