Introduction to desk research

A pile of books for desk researchDesk research, or secondary research, means finding relevant data which already exists, as opposed to collecting your own bespoke research. While it may not be able to answer specific questions, desk research can provide you with useful information, much of it free

Finding the right information may take some effort, but it can help you to make informed business decisions. Here are the major sources of existing data that you could try.

Online desk research

You can find out a lot about your market and your competitors online. On their own websites you can see how competitors are marketing themselves and what their unique selling points are. You'll get an insight into their strategy by reading their content, including blogs.

You can also directly compare prices for different products and services.

By Googling your rivals, you can also find out where else their names are mentioned - from press coverage to directory entries or mentions at events.

Finally, see what they are up to on social media, and also notice how customers are responding; this could highlight where rivals are failing and reveal new opportunities for your business.


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Using local directories

If you operate locally, it's a good idea to look through local directories to see who your competitors are, where they're located and how they market themselves.

If you're a business-to-business firm, get hold of specialist directories for your sector. They will list your competitors, and may provide information about their products and services.

They could even help you to see where there are gaps in the market.

Business libraries and databases

All large libraries have business sections and access to online services. The biggest, the British Library in London, has its own Business and IP Centre for entrepreneurs. Here you can browse through business books, journals and reports.

The British Library offers access to resources such as the Complete Business Reference Adviser database (COBRA) and GRANTfinder, a UK database of 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 almost 10 million UK and Irish public and private companies.

Market research reports

Sector surveys and reports can tell you a lot about market conditions and trends. They often show 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 available at the British Library, you can always buy a copy. Reports can cost thousands of pounds, but it is often possible to buy a small part, covering the specific area you are interested in, for much less.

Go to 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 special interest and lobbying groups often do their own research. It is also worth approaching your local business support organisation or Chamber of Commerce to see what resources they have.

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