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Telling Your Story By the Numbers

Quality Data Helps Tell Your Story

Entrepreneurs and small business owners need hard data to create and tell a story – to understand the competition, identify opportunities, or to take to a bank or investor. Valuable data is of two main types: financial analysis that benchmarks your operations against industry peers, and statistics that paint a picture of competitive trends in your specific line of business.

Beware of “free” data available on the net and elsewhere. Poor quality or poorly defined information can cost you dearly, in your planning and with your investors. By contrast, detailed, quality data helps you identify strengths and weaknesses in your line of business, offering insight and the chance to address troublesome trends.

Consider these three critical issues before selecting industry data:

1. Does the data analyze your specific line of business? Your specific marketing area?

Irrelevant or overly broad industry classifications diminish your analysis and your story. While several providers offer industry financial analysis benchmarks for 300-900 major industries, BizMiner publishes balance sheet and financial ratio profiles on over 10,000 lines of business.

Make certain that marketing research data is specific to your market area and industry. Many manufacturers and traded service firms can utilize national data effectively. But if you are sell rare or used books from a storefront in Boston , national data on bookstore trends in general won't tell you much – although it may tell investors that you don't have the facts you need. Bizminer's marketing plan research profiles report on trends in every state and 250 metro areas – in over 16,000 lines of business.

By the same token, financial analysis numbers are generally available at the national level only, due to the limited number of firms willing to share complete industry balance sheet information. As a result, national data is the only financial (as opposed to marketing) research that banks will expect.

2. Is the data timely?

Quality data – good numbers developed from a large pool of analyzed firms – takes time to develop. Financial information is available from most firms near the beginning of each year for the prior year; Only then can data providers begin to collect, analyze and publish reports. As a result, detailed industry financial analysis doesn't usually appear until 9-12 months after the end date of the analysis itself, and then has a reasonable “shelf life” of 6-9 months. Marketing research data should be more timely, but you should still expect it to lag by 9-15 months, depending on the measure. If your data lags more than two years (real time, not by sometimes misleading “publication dates”), it's time to look elsewhere.

3. Does your data provide insight that helps tell your story?

Quality statistics help you create and tell your story. Good data creates a backbone of competitive knowledge that lets you seize on positives and identify potential obstacles like high failure rates, low sales growth in your market, or relatively low efficiency levels in the local industry. Your recognition of both – and your explanation of how you plan to overcome problems you identify – is a powerful tool to bring to a bank or investors – or just to have in your internal planning arsenal.

Look for hard-to-find measures that sharpen your understanding of trends in your industry: survivor sales, sales per employee, failure rates, and concentrations of high growth firms in your market area. These and other analytical advantages help you understand the current picture of the line of business you are in – and where it may be heading over the next few years.

Help yourself understand what to expect from a small business by analyzing the experience of others in your situation – in your line of business and in your market area. BizMiner local and national industry analysis includes special “survivor” measures that help you assess where successful businesses with your characteristics usually land in three years.

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