This past month I did the unthinkable I got a subscription to a service that will provide me with a steady stream of information. I know what you are thinking, “There is so much free data out there why would you pay for it?” That’s a really good question. The truth is that there is a lot of free content but how good is it?
I think it’s easy to believe that you can google any topic and come up with the content or answers you need. The problem is there is a lot of misinformation on the Internet. I have a number of clients that are healthcare organizations. They cringe when patients start searching obscure sites for medical information without vetting the source or doing enough research to understand the total picture.
Small businesses are sometimes at a disadvantage because we do not have internal research capabilities. Or we have individuals with some experience to gather the data but not enough experience to interpret it. Without access to data and expertise, we can’t make good business decisions about critical operations; employment practices, marketing, consumer buying habits and the like.
To take it one step further. I think smaller firms probably need that data even more than large companies because we don’t have unlimited resources. A bad decision costs us much more. If we devote a lot of resources to an effort that fails we might not recover as quickly as a large company with deeper pockets.
So how do you find the data you need?
First, find those “gold medal” organizations that serve small business with content that is appropriate to us. They will vary from state to state. In Michigan, the Small Business Association of Michigan is an amazing resource. Their work in helping small business understand the Affordable Care Act is being replicated across the country.
Trade organizations which provide specific data might also be helpful. For example, the Society of Human Resource Executives offers lots of content for HR issues or American Marketing Association has good information on marketing trends.
However, if you want hard data that provides a lot of depth into a topic then you may need to pay for it. I recently was interviewed by eMarketer, for an article on technology buying decisions of small and medium size companies. While I subscribe to their free newsletter, I could only get access to a certain amount of content. I decided to see if the paid subscription would be of value. Long story short, I decided that content was valuable and now have a subscription.
So when should you pay for data? Here are a few things to consider.
First, figure out what type of data will really help you accomplish your goal. Certainly use the Internet to narrow your search, but see if other business owners can recommend a particular service.
When you find one you want to try, always ask for a demonstration of their platform. Most services will either send you a link to wander through their site or set up an online demo with one of their representatives. Take the time to really understand what they will provide.
Where does their content originate? Are they aggregating content from a lot of sources and just packaging it? Does it meet your specific needs?
How is the data collected? I know that some data simply is not that good because of the way the survey was designed or the size of the sample.
Is it easy to find what you need on their site? How often do they update content or provide new content?
Is there additional help that they provide if you need assistance?
As a small business owner I have made decisions over the years because my gut told me it was the right way to go. I think many others do the same. I have to admit that most of the time I did pretty well. But, there are those instances when I was too far ahead of the pack or missed an opportunity.
So think about it. How can data help you and your business? The more we know the better the decision-making.