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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Zip Code Demographics Based on US Census Data

Developing a marketing plan for a business is much easier when you have access to quality market research data. But not all start up businesses can afford to have primary market research done specifically for them. The US Census Bureau has plenty of information available (paid for by the US taxpayers) but it can be tedious to dig through their web site and ferret out exactly what you need.

ZIPskinny is a new web site that takes US Census data and organizes it by the zip codes that you specify. Demographic information is summarized conveniently as shown below.

In addition, key demographic information is displayed in colorful charts for easy visual interpretation. And you can easily compare the demographic data for up to 20 zip codes at one time.

The product is currently in beta but seems to work quite well. There are disclaimers on the site explaining the limitations of the data:

"Additionally, we wish to point out that there are certain important limitations to the data presented here. Because many of the measurements are based on sample data, certain results may be skewed in some cases, especially when the ZIP code area in question represents a very small sample. Please bear in mind that ZIP codes are not uniform population units. They were invented for mail delivery, not population comparisons."

But some data is always better than no data! So this can be an excellent starting point for developing your business marketing plan.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Find Equipment for Your Home Office Online...For Free!

You probably have lots of potentially useful possessions cluttering up your garage, basement or attic. You know one day you'll probably get up the energy to haul all of it out to the curb to be picked up by the trash haulers. But what if you could give away some of that stuff and enable yourself to get free things that you actually need in return?

Freecycle operates on the basic principle that "one man's trash is another man's treasure". The idea is to give away (for free) objects you don't need and avoid putting them into a landfill. Freecycle
was started in May 2003 to help reduce reduction in Tucson, Arizona and has since spread throughout the world.

Freecycle accomplishes the noble goal of reducing waste on the planet by making it easy for people to join groups in their local communities. Joining a group only involves filling out a simple online e-mail form and replying to a registration e-mail confirming your e-mail address (all groups are moderated and the moderator much approve your application to join the group). You are free to join as many groups as you want in your local area. If there isn't a group in your area, there are instructions for starting your own.

Once you are in a group, you merely offer an item you no longer want to the group. You aren't selling it to must give it away for free. After you offer an item to others, you can post requests for items that you want in the group forum. This could allow you to pick up items (such as a table and filing cabinet for your home office) without paying anything for them.

What could be better than reducing waste to help save the planet while you are saving start-up costs for your business. So join Freecycle today and trade your way to business savings!

Save Money on Equipment - Comparison Shop Online

Prices can vary widely from store to store or from web site to web site. Driving around searching for the best bargains when outfitting a small business is a huge waste of time and gasoline. Fortunately, web sites such as and Shopzilla are set up to do comparison shopping for us.

On, just key in the information about the product you are looking to buy (such as the manufacturer and model number of a laptop computer). As you can see below, the web site compares the prices in various stores (both brick and mortar and online) so you can determine exactly where the best deal can be had.

As you can see from this screen capture, a Toshiba laptop varies in price by as much as $420 dollars. And who even knew that Home Depot was now selling laptops! So spend a few minutes online before shopping to save yourself driving, aggravation and money!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hot Franchising Opportunities for 2007

Entrepreneur magazine published a short franchising opportunity article listing the hottest trends for 2007. The top seven categories are:

  1. Senior Care Services - The aging population in the United States makes this category an obvious target for up and coming businesses.
  2. Personal Care Services - The aging baby boomers want to look young and there are numerous franchises that are ready to cater to their wishes.
  3. Enrichment Learning Programs for Kids - The tutoring, assessment, test preparation and supplemental content suppliers markets are growing at 6% annually. Americans obviously take their children's learning very seriously.
  4. eBay Drop-off Stores - Online auction business (led by eBay) is still growing at a rapid pace. I don't find it difficult to sell on eBay, but it seems that many people are ready and willing to pay good money to have other people sell their stuff!
  5. Food - Given the obesity problem in the United States, it shouldn't surprise anyone that food franchises are still growing rapidly. Fortunately, franchises that serve healthy alternatives are growing at a rapid clip.
  6. New and Unique Concepts - Wacky (or unusual) ideas often get a lot of press coverage which helps a small business take off. Franchises like Cereality (hot and cold cereals) and the Miami Rice Pudding Company are expanding fairly rapidly.
  7. Business Consulting/Staffing - Businesses need employees and expertise at certain times which drives this market niche. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that staffing services will grow rapidly over the next ten years.

So if you are looking for a franchise opportunity, you may want to investigate these areas first and see if there is an opportunity that is a match for your skill set and expertise.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Reliable Market Research - Ask the Right Questions

Market research is invaluable in starting a small business. But when you can't find published sources of the research you need, you will probably have to engage a market research firm to conduct primary research. When interviewing market research companies, it is a good idea to ask the following questions:

1) Have you worked with businesses like mine before? Market research firms have many different clients but they often specialize in specific industries or client size. Check their list of references for other companies in your industry that are about your size. Don't be afraid to ask for a nondisclosure agreement if the firm has worked for your competitors in the past.

2) What methodology will you use for the research and why will that work for reaching my target market? Online surveys, phone interviews and face-to-face research are the three most popular methods. Online surveys, while cheapest, are usually a good choice when collecting very simple information (demographics, shopping patterns, income level). If your business involves a new product, service or process, face-to-face or phone interviews are a better choice as more in-depth follow-up questions (tailored to the interviewee's responses) can be used.

3) Who owns the research after it is collected? Usually, the person paying owns the research, but make sure to get this in writing before starting.

4) How often will I receive progress reports? You want to ensure the firm is progressing towards the end goal and obtaining useful results. If they balk at this question, look for another firm!

5) Are general surveys being conducted for the research I'm seeking? Often firms perform surveys on behalf of a number of clients at the same time who are seeking answers to similar questions. Participating in one of these surveys can be a great way to save money.

6) Will the respondents be people who have taken a lot of surveys previously? Ideally, you want people completing your surveys who are not "professional survey takers". After taking numerous surveys, many people become adept at providing answers they think the company conducting the survey wants to hear.

Don't forget to call some of the clients who have used the firm before to get feedback on their experience. By doing your homework up front and asking the right questions, you should land with a quality research firm who will produce the quality market research that you need.

Related Posts:
Performing a SWOT Analysis for Small Business
Free Business Plan Templates

Free Business Plan Templates

Many small business courses require students to complete a business plan as a portion of their grade. Many students struggle with how to begin their plan and the components that it should include.

You can obtain free business plan templates from There are hundreds of free plans for restaurants, retail stores, beauty salons and almost anything else you can dream up (even aircraft rental instruction). Although these plans will require modification to meet the requirements of your instructor, they provide a great starting point to get up and running on your plan quickly.

The site is sponsored by Palo Alto software the company that makes Business Plan Prosoftware. The software includes many other starter business plans as well as tools not available on the site. By providing a sample of free plans their strategy is to convince you to improve your plan by using Business Plan Pro software.

Related Posts:
Performing a SWOT Analysis for Small Business
Top Ten Mistakes of Prospective Franchisees