I received an email from a reader wanted to know the best way to get information on a competitor.Unfortunately, most companies are private, and that means unless you are the IRS, they don’t have to disclose much of anything to anybody. But typically they do disclose a few things, like their revenue and the number of employees, to credit bureaus who then sell the information to other data companies and to the public.
There are a lot of companies that sell that kind of information (often as sales leads), although the original source of the information funnels down to only few channels. I’ve been told the cheaper sources use older data that is often out of date. Just Google “sales leads” and you’ll get the idea.
Here are some sources of information I know to be reliable:
www.zapdata.com (Dun and Bradstreet) You can buy one-off lists here.
www.infousa.com (Probably the largest, and they also resell to many other vendors)
www.onesource.com (By subscription, they pull information from many sources, including Infousa)
www.capitaliq.com (Standard and Poors. Good intelligence but expensive and by subscription – they use their own analysts to collect business intelligence data)
www.hoovers.com (Similar to Infousa)
Be aware that as a private company, these revenue and employee figures are self-reported, and often wrong. We are in a good position to know that, because we see the financials of many companies, both clients and companies that are interested in looking at selling their business. So I know exactly what the numbers are, and then I’ll look in one of the databases and sometimes they will be close, and at other times they are way off. Finally, many companies have experienced some major changes in this economy and these numbers are often one or two years old. If the revenue and number of employees don’t match up (often you’ll know the ratio of revenue per employee for your industry – say $100,000 per employee), then use employees. When asked, some people tend to exaggerate on their revenue, but tell the truth on number of employees.
By the way, if the company is public, then check out IDEA (used to be EDGAR) http://idea.sec.gov/ for free public information about a company. The amount of information goes from almost zero for a private company to a fire hose of data from a public one, although I have to admit there is still a lot of detail missing.
You can also obtain industry specific information from First Research or IBISWorld, although both are by subscription only, although you may be able to buy just one report. Finally, you can also get industry financial ratios and industry norms from RMA (www.rmahq.com) or by using ProfitCents software. ProfitCents (www.profitcents.com) is interesting because thousands of CPAs use it, and the software reports financial data from real world companies back to a central server. I haven’t used it yet, but they have recently made it available to non-accountants, so you can input your financials and the system will compare and chart your company compared with like companies nationwide.