Find Free Industry Information for a Business Plan


So, you’ve decided to write your own business plan. You’re ready to start gathering information on your industry and target market, but your Google search results are mostly research firms that want you to pay for their reports. 

Odds are, if you’ve decided to save some money by writing your business plan, you’re not interested in paying for industry and market data.

Don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to build out the market section of your business plan using free information. There are expensive business plan writing services that don’t pay for third party research.

You can find free information about your industry in research firm excerpts, industry association reports, and news articles.

In this article, I’ll show you how to gather relevant information for your business plan without spending any money on expensive research firm reports. 

As an example, I’ll be researching the cafe industry in this article. The same process would apply to any business. My goal will be to find free sources that will give me information about the industry’s size, annual growth, demand drivers, trends, and market segments.

Free Information From Research Firm Excerpts

There are plenty of firms that have extensive industry research reports available to purchase. These firms usually provide excerpts of their reports on their sales pages. These can give us valuable free information.

Let’s start with a Google search for information on the cafe insustry. I find that the first couple of Google search results are for research firms, including Dun & Bradstreet First Research and IBISWorld.

I haven’t used First Research, but I’ve worked for companies that had IBISWorld subscriptions. Their industry and market data are pretty good. With one report, you can gather most of the general industry and market information you’ll need for your business plan.

But we’re looking for free information, so let’s see what they give us for free.

Let’s look at the Dun & Bradstreet First Research brief first. The company is asking $139 for the full report, but we can find valuable free information in the summary.

For example, the brief says, “The US coffee shop industry includes more than 35,500 stores with combined annual sales of about $45 billion, according to Allegra World Coffee Portal. Coffee shops are part of the specialty eatery industry, which also includes outlets specializing in products such as bagels, donuts, frozen yogurt, and ice cream.”

Also, the report gives us information about the competitive landscape of the industry, when it says, “The US industry is concentrated: the eight largest companies account for about 70% of revenue.”

Cafe industry information search results

You’ll also see that we get the NAICS code, which will come in handy later in our local market research.

So, in one research report excerpt, we were able to determine the size of the industry in 2018, what the competitive landscape is like in the industry, and the NAICS 722515, corresponding to specialty eateries. 

The following search result is the IBISWorld report. This research firm also sells its reports but provides some valuable free information. In the excerpt, we find that the industry is expected to generate $51 billion in 2019, there are 77,065 businesses in the industry in 2019, and the industry growth between 2014 and 2019 will be 4.7%.

The IBISWorld excerpt also includes some factors that affect the demand for the industry. The firm cites growth in the domestic economy, spurred by “higher disposable income and rising consumer confidence” and “the falling unemployment rate” as demand drivers. 

The excerpt also tells us that “consumers are increasingly seeking convenience at an affordable price.” We learn that “increases in consumer spending and per capita coffee consumption during the five-year period, which have grown at annualized rates of 2.9% and 1.1%,” have boosted industry performance.

From the IBISWorld excerpt, along with the Dun & Bradstreet information, we can talk about growth between 2018 and 2019, five-year industry growth, and what drives demand for the industry. 

Another great free resource that comes up in the search results is Statista. The company provides useful statistics and graphs that we can use in our plan. Though the company sells compiled reports and a premium membership to access the majority of its data, you can find some useful information for free.

For our cafe industry research, Statista gives us a wealth of information in their free article Statistics, Facts & Analysis on the Coffee Shop industry. We find metrics for consumption, both globally and in the U.S., and information that we can use in our target market analysis. 

Though you will need a premium membership for most of the graphs, each link in the article will lead you down a rabbit hole of information. We find that 62% of the regular coffee consumed was purchased from a coffee outlet” and that “most American workers spent between one and five U.S. dollars on coffee per week.”

Also, we’ve learned that 29% of those surveyed drink coffee when they need a relaxing moment and that “nearly half of 18 to 24-year-olds drank the beverage and almost three-quarters of seniors did as well”. This information points to some valuable target market information, especially when we find that seniors drink “three times as many cups a day” as younger consumers.

Reports From Industry Associations and Affiliated Organizations

Other significant sources of information are industry associations and organizations catering to the industry, who usually publish annual industry-related reports. Unfortunately, many of these reports can only be accessed by members.

In our cafe example, the National Coffee Association is in our initial search results. Following the link, I find that their organization publishes a report on industry trends, insights, economic impact, and the market.

NCA industry report listing

Clicking through the links, I find that the reports are either for members only or cost as much as $799. Joining these types of organizations may be a good idea. Still, because we’re only in the initial phases of business planning, it might be best to wait.

If you’ve found an organization that publishes an annual report but requires membership, you can usually still find the information. We just need to approach it from a different angle.

Before we do, though, please note that almost every industry has one or more associations and organizations. The coffee industry has the National Coffee Association, the Specialty Coffee Association, the International Coffee Organization, and the Coffee Association of Canada, to name a few.

I’ve found that some trade associations do provide reports for free. If not, you can try the next types of sources.

Industry Information From News and Industry Blog Articles

Other great resources that you can use to gather information about your industry for your business plan are articles. Major news organizations and industry blogs usually publish articles that coincide with the reports put out by industry associations, research publications, and survey results. 

Because of this, if you can’t get industry information directly from reports themselves, you can get the information from articles that quote them. 

So, if we do a Google search for the National Coffee Association report, we get results that include articles that quote it. Roast Magazine’s Daily Coffee News published an article titled 2019 Coffee and Beverage Trends: Inside the NCA’s Annual Report. The article gives us a thorough presentation of the information in the annual report.

In the Daily Coffee News article, we find information about consumption, market segmentation, and industry trends. 

Also, you can search your industry, followed by the name of a reputable news source. News organizations like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or Business Week, can provide quotable information for your business plan.

You may need a subscription for some of these sites, but if you already have one, definitely see what they have on your industry.

Putting All the Industry Information in Your Business Plan

Okay, so we’ve gathered the information, and we are ready to put it all together. The first thing I would do is group your data by topic. For example, the first paragraph might be industry size, growth, and demand drivers.

Always be sure to give the source of the data in the sentence or cite it somewhere else in the business plan. 

As an example: The coffee shop industry generated $51 billion in revenue in 2019, according to IBISWorld, growing by 4.7% since 2014.

Next, we want to include essential trends in the industry. For the cafe industry, this can consist of changes in the types of coffee beverages consumed, where coffee beverages are consumed, and changes in consumer preferences in general.

Finally, you’ll want to outline who makes up the market for the industry. For our cafe example, the NCA report told us that older people, aged 60 or more, consume coffee at a higher rate than 18 to 24-year-olds. From the Statista data, we found that seniors tend to drink three times more cups per day than younger age groups.

By putting this all together, you will be able to write an excellent industry analysis for your business plan that also includes some target market information. 

In a future post, I’ll explain how to gather data for your local market using census data, local news organizations articles, and chamber of commerce reports.

About the author

David Campbell

I spent several years as a commercial banker lending money to companies like yours. I started The Helpful Banker as a resource for business owners that want to grow their businesses with bank financing.

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