Let's say you want some predictions about likely future energy consumption trends around the world. Over at the International Data Corporation (IDC) website, one of the leading providers of market intelligence, you will find "Worldwide Utilities 2014 Top 10 Predictions: Getting the Most Out of the 'New Normal.'" Unfortunately, you're not likely to find out what those 10 predictions are unless you're willing to pay IDC $5,250. Sight unseen.
Now let's go to Statistics Canada and look for information about electric power generation. There you will find this report from April 2014 that shows electric power generation in Canada was down 0.9% from the same month in 2013 to 47.6 million megawatt hours (MWh), the lowest total generation level since September 2013. Hydro power decreased 1.4% year over year to 30.2 million MWh in April, below the yearly average of 32.2 million MWh. Welcome to Canada!
Getting Business Stats Without Paying
The business world is awash in big data. Everywhere you look, someone is trying to sell you data about markets. Sometimes they even try to sell your own data back to you. For example, credit card processors will sell you data about the people who do business with you—data they collected from you, and now sell to you.
However, there are ways to get good business intelligence for free, if you know how to convert currencies. Many countries require businesses to keep detailed financial records and submit those records to the government. Some governments, such as Canada, compile that information and make the results available to the public—for free.
The Canadian business information is often superior to the same data collected from U.S. companies. Why? Because U.S. companies are not required to provide the depth of financial reporting the Canadian government requires. The result is that U.S. business stats are largely voluntary, and the conclusions you draw from them are based on scant reporting of often misleading numbers.
So how do you convert Canadian stats for use predicting American markets? Simple: you look at ratios rather than absolute numbers. For example, that Canada consumed 30.2 million megawatts of electrical power in April 2014 may mean nothing to you, but the fact that power generation declined 1.4% might lead you to expect a similar decline.
By going to Statistics Canada and drilling down for information about companies in your field, you will likely find a wealth of resources for accurately estimated operating costs, revenues, profitability, and growth rates that can help set benchmarks for your own operations. The same techniques can be used with any country that requires detailed financial disclosures. That makes information readily available online.
Related Article: How to Meet Your Big Data Needs Without Crashing Your Budget
Some U.S.-Specific Information
If you need statistics based on the U.S. market, there are some resources available. But don't expect the kind of granular detail or industry compliance rates you get with Canadian data. Here are a few helpful U.S. resources:
- Small Business Administration (SBA): The SBA provides general business data and statistics, demographic studies, and consumer and economic indicators. One good source is the SBA's Office of Advocacy. Here you'll find research about small business trends and economic issues.
- FedStats: A clearinghouse of statistical information that can be sorted by geography, subject, or agency.
- U.S. Census Bureau: Did you know that 74 percent of those with an undergraduate degree in science, technology, engineering or math are not employed in STEM occupations? The U.S. Census Bureau does, along with a host of demographic data and news items that can help you identify and segment market characteristics. Its Economic Indicators page provides daily updates on key economic conditions.
When you are looking for good statistics on operating a business in the U.S., your best guide could very well be the financial stats available in Canada or another country. Next time you try looking for market research, add the word "Canada" to your search string. Don't be surprised if you find exactly what you are looking for.