The best free, or low-cost, tools for conducting market research

By Eric Grimstead For The Bellingham Business Journal

Whether you are looking to start a new business, or you are a seasoned entrepreneur, it is critically important that you have a solid understanding of your target market and current economic conditions. Knowing your numbers is the key to your business’ long-term success. The following is a collection of resources that can provide you with free, or very low-cost, access to business and economic statistics and competitive market intelligence.

The Census Business Builder

Especially useful for the new business owner or nescient start-up this tool presents key data points that can be used to support your business plan and understand your potential market. One of the primary questions it helps you answer is ‘What is the Best Location for Your Business?’ You can find this tool here:

Whatcom Prospector

This exceptional tool, provided by the Port of Bellingham, offers you a localized look at demographic information, consumer expenditures, business information and what commercial properties that are available. You can find this tool here:


Statista provides insights and facts for 600 industries in over 50 countries. They offer both free and paid versions to access their datasets. Paid plans start at just $59/mo. You can find more information here: Often you can find access through a University you are affiliated with or a large metropolitan library system.

Google Analytics

Way back in 2005 Google acquired Urchin and shortly thereafter launched Google Analytics. What once cost users upwards of $600/year is now a free tool that anyone can use to track their website’s performance. You can learn more here:

Google Trends

Google Trends allows you to get insight into the minds of consumers. This tool helps you see what topics and stories are popular by displaying reports on the top, most searched for terms. You can use filter functions to see trending stories based on region and category to gain more insight into the areas that are most relevant to your audience and industry.

You can learn more here:

Keyword Spy

If you compete online, this tool will provide you with insights on the keywords that your competition is targeting. It can also be used to uncover profitable keyword and advertising copy combinations. Their free version returns plenty of useful information. You can learn more here:

SRDS Direct Marketing List Source

Ever wanted to know just how much in product sales those late-night infomercials generate? Or how effective some direct mail campaigns can be? SRDC is the go-to resource to identifying the size of market in terms of number of buyers, total expenditures by product category etc. Very expensive on an annual business subscription basis but last time we checked you could access this tool via the Seattle Public Library system.

Industrious CFO

If you’ve ever wondered how your business stacks up against competitors in your industry, Industrious CFO is the resource that can help you answer that question. With this tool you can compare your financial statements (Profit & Loss Statement and Balance Sheet) and financial ratios to similar sized firms in your industry on a local, regional or national basis. This is a paid resource that starts at about $50/mo. Here at the WWU SBDC we have an advisory subscription and can perform a financial analysis for your company free of charge, just like all of our other services that can help your business grow!

If you would like help evaluating these, and any other, market research tools to help your business grow in 2020 call our offices today to schedule an appointment with one of our Certified Business Advisors.

Eric Grimstead is a Certified Business Advisor with the Small Business Development Center at Western Washington University. The WWU SBDC provides no-cost business counseling services to Whatcom County businesses.

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