When you're in a small business you need information, especially when you're doing market research. I had a conversation with a small business owner this week in California and he's filling out maps. He partners with cities and parks to provide youth soccer programs. Three states, 40,000 kids a year and he needs to expand. He spends a lot of time examining population demographics and it takes a lot of time.
I gave him one tip at a free resource which puts a research assistant right into his hands and it's no farther than your closest library. It's your reference librarian and before you cast a frown face, yes, they are business literate. My wife happens to be a HR director for a public library and she turned me onto a great business resource with the reference librarians. If you're uninitiated to libraries, and most people are, people with degrees in librarian science (and almost all of them have master's degrees) choose a focus for their studies. It can be youth, research, reference, etc. Reference librarians are familiar with all of the databases, government publications, business periodicals, etc. that the libraries license and purchase. And in case you haven't been in a library for a while, YES, they know technology and are modernized. Libraries have been spending ever increasing percentages of their budgets away from paper over the years and into digital: networking, wireless, RFID, digital books, digital music, databases, etc. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Now before you run out to your local library please realize that small communities, with small libraries have small staffs so they may not have a reference librarian. Call first. What you want to do is ask if they have a business and/or reference librarian. If they do then ask to be transferred and speak with them about what research you're doing. Don't be afraid to get to the nitty gritty details like SIC codes, zip codes locations, etc. They will tell you about obvious sources you're familiar with like Fed data and then they'll give you a list of private licensed data sources. Some of these will be available to you online via your library card. They will train you on the data retrieval at a minimum. My local library actually will "take my data order" and email me data results. Yes, they do most of the leg work for me and shoot it over! They're very knowledgable. If they don't do that then go to the public library online because many of the libraries have live chat and can shoot you links to resources. Resources and rules for assistance vary by library and to some extent, each librarian. Some libraries offer one-on-one appointments
What they won't do is synthesize the data for you. If you want to cross reference sources of data that's up to you but just getting appropriate and relevant data is half the battle! So go ahead and grab you're backpack because you're going to be amazed at how much you're going to love you're local library for your business life. And no, my wife didn't put me up to writing this article.