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For most market and industry research projects of this type, the researchers starts with Internet research and then moves to online database services.

After reviewing and organizing the results, the next step is to fill in the gaps with additional research.

With an awareness of time and costs, the research typically moves from the general to the specific, building more direction and focus throughout the process, with stops along the way to decide whether to do more research or move on.

Only after completing this process can data analysis begin. Outlined, the research strategy looks like this:

1. Internet Research
a. Search engines
b. Bookmarks, directories, and free databases
c. Packaged research

Internet Research
The purpose of Internet research is to become better acquainted with the industry. This part of the process helps researchers add search terms to their vocabulary and gain an understanding of the industry and its issues.

Internet research identifies industry associations, which can be excellent sources of both free and fee-based information. Other sources for articles and industry reports can also be uncovered during this phase.

Internet research will generally involve three types of resources:
1. General or subject-specific search engines
2. General or subject-specific directories and free databases
3. Packaged research, including market research reports and off-the-shelf industry profiles

Unfortunately, this stage of research can eat up more than its share of time because the Internet is not well organized and has mostly unsophisticated searching capabilities.

To avoid wasting too much of the budget, the researcher sets an Internet time limit based on the topic, budget, and total time involved.

Once this time limit is reached, the researcher “takes stock” – reviews what has been found, makes purchases, and confirms that it is time to move to online database searching. For this project, a one-hour limit was set.

Search engines
In this project, the first stop on the Internet was the popular search engine Google (http://www.google.com), which, according to the site, searches more than three billion pages.

Researchers find it to be fast and thorough and appreciate the clutter-free interface. Elaine generally uses the advanced search page and has already set the preferences that work most effectively for her own purposes.

Setting preferences
To set preferences in Google, start at the main page, http://www.google.com, and click Preferences.

From there, select language preferences, filtering levels, and number of results per page, and indicate whether Google should open search results in a new browser window.
Most search aids allow site visitors to set similar preferences, and this feature can save Internet searchers a lot of time.

Options will vary, but, whenever possible, set to display the greatest number of results per page to avoid loading extra pages.

Having your results open in a separate window allows you to go back to your results list quickly, and it minimizes the chances of “getting lost” online.

Know your search engine
For effective, time-saving Internet research, get to know the leading search engines. Most offer a link to search tips; here you find out how to search phrases, exclude or combine terms, limit searches, and perform other advanced techniques. Two excellent sites offer comparisons of search engine features:

• Search Engine Showdown, at http://www.notess.com/search/features/byfeature.shtml
• Search Engine Watch, at http://www.searchenginewatch.com/facts/ataglance.html

In using Internet search engines it is important to choose search terms carefully and be prepared to try alternate strings of terms.

The google toolbar
Google offers its own browser plug-in that allows you to add Google search functionality to Internet Explorer. From wherever you are on the Web, you can search the Web or specific site.

To download the Google Toolbar, go to http://toolbar.google.com and follow the directions.

Google lists all the pages where the phrase was found and saves all recent searches in the drop-down menu.

To set your toolbar preferences, use the drop-down menu under the word Google and go to Toolbar Options. Here you can have Google open your search results in a new window, adjust search box size, change button labels, and more.

Bookmarks, directories, and free databases
The next step was to check out previously bookmarked Web sites. Most researchers keep a file of bookmarks, also called “favorites,” for Web sites they use on a regular basis.

In this case, the researcher’s bookmarks offered access to industry publications, associations, news sources, and academic sites.

Packaged research
Packaged research comes in the form of market research reports and off-the-shelf industry profiles.

Market research reports can be valuable sources of market and industry information, and Elaine thought they might be useful in this project to identify trends, marketing strategies, and demographic information.

Packaged market research can be found on the Internet or through online database services, but you can prefer to scan the Internet first, to get an idea of what was available.

Unfortunately, going to each market research company can be time consuming. Aggregators such as MindBranch (http://www.mindbranch.com) and MarketResearch (http://www.marketresearch.com) collect reports from market research firms, allowing you to search a wide range of resources, but even searching the aggregators can take a substantial amount of time.

That’s why a good first stop for this kind of information can be ValuationResources (http://www.valuationresources.com), which has a collection of resource for business appraisers.

The site offers Industry Resources Reports (http://www.valuationresources.com/IndustryReport.htm), which lists “resources available from trade associations, industry publications, and research firms which address subjects such as industry overview, issues, trends, and outlook, financial benchmarking, compensation surveys, and valuation resources.” These fee-based resources are arranged according to SIC code, so if you have an SIC code for your industry, this site could be a time-saver.

Elaine had found the SIC code in Associations Unlimited (see Figure 2-3). Under Services, Industry Resources Reports listed SIC Code 7997, Private Clubs/Country Clubs.

This section contained seventeen annotated links to packaged reports, association white papers, surveys, financial statements, and more.

The first and second items on the list turned out to be reports from the CMAA that she had already set aside for possible purchase.

The others were a variety of off-the-shelf reports, mostly financial. Unfortunately, none really stood out, and it would take too much time to go to each site and search for relevant reports, even using the Google Toolbar. Researchers often incorporate off-the-shelf industry profiles into online industry and market research.

A good starting place for this is generally First Research (http://www.1stresearch.com).

This subscription-based site contains industry profiles that are updated quarterly. The profiles provide insight into industry trends, including recent developments, business and credit risks, industry issues, and selected industry resources.

Fir Research offers 140 profiles that can be purchased on a transactional basis for $99 per profile, rather than through a subscription.

But the company does not advertise the per-profile option, and finding the page for the transactional rate can be challenging. (This is why Elaine keeps the page bookmarked at http://industryprofiles.1stresearch.com.)

Unfortunately, nothing was listed for the country club industry. A profile of the golf course industry, including a free summary, was available under Services.

The summary revealed little relevance to the facilities end of the industry. This illustrates a common problem with packaged research.

Often, you will find a limited number of industries, and the industries are usually broad and not vertical. They frequently do not fit the bill.

After spending the allotted time on Web searching, Elaine decided it was time to add breadth as well as focus to the research. Before searching online database services, however, she needed to take stock:  review what she had found so far, access what was still needed, and decide what to purchase before moving on.

All this in an hour
To search the Internet quickly and effectively, professional researchers maintain an “arsenal” of skills and tools:

• Stay up to date on new sources of information and changes in familiar sources.
• Maintain a system for finding these sources (e.g., Bookmarks or Favorites).
• Learn to quickly scan Web pages to find the information you need.
• Using the Google Toolbar, do a site search rather than clicking through pages of a Web site.
• Use the command Ctrl F to find your keyword or keywords on a Web page.
• Know when to stop your search.  You can always go back later to look for more.

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