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In this guide you'll find some of our most-used resources for creating a business plan. For most business plans, you need to locate information about the industry, competitors, and customers.
Keep in mind that gathering information about an industry can be very different each time you do it. Sometimes, you may be researching a large industry, with many companies who are publicly-owned, like the auto, airline, and retail industry. In this case, you'll probably find a lot of information that you'll need to sift through. Other times, when researching small industries with just a few companies or companies that are mostly privately-owned (such as the wooden toy industry or bagged ice industry) you may need to try all of these sources to put together a picture of what's going on in the industry and how it operates.
Business Plan Examples
Business Plans Handbook (MCOB Reference HD62.7.B865 v, 1-28) is an excellent resource to review actual sample plans for just about any business one would be interested. Check the index in the back of the last volume to find out the volume for a specific business plan.
The most recent volumes of this series are available electronically here: Business Plans Handbook
The Small Business Administration website at https://www.sba.gov/writing-business-plan also gives a good example of what information to include in a business plan.
Start with the Government
I usually recommend when doing industry research that you start by finding out what classification number the U.S. Government has assigned to that industry. They collect a lot of data about industries and make it available for free to everyone. Then, take that number and use it at the data.census.gov site for the Economic Census data.
- North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS)
This is the classification system used by the U.S. Government. Use the Search box on the left to enter in a keyword or two about your industry to find out how they classify it. You will get anywhere from a two-digit (very general) to a six-digit (very specific) classification number. Write this number down. You can use it to search other government sites and business databases to find info on your industry!
U.S. Economic Census at data.census.gov
Taken every 5 years, the Economic Census tries to count all the businesses in the U.S. and gather data about them so we get a sense of how our economy changes. It includes info such as total revenues for an industry, employment, geographic distribution of companies in an industry, etc.
Search for County or State data:
- Go to data.census.gov
- Click on "Advanced Search"
- Click on "Surveys" and select ECN Economic Census of the United States Economic Census Basic Data. That survey will go to the bottom of the page where it says "Selected Filters."
- Click on Geography and select either County or State. Select Alabama. Or if choosing county, put a check in the box beside the counties you want to research. (make sure that it moves the name of the county to the bottom of the page in "Selected Filters." You may need to do this a couple of times to get it to work.
- Click the "Search" box in the bottom right corner.
- This will give you a table called "All sectors: Geographic Area Series: Economy-Wide Key Statistics: 2017" It should include all the sector level (2 Digit NAICS Code) information for your selected counties. This will include number of establishments, the value of sales, annual payroll, and number of employees.
- You can drill down to more detailed NAICS Codes by
- Note that several of the columns report data in $1,000 of dollars, so you'll need to add 3 zeroes to the end of the number to get the actual dollar amount.
Director, MCOB Business Library