Here's a nifty new wrench for your recession-fighting tool kit: cheap Web-based research tools.
Hard times are the worst times to stop business planning. But that's exactly what all of us here in planet small biz do. After all, the little clients are going south. Your bigger customers are slowing payables. The new jobs take longer and net less. Who's got the horses in this environment to conduct meaningful market research, plan ahead or compare your performance to others?
The good news is that there is a new generation of business-intelligence services. These tools combine the low cost of Web-based information with powerful software and industry expertise to provide powerful market data that even your stressed-out shop can afford.
I like lead-generation services like ZoomInfo.com (basic services are free, and fully-loaded packages run $5,500 a year). The service provides up-to-the-minute contact information for millions of employees of both your competition and your clients in real time. Not every lead is accurate in my testing, but with a little common sense, the tool can be very efficient at getting the inside dope on who's doing what, where.
I am also partial to a very neat periodical indexing service called HighBeam.com. The technology offers 3,000-plus periodicals indexed for up-to-the-minute live search, sort of like LexisNexis, but at a fraction of the cost. HighBeam plans start at about $30 a month or $200 a year. And I find it offers a much richer search than Google. In particular, sign up for the alert service. Simply build a list of key words for your industry and every day up will pop in your inbox a solid summation of what is newsworthy in your sector.