It’s not enough to understand your product or service well. Every successful business must have a detailed understanding of the market they’re entering, competitors, demographics, potential obstacles and other factors that will impact their growth.

That’s where market research comes in. Understanding your market may help you decide where to locate your business, how to prepare for potential challenges and what future trends in your industry might impact you.

Market research is a process you should complete early in your planning stages. It’s an important step; good market research can help you avoid making mistakes and assumptions that can be costly or devastating to your business.

There are countless sources of information available that can help you in your market research. While some require purchasing reports, other sources are free. Some of the information you need is public record and be found by searching government sites and others that have access to public records. Here are a few easy-to-use resources to get you started:

The United States Census American FactFinder Tool: Use this site to research various geographic areas by population, age, sex, race, household, education, income and more: http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

U.S. Small Business Administration: The SBA’s “Sizeup” tool can help you research the competitive landscape of your industry. It can help you map and locate potential customers, suppliers and competitors, and identify where your company may fit within your market and area: http://www.sba.gov/sizeup

Google Patent: Use this tool to determine if a patent already exists for your product idea. Google Patents catalogues patent filings, applications, drawings and more https://www.google.com/?tbm=pts

Local Resources: Many municipalities have community data and research available on their websites that is free to access.  Check with the city where you plan to locate to find out what local resources are available.

Labor Market Information (LMI): A tool run by the State of Ohio that can help you recruit qualified workers, develop job descriptions, obtain affirmative action data, learn about wages in your area and make sound economic decisions: http://ohiolmi.com/linksforbusiness.htm

Career One Stop: This site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor is a great research tool for job seekers, students, career professionals and entrepreneurs, with information that can aid market research and business planning: http://www.careeronestop.org/