Overcoming the Challenges Behind Private
Company Research

by Ian Smith


With the advent of the web, the growth of business research services and tools has increased.  On a daily basis, numerous pages of free business content are available to analysts to make decisions.  Furthermore, an increasing number of premium content providers are packaging information specifically for businesses to cater to their strategic needs.  As a result, there is no shortage of sources for internet researchers to find relevant information on public traded companies.  Finding information on private companies is a different story.

There could be a number of reasons why there is a shortage of sources that provide information on private companies however; there are two obvious reasons: i) Lack of information regarding the companies and ii) The high cost associated with gathering and publishing information.

Is it impossible to conduct a successful search for private company research? Challenging, yes – impossible, no.

Private company research is an expertise that takes years to perfect and may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  Few researchers have the resolve to take on a mandate to find information that may or may not be online.  The first inclination of any researcher is to conduct a routine search on the web via Google or Yahoo utilizing the company’s name.

This article aims to cast a spotlight on the challenges associated private company research and possible solutions to overcome the challenges.

Challenge #1 – There is hardly any information on location of the offices of the private company in question.

If this challenge is the hardest aspect of the research mandate, consider yourself very lucky.  Overcoming this challenge entails selecting to go down one of the two possible avenues:

  • Visiting local or province / state government offices – These levels of government hold incorporation information that will have the contact details of the head office of the company.

  • Website registry – A source such a Register.com will provide an address of the person that is registering the domain name.  Eight times of ten, the address used is the address of private company’s head office.

In addition, accessing the white pages of the city that the company is located is another option.  Chances, there is a version of the white pages on the web.

Challenge #2 - There is no way that I can find information on the company’s products.

Not entirely true.  If the company seeks to obtain a trademark or a patent, they must register with the federal government.  Records for a trademark or patent will have a detail description of the product.  Some will have drawings of inventions.

Challenge #3 - The company used to have a website but it is no longer online.  There was some useful information on the site, can I still access the page?

A niffy tool called, “The WayBack Machine” can provide cached version of websites that are still online or have been removed.  Some of the images used on the webpages may not be still online however the text remains intact.  It should be noted that some of the websites are available courtesy of The WayBack Machine may contain broken links.

Challenge #4 - Building profiles of the top executives is impossible to construct.

This challenge is the most difficult hurdle jump over when it comes to private company research.  If the information that is being sought does not exist, creating profiles can be a pipe dream.   At this point, researchers should begin to get creative in terms of the sources that they can consult.  If they wish to remain online, ZoomInfo is a great start.   ZoomInfo is a summarization search engine that finds useful information about people on the Web.    The tool has the ability to collect nuggets of information from pages that are not indexed by most search engines.

Another option to consider is interviewing past employees of the private company.  Past employees are often willing to provide the “inside scoop” regarding top management and past episodes that took place in individual’s offices.  It is advised that an individual who has experience in elicitation techniques should carry out the interviewing option.

Challenge #5 – There is nobody available to talk to provide us with detailed information on the company.

Not true.  There are a number of group of individuals that can be consulted to provide information on the company.  Obtaining interviews with the individuals can be the correct route to the following:

  • Business reporters from the local press – Business reporters are likely to monitor the current developments on the local business scene.  As a result, they should be able to provide some insights regarding private companies around the area.

  • Securities Analysts – Securities analysts are well informed in terms of the financial status of the company in question.

  • Suppliers – Suppliers are very close to companies who are good clients.  Details such as organization structure, financial status and pricing structures.

  • Customers - Under the right circumstance, customers will share whatever they know about the company.  Some will share information that researchers could not imagine finding online.

If this mode of information collection is selected, be prepared for a very time intensive and costly task.


Private company research can be a frustrating task for an internet researcher.  For those researchers who accept the task must provide themselves with a flexible framework in which they must ask the right questions to the right individuals or use tools that may not come to mind immediately.


The Author

With his knowledge of business strategies used in today’s corporate world and internet searching methodologies, Ian Smith has found his niche as an internet and competitive intelligence researcher in the past 10 years.  Knowing what challenges that business professionals face everyday to find relevant information, Ian has written several articles on competitive intelligence research methodologies and analysis frameworks. In addition, he has authored articles dealing with internet searching applications for efficient research initiatives. You can read the blog that Ian contributes to, “Tools For Thought” by clicking here .

Many more articles in Competitive Intelligence in The CEO Refresher Archives

Copyright 2008 by
Ian Smith. All rights reserved.

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