Beyond Google

Business & Professional

Illustration by Jim Ludke
Illustration: Jim Ludtke
When you need financial filings, information on a business, or referrals to professionals in your area, megasearch sites can bog you down or leave you empty-handed. Particularly with localized information, specialty sites prove their mettle.

Small business and professional practices: MelissaData offers one-stop access to phone directories, zip codes, post office locations, and demographics such as income tax statistics and home sales--valuable goodies for doing your own marketing. Aside from the great freebies, MelissaData sells an array of products and services for small businesses and professionals.

For tips, advice, and case studies involving small businesses, the dragnet cast by a big search engine pulls in some dubious sources. Instead, go to Entrepreneur.com and Inc.com. Despite its sometimes dated articles, the latter covers key topics and questions and helps you with sample contracts and other nitty-gritty jobs. It's just too hard to find this stuff elsewhere.

Initial public offerings and 10K filings: For IPOs and corporations' annual 10K filings with the SEC, see EDGAR Online's IPO Express. For a monthly fee of $6 to $28, the site searches IPO filings by locale, price, or industry. You get e-mail alerts on new IPOs, full reports on companies once they're public, and weekly reports on IPO activity. FreeEDGAR lets you search SEC filings for free once you've registered with the site, but it limits you to 19 document views a month. For a fee of $900 a year, EDGAR Online Pro offers more-complete company data and a wider range of alert tools, including income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and reports about insider trading. For year-end SEC-filed annual 10K reports, 10K Wizard gives you flexible download options and all the current data you need at fees of $25 per month, $75 per quarter, or $175 per year.

Companies, industries, and markets: To get conversant in an industry quickly, or to gain insight into a company or market prior to a job interview or client pitch, go to Gary Price's List of Lists and drill down on banking, insurance, wholesale and retail trade, and other industries. The site provides information drawn from trade magazines on key companies, crucial deals, power players, and important statistics.

Global public company data: The Scannery gives investors the scoop on more than 11,000 companies worldwide (including the S&P 500, Euro 400, and Global 1000) by searching corporate Web sites. The site's flexible search options help you find the company you want even if you're not sure of the name (it allows "sounds like" and synonym searches, for example). The Scannery's consolidation option groups all hits on a company's Web site for your search phrase and ranks the documents according to their relevance to your search.

Professional services: The big search engines have yet to conquer the problem of localized data. Google is trying: Its beta Search by Location program lets you search within a geographic area, but the quality of its results remains hit-or-miss. If you're looking for a networking consultant, interior decorator, civil engineer, or other service provider in your area, yellow-page directories such as B2BYellowPages.com still work faster. When you want the names of companies in a specific industry within a particular area, a good source is the Open Directory Project's Business Resources list. For example, searching for "CPA + Massachusetts" at this site retrieved a link to the state society of CPAs, which was exactly what I was looking for.

Gary Price's List of Lists for Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services features industry and trade-magazine rankings of many different types of firms that you or your business might employ, such as intellectual-property lawyers, advertising firms, and PR agencies. A few of the list's entries are out-of-date, but they're easy to browse.

Industrial products and services: The ThomasRegional.com site maintains an extensive list of all types of business goods and services--including engineering, consulting, and contracting work--along with the companies that provide them. Choose the appropriate professional services category to find companies that handle jobs such as billing, direct mail, and translating. The site's solid organization will save you and your business much time and hassle.

Business law: Doug Isenberg's GigaLaw.com (see FIGURE 3

Figure 3: For the latest legal news and essays on a range of legal topics, browse to Doug Isenberg's GigaLaw.com.
) provides tidy, up-to-date, and comprehensive essays on many legal topics written by attorneys practicing in the specific relevant fields. Running a keyword search on this site often produces good analyses of recent or proposed law changes as well. The Small Business Administration's Laws & Regulations Library provides quick access to the text of recent regulations and legislation.

Personal finance: Money advice on the Web reminds me of online personal ads: There's an abundance of wacky information. Rather than wade through the dross, head for a site like MSN Money or Quicken.com for reliable answers and resources on banking, investing, financial planning, and taxes. Whether you like financial advisor Suze Orman or not, her list of Sites to See quickly points to useful resources on such topics as credit card scores and Roth IRA accounts.

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