If you have ever met with business plan consultants, you surely learned that a firm grasp of your industry is one of the most indispensable parts of your business plan. Fully appreciating and accurately interpreting the industry (or industries) in which your business model will compete is not an optional part of your strategy or an add-on to your official plan; in a sense, it is the veritable centerpiece. Your business plan's industry analysis needs to be complete, on target, convincing, and well-articulated; if you feel you can't meet all of these criteria, hiring business plan consultants is a better option than struggling through it alone. The industry analysis is a section that permits of very little error; if you don't know what industry you will be operating in, an investor is likely to wonder whether you're qualified to spearhead your business idea at all—regardless of whether or not it seems valid. In other words, research this topic carefully and ensure that you are intimately familiar with the industry sector your business will be part of.
The Internet can provide you with a whole gamut of industry-based information that will inform your business plan. Among the most useful and reliable resources available online (without a fee) is the data collected periodically by the U.S. Census Bureau. This division of the Commerce Department undertakes a project every five years to collect details about economic activity by industry sector and by state. This information, which is somewhat cumbersome to navigate online but can provide you with a wealth of detail, is something all business plan consultants would advise you to inspect while writing your plan.
The Census Bureau also conducts annual surveys by questioning a sampling of American corporations in order to produce retail trade surveys, manufacturers surveys, wholesale trade surveys, and service surveys. These surveys, along with the main Census data categories, are organized according to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). You can also find online resources for trade associations, as well as databases of periodicals and research guides, at government and university websites. The American Society of Association Executives, for example, actively maintains an Internet-based directory of membership societies, non-profits, and trade associations. Subscription-based services like Dun & Bradstreet—to which business plan consultants generally have access—can provide even more targeted and clearly delineated industry data, which may better serve your business or strengthen your business plan. No matter which route you follow, be sure to perform as much research as you can to pinpoint the precise industry and/or industry sub-sector in which your business will operate.