How the Census Can Save Your Business Money

Whether you're starting your first business or expanding an established one, you need all the help you can get as a business owner. You might feel like there's no price too high when it comes to understanding your customer base. But there's a trove of local demographic data already available to business owners for free. You may have heard about it — it's in the U.S. Constitution.

Geographers at Canada's University of Waterloo have just released a study showing how small businesses can save a bundle on consulting fees by using census data. Consumer spending in particular can help business owners map out buying behavior and potential customers. The federal Consumer Expenditure Survey is one place to tap into that information on a national scale; state and local government offices should be able to help you access more granular data.

The Waterloo research focused on information that would be useful for Ontario-area home improvement retailers. The team compared government data with propriety data to analyze spending patterns, and found that each set provided accurate outputs.

"This tool can help to put smaller businesses on an equal footing with large retailers, who have more capital to spend on gathering businesses intelligence," said co-author Andrei Balulescu in a press release. "Furthermore, it could help local economic development departments prove to companies there is both market and opportunity in their region."

The U.S. Census has been in the news for all kinds of reasons lately, including worries about discrimination and fears of future political gerrymandering. But it's also a tool that's available for good, and not just for governments. Public data can surprise you, and it costs so much less than consultants. See what it can show you about your community.