Many competitive organizations that have relatively developed processes for investigating larger public companies have a difficult time getting information about small private ones. The digital footprints of private companies can be significantly different—filings with the SEC (or its equivalents outside the US) are not an option, and press coverage is often significantly sparser. The guidelines described here can help make your research more successful.
Focus on Individuals Instead of the Larger Organization
When investigating a private company, start with people rather than the company as a whole. A small organization may send a small signal, but the individuals running the company are likely to be actively trying to get exposure. Individual Twitter feeds, LinkedIn profiles, blogs, executive interviews, and so on may be some of the best resources available.
The smaller the company, the more important this guidance is. At 200 employees or so, aggregated information about the company starts to emerge from resources such as LinkedIn, but no such patterns may be available at all for a very small company. Different approaches may be called for to find information about employee counts, sales figures, etc.
The Importance of Going Local
It is worthwhile to seek out local media near headquarters for the best coverage. Even a small company can be a significant story in its local news market, particularly outside of larger cities. In fact, this is often good advice for larger companies as well, since some stories that don’t have the horsepower to make it onto the national or international stage may reveal information about new facilities, major deals, and so forth.
The History of a Web Site Can Reveal a Lot
Archive.org can be very illuminating. How a company has chosen to present itself online and how it has changed that presentation over time can reveal significant shifts in strategic direction. Questions as basic as how long a private company has existed can be difficult to find, but this approach can make it simple. You can also examine business ownership records to see if the business existed previously in a different form, or if it has a parent.
Check to See Whether Privco Has Already Developed the Analysis You Need
Privco is a paid service that provides information on private companies in much the same way that services such as Bloomberg Terminal do for public ones. Compared to launching a special project to analyze a private company, purchasing that information can be far more cost effective.
Research by Privco combines open source intelligence with human analysis by experts such as attorneys, CPAs, and bankers. It provides a reliable source for data such as revenues, ownership, mergers and acquisitions activity, and valuation. Where many services provide summaries geared toward a quick take to support a sales call, Privco specializes in deeper analysis for competitive intelligence and related functions.
By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart