Tag Archives: Business Information

UK company information now free of charge

A year ago Companies House announced that they were going to make all of their company information available free of charge to everyone. The press release was short on detail and many of us wondered what format the data would be in and how easy it would be to use. Daily files containing accounts data registered on the previous day were already available but these are huge zip files that, when unpacked, contain files with meaningless names. (http://download.companieshouse.gov.uk/en_accountsdata.html). Unless you have software that can manage and search the data it is impossible to identify which files contain information on the company you are researching. Companies-House-Free-1

 

For most of us the files are useless.  Was this to be the format of the free service? Thankfully, no.

A new beta service at http://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/ now enables you to search for companies by name or number and obtain free of charge:

  • Company overviews
  • Current and resigned officers
  • Document images
  • Mortgage charge data
  • Previous company names
  • Insolvency data

Companies-House-Free-2

For the officers you can see what other companies they are involved with. What you cannot do at the moment is search by director name from the start. That is a “planned feature” as are disqualified directors search, company monitoring, company name availability, dissolved companies and overseas data. For those options you have to revert to the old WebCHeck service at http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk/.

The new beta service is easy to use and at last we have access to UK company documents and accounts free of charge. So, does this mean the end of services such as Company Check (http://companycheck.co.uk/) and DueDil (http://www.duedil.com/)? Not necessarily. Company Check, for example, already has an option for searching by director name and there are also useful charting, monitoring and structure options as well as access to some European companies. They also offer access to risk scores, credit reports and County Court Judgments (all priced). All of these services only allow you to search for companies one at a time: there is no multi-criteria search that you can use to find companies by turnover, number of employees, industry sector for example. Neither can you compare companies or conduct a detailed peer group analysis. For that you still have to use priced services such as BvD (http://www.bvdinfo.com/)

Overall, a move in the right direction and ideal if your needs are simple, for example accounts and director information for a live company. But look carefully at what features are available before you cancel your subscription service.

 

Business information – sources and search techniques

Business Information - sources and search techniques

I am running my full day business information, sources and search techniques workshop for the Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group (CLSIG).

Date: Thursday, 16 July 2015,  9:30am to 4:30pm

Venue: CILIP, 7 Ridgmount Street, WC1E 7AE London . See map: Google Maps

Cost:  CLSIG/CILIP Members £85;  Non-members  £100; Concessions £50

Contact for bookings: Marie.cannon@nortonrosefulbright.com

For further details of the workshop content contact  karen.blakeman@rba.co.uk

Search engines, government and official information sources, and the EU regulatory environment are continually changing. All of these affect how we search and the information that is presented to us. In some cases information may be deliberately excluded from our results. This one day workshop will look at what’s new, key resources for business and official information, and how to use search tools to ensure you are picking up everything that you need. There will be time for practical sessions so that you can try some of the exercises provided, or experiment with your own searches. Lunch and refreshments are included.

Topics covered include:

  • effect of EU legislation on research and due diligence
  • increase in official open data – accessibility, quality, usability
  • changes to Google and other search tools, and their impact on research
  • starting points, evaluated listings and government sources
  • company information: official sources; free open data sources worldwide; companies that repackage official company information – pros and cons
  • news sources and alerting services
  • the value of social media and professional networks for business intelligence
  • statistics, market and industry data

Please email Marie Cannon to book your place (Marie.cannon@nortonrosefulbright.com)

Business information key resources

On one of my recent workshops I was asked if I used Google as my default search tool, especially when conducting business research. The short answer is “It depends”. The long answer is that it depends on the topic and type of information I am looking for. Yes, I do use Google a lot but if I need to make sure that I have covered as many sources as possible I also use Google alternatives such as Bing, Millionshort, Blekko etc. On the other hand and depending on the type of information I require I may ignore Google and its ilk altogether and go straight to one or more of the specialist websites and databases.

Here are just a few of the free and pay-per-view resources that I use.

Information on industry sectors

BL_BIPC_GuidesMy favourite collection of guides on industry sectors is The British Library Business Information and IP Centre’s industry guides. These highlight relevant industry directories, databases, publications and web sites and are excellent starting points if you are new to a sector

Statistics

There are at least a dozen statistics sites that I use on a regular basis but if I’m unsure of where to look or want to make sure I haven’t missed anything I use OFFSTATS – Official Statistics on the Web at  http://www.offstats.auckland.ac.nz. A great starting point for official statistical sources by country, region subject or a combination of categories. All of the content in the database is in the public domain and available through the Internet and has been quality assessed by staff at The University of Auckland Library.

Official company information

If I want to confirm the existence of a company or obtain filings and accounts I usually go direct to the relevant official company registry. I have a list of the registries that can be searched online at http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/registers.htm. As many of my enquiries are for UK companies I am a frequent visitor to Companies House at http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/. Some information is free but filings and accounts are priced. There are several companies that repackage Companies House data and sometimes make extra data or analysis free of charge for example Company Check at http://www.companycheck.co.uk/, which enables you to search by company or director’s name. Risk reports, information on CCJs, and some official filings are priced if you do not have a subscription to the full service.

Share price information

For free share price information I use Yahoo Finance (http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/) and Google Finance (https://www.google.co.uk/finance). Both of these services provide charts and news on shares on the major stock markets. Google’s graphs are ‘annotated’ with labels that link to news articles listed to the right of the graph, so you can see whether or not a particular event or announcement has affected a share price. Both offer free, daily historical share prices in figures. As well viewing historical graphs for share prices you can download the data as a spreadsheet.

News alerts

For news alerts I use a mixture of bookmarked searches, Google email and RSS alerts, and RSS feeds from a wide range of blogs and news sites. I find that Google alerts are erratic and unreliable but they do sometimes pick up something unique so I still include them in the mix. RSS feeds are my main source of current awareness and when a news feed is rather broad in coverage I use my RSS reader’s search function to identify the articles that are of interest  to me. I use a desktop reader call RSSOwl (http://www.rssowl.org/) but Inoreader (http://inoreader.com/) is a web based service that offers similar features and options.

Who is behind a site?

If I am to use any information from the web for business purposes I need to know who is behind the website. DomainTools http://www.domaintools.com/ is one of many services that will tell who owns a domain name, unless they are hiding behind an agent or privacy protection service. There is also a Whois+ extension for Chrome (my default browser) that can be used to run a quick and easy check on the domain name of a displayed page.

Workshop

If you are interested in finding out more about business information resources I am running a workshop for TFPL in London on March 6th , June 6th 2014. Details are on the TFPL website.

Update: please note change of date for the next business information workshop. It is now being held on June 6th, 2014.

Top tips from the latest business information workshop

Delegates at yesterday’s business information workshop in London came up with an interesting combination of websites and search commands for their end of day top tips.

  1. OFFSTATS – Official Statistics on the Web  http://www.offstats.auckland.ac.nz Excellent starting point for official statistical sources by country, region subject or a combination of categories. All of the content in the database is in the public domain and available through the Internet.

    OFFSTATS

  2. GMacker http://gmacker.com/web/content/gDateRange/gdr.htm Google’s Verbatim in the search options menu on the results page is great. Google’s date option from the same menu is great. But you cannot use both together. You can use the daterange: command, though, with Verbatim but it’s complicated. GMacker is a much easier way to do it. Type in your search on the GMacker page, select your dates from the calendars and click on ‘Google Search’. When the results appear on Google simply apply Verbatim in the usual way.
  3. Domain Tools http://www.domaintools.com/ A useful tool for identifying who owns the domain name of a website.
  4. 7 side http://www.7side.co.uk/ was recommended for its International company information services.
  5. Zanran http://zanran.com/This is a search tool for searching information contained in charts, graphs and tables of data and within formatted documents such as PDFs, Excel spreadsheets and images. Enter your search terms and optionally limit your search by date and/or format type.
  6. News alerts, news curation services and automated newsletter generation. Use Google alerts, RSS feeds and newsletter generation sites such as Paper.li (http://paper.li/) and Scoop.it (http://www.scoop.it/) to keep up to date and share news with colleagues.
  7. site: command Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk, or to search inside a large rambling site. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.
  8. Numeric range This command is unique to Google. Use it for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Simply type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. A good way of limiting your search to pages or news covering a company’s activities over two or three years in the past.
  9. OpenCorporates “The Open Database Of The Corporate World” http://opencorporates.com/ Provides access to open corporate data on 55 million companies in 75 jurisdictions. You can search all jurisdictions at the same time or select just one. Results can be filtered by type of data held, current status, company type, SIC. A link to the original registry page for a company is always included with the displayed information.
  10. DataMarket http://datamarket.com/ A portal to thousands of free and priced datasets. Free to search, and create charts and visualisations of the free data.

Does price guarantee quality of information?

I recently co-presented a webinar on researching legal information. The event was organised by TFPL, and Alan Blanchard and myself reviewed free and paid for resources together with key search techniques.

Throughout the session we polled the audience on a number of issues, the first question being “Does price guarantee quality when you are purchasing information?”. Surprisingly, given the topic of the webinar, 70% voted ‘No’ with the remaining 30% opting for ‘I don’t know’ rather than ‘Yes’. When we asked about their opinions on free information, though, 79% said they would need a result from a free source to be validated with a paid resource.

The audience could not qualify their answers – it was a simple yes/no/don’t know – but there were some interesting discussions on the issues after the event. The priced services certainly have to work hard to prove value for money and they cannot assume that their users will automatically renew each year. Free information has a big part to play in legal and business research but it is vital that one is aware of the limitations of free. For example, do you know how up to date legislation.gov.uk is and if it carries revised legislation? (See http://www.legislation.gov.uk/help#aboutRevDate for the answer). And then there is the issue of making Google run your search the way you want it run, without personalisation or deviation.

I am running two public access workshops this autumn for TFPL that look at free versus fee resources for business and legal information. The first, on 19th September 2013, is Business information: key web resources and covers:

  • Portals and key starting points
  • Company information
  • Industry information
  • Official statistics, market research
  • News sources, RSS and alerting services
  • Social media and professional networks

The second is Free resources and search techniques for EU and UK legislation and is on 13th November 2013. It will be looking at:

  • How to use advanced search commands to find news and information on legislation
  • How to use reading level and date ranges to focus the search
  • Searching foreign language pages
  • Options for searching journals, research information, grey literature
  • Alternatives to Google, specialist tools and sites
  • Assessing quality and relevance

Both days include practical sessions and places on the workshops are limited. Contact TFPL for further information and bookings.

Top Tips from SWAMP

Swansea_20130624_400
View from Swansea Central Library

Towards the end of June I headed off to Swansea Central Library to facilitate a workshop on search tools and techniques for finding business information and statistics. The session was organised for the libraries of the wonderfully named SWAMP – South West and Mid Wales Partnership.

We had fantastic views from the library of the sea and shore line so they did very well to remain focused on the work in hand. The top tips that the group suggested at the end of the day were a mixture of search techniques and business information sites.

1. Persistence.
Don’t give up and don’t get stuck in a rut. If your first attempts fail to produce anything useful try a different approach to your search. Try some of the tips mentioned below: use advanced search commands, a different search tool or go direct to a website that covers your subject area or type of information.

 2. Verbatim.
Google automatically looks for variations on your search terms and sometimes drops terms from your search without telling or asking you. To beat Google into submission and make it run your search exactly as you have typed it in, click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results, then click on the arrow next to ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.

3. Private Browsing.
To stop search engines personalising your results according to your previous searches and browsing behaviour, find out where the private browsing option is in your browser (in Chrome it is called Incognito). This ignores all cookies and past search history and is as close as you can get to unfiltered results.

Short cuts to private browsing in the main browsers are:

Chrome – Ctrl+Shift+N

FireFox – Ctrl+Shift+P

Internet Explorer – Ctrl+Shift+P

Opera – Ctrl+Shift+N

Safari – click on Safari next to the Apple symbol in the menu bar, select Private Browsing and then click on OK.

4. The site: command.
Include the site: command in your search to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk, or to search inside a large rambling site. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search. For example, if you are searching for information on Wales and Australian websites mentioning New South Wales keep coming up include -site:au in your search.

5. The filetype: command.
Use the filetype: command to limit your research to PowerPoint for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. Note that in Google filetype:ppt and filetype:xls will not pick up the newer .pptx and xlsx formats so you will need to incorporate both into your strategy, for example filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx, or run separate searches for each one. In Bing.com, though, filetype:pptx will pick up both .ppt and .pptx files.

6. Guardian Data Store (http://www.guardian.co.uk/data/)
For datasets and visualisations relating to stories in the news. This is proving to be a very popular site on both the public and in-house workshops. As well as the graphs and interactive maps the source of the data is always given and there are links to the original datasets that are used in the articles.

7. Company Check (http://www.companycheck.co.uk/)
Company Check repackages Companies House data and provides 5 years of figures and graphs for Cash at Bank, Net Worth, Total Liabilities and Total Current Liabilities free of charge. It also  lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you can view other current and past directorships for that person.

8. BL BIPC industry Guides
The British Library Business Information and IP Centre’s industry guides at  http://www.bl.uk/bipc/dbandpubs/Industry%20guides/industry.html highlight relevant industry directories, databases, publications and web sites. Excellent starting points if you are new to the sector.

9. Web archives for documents, pages and sites that are no longer “live”.
Most people know about the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org/and its collection of snapshots of websites taken over the years. There is also a collection of old UK government webpages at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/webarchive/, and the British Library has a UK web archive at http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/.

10. Keep up to date
Keep up to date with what the search engines are up to, changes to key resources and new sites. Identify blogs and commentators that are relevant to your research interests and subject areas and follow them using RSS or email alerts.

Direct marketing lists for market and industry sector information

When it comes to researching a market or industry sector the major national and international players are generally well covered by the established market research publishers. If you are looking at a highly specialised sector, are interested in smaller companies or just want to know who is doing what in a town or county then direct marketing lists can be the cheaper and better option. The source I often use is a UK based service called MarketingFile.com (http://www.marketingfile.com/). They have been around for a while but continue to update their services and ensure that the databases they offer are regularly checked and cleaned.

MarketingFile’s lists are divided into business and consumer marketing and further segmented by communication channel: postal, email, fax or telemarketing lists. You can drill down further and specify key job roles, industry sectors, geographic areas and company size. For consumer lists you can segment by criteria such as geographic areas, household finances, interests, investments, cars driven and charities supported.

For each list there is information on coverage, pricing and selection criteria.

MarketigFile Selection Criteria

You have to register to search the lists but registration is free of charge. The search screen makes it easy to select and combine multiple criteria and the number of results (counts), which is sometimes all one needs to know, is free.

MarketingFile Search

The full data is charged on a per record basis and you can also opt to have only those records that include named contacts. If you are on a limited budget or want to test a sample of the data you can request a specific number of records for example 50, 100, 200, 1000.

MarketingFile have extended their services and now offer complementary services such as printing and posting of letters, postcards and inserts. They have a 100% Delivery Guaranteed offer on email and postal lists which offers 50p per item towards your postage for mail “goneaways” and 5p – 10p per item towards broadcast costs for email hard bounces.

It is not always easy to identify the most appropriate list for your research. Rather than waste time trying different lists I’d recommend that you contact their helpline, which is based in the UK. They will be able to give advice on the best strategy for your research or project.

Factiva discontinues pay as you go service

Factiva is discontinuing its pay as you go option for occasional users as part of a “strategic refocus”. Instead of an annual fee of $69 plus a per document charge of $2.95, there will now be a fixed monthly fee of $249/month. This allows you to download up to 100 documents a month with additional articles above this limit being charged at $2.95 each. The new pricing will take effect on 30th April 2013 and, for existing customers, will be payable from their next renewal date.

I have not used Factiva for over a year and, to be honest, I haven’t missed it at all. Much of my research is highly specialised and I find that I am using industry specific sources and scientific papers more and more. Nevertheless, it is a great shame that Factiva has taken this step. Many of the people I work with appreciate the quality of the service but few use it often enough to warrant the $249 monthly fee.

Thanks to everyone who sent me details of the changes.

Business information slides and top tips

My latest business information workshop, organised by TFPL, was held yesterday in London. A large chunk of the session was taken up with exploring and discussing web sites but we also looked at how advanced search options and commands can be used to focus on higher quality business information. An edited version of the slides is available on authorSTREAM at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1775787-business-information-key-web-resources/ and Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/KarenBlakeman/business-information-key-web-resources-19252576.

Towards the end of the afternoon the participants were asked to come up with a list of top 10 tips and tricks. Two more were submitted to me by email soon after, so we have a dozen in total.

1. Verbatim
Google automatically looks for variations on your search terms and sometimes drops terms from your search without telling or asking you. Neither of these are very helpful if you are looking for a company or a person. Quote marks around phrases or individual words do not always force an exact match or inclusion in the search. If you want Google to run your search exactly as you have typed it in, click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results, then click on the arrow next to ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.

2. Reading Level
Try ‘Reading level’ if Google is failing to return any research or business related documents for a query. Run your search and from the menu above the results select ‘Search tools’, ‘All results’ and from the drop menu ‘Reading level’. Options for switching between basic, intermediate and advanced reading levels should then appear just above the results. Google does not give much away as to how it calculates the reading level and it has nothing to do with the reading age that publishers assign to publications. It seems to involve an analysis of sentence structure, the length of sentences, the length of the document and whether scientific or industry specific terminology appears in the page.

3. Guardian Data Store http://www.guardian.co.uk/data
This section of the Guardian posts articles, charts, graphs and maps on stories in the news using official government data, datasets collected and published relevant organisations and sometimes data obtained via Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. Links to the original datasets are provided so that you can download the raw data.

4. filetype:
Use the filetype: command to limit your research to PowerPoint for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. Note that in Google filetype:ppt and filetype:xls will not pick up the newer .pptx and xlsx formats so you will need to incorporate both into your strategy, for example filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx, or run separate searches for each one. In Bing.com, though, filetype:pptx will pick up both .ppt and .pptx files.

5. site:
Include the site: command in your search to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:gov.uk. You can also use -site: to exclude a site or group of sites from your search, for example:

potato yields forecasts 2013 site:gov.uk -site:www.gov.uk

to run the search on UK government web sites but excluding the new www.gov.uk site.

6. Duedil chart
Duedil (http://www.duedil.com/)  is one of several companies that repackage Companies House data and makes some of available free of charge. The workshop participants particularly liked the company Group visualisations.

Duedil company Group visualisation
Duedil company Group visualisation

 

7. Company Check http://www.companycheck.co.uk/ and Company Director Check http://company-director-check.co.uk/
Like Duedil, both of these services repackage Companies House data. Company Check provides 5 years of figures and graphs for Cash at Bank, Net Worth, Total Liabilities and Total Current Liabilities free of charge and lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you are taken to the Company Directory Check where you can view other current and past directorships for that person.

8. RSS feeds
Several of those attending the workshop already use, or are considering using, RSS feeds as a means of monitoring events and companies. Google is closing down Google Reader but Phil Bradley has lists of alternatives at http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/03/20-alternatives-to-google-reader.html and
http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/03/even-more-33-google-reader-alternatives.html

9. BL BIPC industry Guides
The British Library Business Information and IP Centre’s industry guides at http://www.bl.uk/bipc/dbandpubs/Industry%20guides/industry.html highlight relevant industry directories, databases, publications and web sites. Excellent starting points if you are new to the sector.

10. Domain Tools http://www.domaintools.com/
A useful tool for identifying who owns the domain name of a web site. Alarm bells should start ringing in your head if the owner is hiding behind an agent or a privacy protection service.

11. GBRdirect http://www.gbrdirect.eu/
A single point of access to the official company registries of 22 European countries. As well as searching for companies your can search company appointments and personnel for some countries, and verify VAT numbers. The amount of information that is disclosed varies depending on the country and details of what is available is included in the price list at http://gbrdirect.eu/priceList.aspx. The information that it finds will be in the original language.

12. Numeric range
This command is unique to Google. Use it for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Simply type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. For example: world oil demand forecasts 2015..2030

This workshop is being held again on Thursday, 19th September 2013 in London. The content will have changed by then – in fact, some things have already changed! – and participants are encouraged to let us know the areas and topics in which they are particularly interested and areas of research that cause them problems. This enables me to tailor the event to the needs of those attending. Hands-on practical sessions are included so that everyone has a chance to try out the sites and techniques for themselves. Further details of the day are on the TFPL website.

Workshops on business information

Zanran search on UK beef imports

A reminder that I am running two business information workshops in London in April.

The first is “Introduction to Business Research” on Thursday, 18th April. This workshop provides an introduction to many areas of business research including statistics, official company information, market information, news sources and how to build search strategies. It will cover explanations of the jargon and terminology, regulatory issues, assessing the quality of information, primary and secondary sources. Further information is available on the TFPL website.

The second is “Business information: key web resources”, which is being held the day after on Friday 19th April. This workshop looks in more detail at the resources that are available for different types of information, alerting services and free vs. fee. It also covers search strategies for tracking down industry, market and corporate reports. Details are on the TFPL website.

Both workshops include practical sessions during which you can follow the exercises provided, try out some of the enquiries you’ve recently had to tackle, or just generally explore. I am on hand during the practicals to help out with searches or advise on how to approach a particularly difficult piece of research. Be warned, though, you will be asked at the end of day to nominate, as a group, your top 10 search tips and tips. That’s when the arguments get serious!

Last year’s London workshop Top Tips are at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2012/11/25/top-tips-for-business-information/. More recently a group in Manchester came up with a very interesting combination of search techniques and business resources (see http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2013/03/07/top-tips-on-search-and-business-information/).