The saying “knowledge is power” is not an empty platitude but a principle widely embraced in most spheres of modern society. Knowledge or, more appropriately, information is very important to informed decision making in our personal lives, government departments and business ventures. Each organisation or individual has some piece of information out there that they consider valuable enough to part with money for. Granted it may seem implausible that in a world where we are constantly being bombarded with the free kind that someone can somehow earn a living collecting and selling information, but there indeed exists a potentially lucrative market for unique, high-quality data that certain businesses and entities may find useful.
The existence of organisations like Zimstat, whose findings are important to both government policymakers and private players, shows that data matters. In fact, there is still a lot of potentially valuable information that national statistical and data collection agencies do not (or will not) collect. This leaves more than enough room for private enterprises with an eye for opportunity to grow and thrive. In this article, we will be exploring this idea of collecting data as the basis of a business.
What does collecting data entail?
In this I.T centric world of ours, the word “data” immediately evokes images of computers. However, in actual fact, data collection is mostly a very low tech activity. Surveys, questionnaires and interviews are some of the most commonly used tools of the trade. You can also collect what you think is potentially useful data from a number of sources such as government departments, regulatory agencies and private companies.
Since data is usually collected from people either through interviews or requesting the kind that is kept in their office desk drawers, people skills are very much needed. Data collection can range from asking people on the street to fill survey forms, visiting some in their homes or approaching them in their offices requesting that they share their organisations’ cache. Sometimes you may need to pay for some of this data.
A business is nothing without customers; likewise, a data collection agency needs a market for its services. It can either offer its services to organisations, i.e. they get hired to collect any arbitrary information that the contracting company needs or the agency can pre-emptively collect any information which they think these companies would find useful and then try to sell it to them after. As established earlier, almost each and every company has data which they would be willing to pay for— such an agency should not only be able to pick out such potentially valuable information or data but also the entities most likely to need it. Here are just a few of such potential customers.
Market researchers and other businesses
Market research is an activity that requires a lot of information gathering. Some market research firms or—even any company that is conducting this research for internal use—may be willing to outsource some of the legwork. In addition some of the most useful information around lies behind the doors of competitors or official entities such as regulators and government departments. For the former, it is understandable that companies may be unwilling to disclose even the most seemingly inconsequential information to competitors but they may be more amicable when approached by a third party. Do not take this as a call to start some kind of industrial espionage agency, you should only collect information that businesses would voluntarily disclose to, say, news reporters.
Likewise, government departments and regulators can be as reluctant to disclose information upon demand as any private entity. These people usually prefer to only release the information they want, when they want to and anyone who tries to circumvent this will have pointless red tape to contend with. If your data collection firm gains enough experience (and perhaps connections) to successfully navigate all these hurdles, your services will become even more valuable especially to smaller businesses which usually have an even harder time extracting the information they need from these offices.
NGOs and other non-profits
As a developing country, we have a lot of charitable organisations operating within our borders. These organisations need to be able to identify areas and communities which may be in need of their assistance. This often requires extensive data gathering due to the limited nature of the data which is already available from the government and its agencies. These organisations often mistrust “official” data—usually questioning its accuracy and intentions of the collectors; a case in point is the disputed and often politicized issue of our country’s unemployment rate (it is either around 10 or 90 % depending on who you prefer to believe).
Newspapers and magazines
Journalists often rely on third parties to provide some of the information which they publish. Sometimes the data is merely referenced in the article and in other instances whole articles are based on particularly interesting data and statistics—I am sure you are familiar with the occasional pieces on ZIMSEC (or HIV) figures.
Many entrepreneurs discover business opportunities, market gaps and needs through their experiences and encounters in industry. However, another possible source of inspiration is industry data which is somewhat lacking in the country—how many industries do we actually know the market sizes of? Without access to enough statistics, it is next to impossible for entrepreneurs to assess the viability of some of their ideas without first implementing them. Firms that collect different kinds of data from industry should be able to help in the market research efforts of future businesses.
Every year there are countless numbers of young people faced with the decision of which career path to choose. They are often most interested in their chance of getting employed and their potential salaries after training. The advice they get is often heavily anecdote based and extremely biased as the issue of career choice has become somewhat touchy for many. It would be much easier for these young people to make their decisions if they had access to properly collected statistics on salaries and employment rates.
Other possible revenue channels
The collected data can also be monetized through compiling it into documents which you can then sell. Alternatively, you can offer all the data you have available for free on your website, which you can then monetize through online ads. You can also offer advert placement in your printed publications.