Researching Private Companies


Searched through all the sources you know, and still can’t find financials on a company you’re researching for class?  It could be the company you are researching is a private company.  If so, you need to change your expectations and your research strategy.  Private companies, unlike their public counterparts, are not required to file financial information with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission  (SEC)…hence, the amount of financial information publicly available on your company may be limited.  How to proceed?  Try these sources to patch together a research profile on a private company:

Review the company’s website, including its About As link and any links to information on the company’s products, officers, and strategy.  Though information on the company site will be attempting to paint a favorable  picture of the company, the site is still a critical place to begin to become familiar with who the company is, what products it produces, who some of the leading executives are, and what the company’s strategy is for the future.

Look for the company in Hoover’s Handbook of Private Companies, a handbook providing information on 900 of the largest and most influential private companies.  Each entry provides an overview and history (when available) of the company, a listing of executives, 5 years of financial information, the location of operations (with website), and a listing of products and competitors.  Though this reference work contains a fraction of all the private companies operating in the U.S., the Handbook does provide a solid snapshot of information for each company it covers.

Check library databases for any available directory information.  One of the best databases to try is ReferenceUSA, a database with profiles on over 14 million US businesses.  Search the database by company name, or try the advanced search feature which lets you limit by industry NAICS code # (or keyword) and geographic area to retrieve of listing of companies within a selected industry and geographic area.  Each retrieved profile includes basic location information, business demographics which include sales volume, a management directory, a listing of nearby competitors and more.  Lexis/Nexis Academic  includes a Company Profiles library containing a U.S. Private Company Reports file with directory information and Experian Business Reports which contains payment histories on private companies.  Lastly, Ward’s Business Directory of U.S. Private and Public Companies is another reference database carrying directory information on approximately 90,000 private companies.

Search Secretary of State filings for the state in which the company operates.  Each state has a database of filing information for businesses opened in their state.  To locate a particular Secretary of State’s searchable database, try the  Secretaries of State  site produced by Coordinated Legal Technologies.

Check library databases for any articles on the company published in regional and national business journals and newspapers.  Proquest Business Databases , which include ABI/Inform Dateline for searching regional business journals and newspapers and ABI/Inform Global for searching international publications, is an excellent place to start searching.  The advanced search feature in the Proquest databases lets you limit your search by company name so you can easily retrieve any articles on your company.  The News Library in Lexis/Nexis Academic Database  contains 2 files that can be searched to locate articles on a private company–the Regional News file and the Business & Industry News File.

Still turning up empty?  Ask a Reference Librarian!  The librarian will be glad to sit down and explore additional sources to locate information on your selected company!