Start with a SWOT analysis:
- An internal and external environmental scan
- Strengths & Weaknesses (internal)
- Opportunities & Threats (external)
You can do your own SWOT analysis by collecting information from multiple sources, such as company profiles, industry & market information, and news. If you are researching on a public company, take a look at its Annual Report (or 10-K), especially the section "Risk Factors."
Explore the company website, consider the following:
- What kind of service/product do they provide?
- What kind of customer needs are they meeting? Are they meeting these needs better than their competitors, at a better price?
- What's their customer value proposition?
Interview the company, if possible. State that you are a student researching on the company for academic work, and that you will agree to sign any non-disclosure agreement. Call and ask them nicely. You might be surprised
!! Most of the "internal information" (e.g., HR practices) of small private firms is highly unlikely to be available in secondary sources; in this case, talking with the company is the only way !!
Read reviews, if available. Although customer reviews can be biased and unreliable, consistently positive or negative reviews should be taken into account. Consumers often find weaknesses that the company may not be aware of. However, be realistic -- you can't be all things to all people. Always keep your target market in mind.
Take a look at the competitors (you can find them through ReferenceUSA or Google) and consider:
- What kind of service/product do the competitors provide?
- What are your company's competitive advantages (e.g., unique product/service, location, size, customer service, price, etc..)? How does your company differentiate itself from others (i.e., what's its niche)?
Do an Environmental Scan, an examination of the external and internal environments:
- External environment: demographic, economic, political/regulatory, socio-cultural, technological, and global segments (P.E.S.T.: Political, Economic, Social, Technological).
- Industry environment: new entrants, suppliers, buyers, product substitutes, intensity of rivalry, position of the firm in the industry (Porter's Five Forces Analysis).
- What environmental factors may have an impact on the market your company's in? Any emerging trends? Disruptive forces? What are the opportunities and threats? Feel free to incorporate your personal observations and experiences