How to research a company

The ease and quantity of information you are able to find on a company depends a lot on whether it is a public or private company, large or small, local, national or international, as well as a number of other factors. It also depends on what kind of information you are trying to find.

The first thing you need to determine is if the company is publicly held. Of the millions of companies in the United States, only a small handful are public companies.

  • Publicly held companies are those that you and I can purchase shares of stock (shares of ownership) in. Stock can be purchased through a broker on any day that the stock market is open.
  • Privately held companies are those that are owned by a limited number of people (founder, key employees, and/or investors). You and I cannot purchase a share of the company.

There are several resources you can use to determine if a company is publicly held.

  • Use Mergent Intellect (Library card required from home) and search for the company name. The company entry will indicate if the company is public or private.
  • Use Google to pull up the company's web page. Look for a link to "Investor" or "Investor Relations." This is sometimes under the "About Us" tab.
  • Ask one of the librarians in the Business & Career Center for assistance.

Publicly traded companies

It is relatively easy to find information on publicly held companies, as they are required to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These reports in turn are made available to the public.

  • These reports can be accessed by SEC's EDGAR database.
  • The website allows you to search for the SEC forms that startups and investments firms must file when they raise money.

Publicly held companies for the most part are the largest and most influential companies. Consequently, their actions and products are well covered by newspaper and magazine reporters. The library subscribes to several databases that can help you find articles about the company you are researching.

  • ABI/INFORM Complete will provide you with the full text of articles taken from a wide range of business magazines and trade journals. Company reports and market research reports are also provided in this database.
  • Mergent Intellect provides detailed profiles of publicly traded companies worldwide, including information on company products, subsidiaries, competitors, and financial information.

(Library card is required to access all of these resources from outside the Library.)

Private companies

It is much more difficult to find information about private companies as they are not required to make information about themselves public. The size of the company often determines how much information is going to be found.

  • Start with Mergent Intellect. This database is a directory of tens of millions of businesses from all over the world. In addition to contact information, business listings include:
    • Owners/manager's name
    • Estimated sales
    • Number of employees
    • Link to their website
    • Years in business
  • Information on large private companies is also available in ABI/INFORM Complete. This database gives you access to articles in trade journals. Trade journals are written specifically for people working in a particular industry or trade. They may have reports on important small companies in an industry and news not covered in other sources.

(Library card is required to access all of these resources from outside the Library.)

  • Check to see if the company has a listing in the website.
  • Local companies

    If the business you want information on is a smaller local company, there are specific resources that could be of help to you. Take a look at the guide on Local Business and Economic Information in the Business and Career Center.

    Company websites

    Don't forget to look at a company's own website. A Google search will help you find a business's website. Often you can learn a great deal about a company (products, services, locations, contact names, history) from their website. Remember though, this is not unbiased information.

    Is a company a good employer?

    Use the website Glassdoor to learn about different aspects of a company as an employer. This includes salary information, company reviews, and the company's interview process.

    For additional information, contact an H&R Block Business & Career Center librarian by phone, 816.701.3717, or by e-mail,