Internet Research? You're already doing it!!

Doesn’t that sound like something Madge from Palmolive would say?  If you are reading this article you are well on your way to doing internet research.  To get the best out of your internet research however, you need to do more than dip your fingertips in it!

So why do internet research in the first place? 


Quite simply, internet research is a great tool to learn.  There is so much information freely available on the web.  We can use it to learn just about anything.  In business, we learn about our customers, our competitors, better ways of doing business, we research suppliers and products when we want to buy something.  We find great tools and information to use in our job.


As a bookkeeper, I use internet research for anything from finding out about the latest legislation or tax information, learning about my clients’ industry and their requirements, finding fixes for IT problems or software bugs, etc. etc. the list is endless!!


Which leads me to my next point – the worst element of internet research is that it can be an open ended affair engulfing all your time and energy.


So my number one tip for anyone using the internet for research is to set goals and define a time-limit before you start!!


Imagine you set off in your car to visit your accountant, but on the way you came across a great-looking marketing firm.  Would you pull over and meet with them instead?  No, of course not!  You have a goal - so you would continue driving to your accountant.  And that is the same sort of focus you need to have with your internet research.


 So, how do you set these goals?  Well, say today you want to find out more about outsourcing.   Get a pad & pencil, write down “Outsourcing” and then write down all the questions you want answered about outsourcing.  It might be, for example “What jobs can I outsource?”, “Is outsourcing cost effective?”, “How do I choose a contractor?”  Now you have it in black and white.  These are your research goals!

Now, set yourself a time-limit, make yourself a coffee – and go for it!!


OK, so you’ll notice there is lots of information available.  Try limiting your search to your country or including keywords that are applicable to your industry.  Then look at the sites and use your judgement to ensure they are a credible source.  


No doubt you’ll get some great information, but unfortunately it will be next to useless unless you can actually harness that information!  So my second internet research tip is to find a method to record and/or action your research.


I like to evaluate the information and ask myself, “does this meet my research goal?” No, remember the marketing firm you drove past earlier? Did you get the feeling you were really missing out on an opportunity there?  Well guess what - you don’t have to miss out.  Wouldn’t you just grab the phone number & call them later?  In order to stay focused on my research goals, I simply bookmark interesting sites for later.  I have two bookmark folders.  One is my “Weekly” reading list, where I put items that l think are quite important.  The other is a “Monthly” reading list, I might include articles here that are interesting or might be useful “down the track”.  I use outlook to schedule time every week/month to go through my reading lists.


 filingWhen an article does meet my research goal, I read the information and then decide if I need to refer to this information again.  Some things just add to your understanding of a subject, other articles may be important reference material that you want to keep or to be able to look at later.  This is where you need some sort of “internet filing system”.  There are programs out there that can help with this, but I tend to just use a selection of Bookmark Folders.  For example under my “Suppliers” bookmark folder I might add another folder for “Outsourcing” and I’d keep all my research notes there.


When going through my reading lists later, I would use the same process to see if the information is worth keeping and then move it to the appropriate folder.


So, to summarise successful internet research involves setting research goals, staying focussed, setting time-limits (and sticking to them), evaluating the information and storing the important information.  Great!  Did you learn anything?  Yes.  Did you achieve anything??  ....


Learning is great, action is better!  So the final piece of advice I would give is to take what you have learnt and develop a course of action to use that knowledge in your business!!  For a great selection of business tools, including an Action Plan template, register for free at Imprest Business Services, and visit our download section here.


Stephanie Lee is a Senior Bookkeeper and co-founder of Imprest Business Services. 
Imprest are specialists in providing tailored administrative solutions for small businesses.