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Small Business Information Needs

Subject Matter

Industry Canada wanted to conduct a survey of managers and operators of small businesses in Canada (defined for this research as under 100 employees). The department had previously conducted qualitative research to explore the needs of the small and medium-sized business community (SMEs) in order to guide the development of new information products and services. This survey represented Phase II of the department’s research efforts in this area. The purpose was to better understand the needs (particularly information needs), attitudes and behaviours of SMEs, including their main sources of information and preferred delivery methods, and to obtain target-market feedback to support the development of web-based information products. The findings were used by the department to develop communications strategies and tools to convey business information to Canadian SMEs.


The survey was administered by phone to 1,014 small business owners or senior managers. A mix of sectors was included in the sample in proportion to their distribution in the SME business community. There were four variables of particular importance: region, size, urban vs. rural, and business stage. Target quotas of completed interviews were established for the first three variables to ensure sufficient representation in all subcategories. The data collected were then weighted for analysis to create an accurate representation of the SME business community. A pre-test of the survey (15 in English and 15 in French) was conducted. Interviews averaged 17 minutes in length. Based on a sample this size, the results can be considered accurate to within +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20..

    Among the challenges involved in this study were the following:
  • Providing data by business stage was important to the client, but the categories used to describe the various business stages (set by the client) were somewhat problematic. The descriptions of these stages were modified and tested through the pre-test to ensure that they were clearly understood and distinct from one another. Because the incidence rates in the population for the different stages of business development were not known, it was not possible to set quotas or to subsequently use appropriate weights.
  • It was also important to the client to be able to compare urban and rural businesses, but relatively few businesses are actually located in truly rural locations. Therefore, for the purposes of this study, “rural” was defined as areas with populations of 20,000 or less. This ‘definition’ was determined through a review of Statistics Canada population data.
  • In order to ensure sufficient representation in all subcategories, target quotas of completed interviews were established for three subcategories (region, size, urban/ rural). To ensure that the results accurately reflected the SME business community in Canada, data from Statistics Canada’s Business Register were used to determine the appropriate weights to apply.
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