Information brokers provide, for a fee, information retrieval from publicly accessible data sources, most often databases. Information brokering first emerged as a business opportunity for individuals in the mid-1950s. Also known as independent information specialists, brokers often do much more than gather the information. In this day and age, when almost anyone can access huge amounts of data over the Internet, brokers provide a number of special services, including: writing reports that analyze the data they obtain, creating internal databases for clients to manage their in-house information, maintaining current awareness services that update a client whenever new information on a given topic becomes available, and more. 


A good broker can save a client time and money. While it may be tempting to try to jump on the Internet and do the research yourself (especially for a small business person with limited financial resources), searching for data can be an arduous and time-consuming process, especially if you are not an expert in the realm of online searching. In addition, most brokers subscribe to online databases that are not available to the public, even on the internet. Subscription to these databases, which often contain high-level professional, business, and/or scientific information, can cost up to several thousand dollars a year. Clearly, that cost is prohibitive for many small businesses, especially when one-time information search is all that is needed.

Finding a good broker is important. A good broker will tell you when you actually can find the information yourself for free, but will also make it clear when his or her services are needed. Check to see what online services the broker subscribes to, and how long they’ve been in business. The growth of the Internet have led to the explosion in the number of people who call themselves information brokers or specialists, but not all of these businesses are legitimate. Relatively new information broker businesses may be perfectly legitimate, but business consultants still urge business owners to be careful about selecting a specialist without first conducting adequate research into the company’s history and other clients. Analysts indicate that the best information brokers in the field always have a background in library sciences (many brokers have been employed at public or corporate libraries) or have started out actually working for one of the large database provider companies. Other factors to consider include education, rates, specialty areas, subcontracting capability, and business practices. 

Be aware that information brokers can do more than collect online data. They can search public records, conduct competition checks when you are starting a new business, or visit a local library to comb through materials there. Perhaps most importantly, they can, if needed, conduct phone search by interviewing people and then preparing a report based on those interviews. As one broker said, “the most desired information is, and will continue to be, in people’s heads.


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