Show me the money. If the company has any...
March 23, 2010 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to find as much financial information as possible on a small, privately held company. What's the best place to start?

The company is privately held (in Massachusetts), so they are not in EDGAR. I'd also like to do this as cheaply as possible, so I would rather not use things like Dun & Bradstreet,etc unless there is really no other option. Any pointers for getting financial info on a privately held company without spending a fortune?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Most small, privately held companies do not disclose their financial statements.

The Boston Business Journal may put out a book of lists that would include rankings of firms in various industries with estimates of revenues.

If they have bonds you may be able to buy the bonds and get access to their investor site, but it's not likely that you can just buy a single bond. Call and ask the company's treasurer or CFO.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:20 PM on March 23, 2010

Have you been to the library yet? A few other things to try: look up the company's business license, look for UCC filings (registered with the Secretary of State in Oregon; not sure how Massachusetts does things), search county and federal court records, search local property records.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:37 PM on March 23, 2010

Very few privately held companies disclose financial information. Those that do are rather large and have likely issued debt on the public markets (though their equity is still privately held).

This does not sound like it is the case for your question.
posted by dfriedman at 6:42 PM on March 23, 2010

Dun & Bradstreet, or Hoover's, is probably your only option. Financial records do not need to be disclosed for privately held companies.

As croutonsupafreak suggests, you may be able to get some info from UCC filings, but 1) they may not have any, and 2) the info you get from them may be minimal or even deceptive. For instance, if you find a UCC form disclosing "loan for $3M from Bank of America to company X, secured by the assets of company X," that does not necessarily mean they have anywhere near $3M in assets in any meaningful sense.

Is there a reason it needs to be confidential? Have you considered just asking? If you have a legit need to know, e.g. if you're considering investing with them, they might just send you copies.
posted by rkent at 6:57 PM on March 23, 2010

See if you can find someone with Westlaw or Lexis -- both of them have Dunn & Bradstreet information or similar products covering private comapnies. I think some libraries will give you limited time on things like Lexis - at least my college library did this.

You might also check with the Massachusetts Secretary of State's website, though I agree with the comments above that the information there is likely to be very generic.
posted by Mid at 8:03 PM on March 23, 2010

Any reason you can't ask the company/ies? When I did this type of work I would call and ask. Sometimes they said they do not disclose financial information, sometimes they answered my questions.
posted by fifilaru at 11:20 PM on March 23, 2010

The BPL has D&B's "million dollar database"- you can access it for free remotely (under the business category in their electronic resources site) with your library card, and if you don't have a card you can sign up for an e-card. I have had surprisingly good luck with finding limited financial info on small private Mass. companies using this database.

Are you near a Trial Court library? They offer free Lexis or Westlaw in different locations, but you have to be in the library to use them.

Also, searching news articles can sometimes yield some gems of info, but it's a slog that doesn't always pan out.

Unfortunately, as I tell my patrons, private companies are private for a reason- they don't want you to know this info. I have heard (not sure how accurate this is) that D&B information is all self-reported, so theoretically a company could tell D&B their financials and make up whatever numbers they want. I'm slightly wary of D&B for this reason, but it's better than nothing.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:00 AM on March 24, 2010

follow-up from OP
"Thanks for the answers so far. To answer those who have posted questions: This is a very small company (>10 people), so I can't find any UCC paperwork. It is an LLC, though. It has a small number of outside investors, but is not public and doesn't seem to have any major history of outside loans, etc. I can't just call them up, as I have a connection with the company and don't want them to know that I am looking at this (long story)."
posted by jessamyn at 7:02 AM on March 24, 2010

I'm not sure how much I'd trust the Dun & Bradstreet database. A friend of mine once sent me the entry for a company I was about to work for, which was about the size you're talking about. It listed the name of one of their software releases as being an officer of the company.
posted by serathen at 9:45 AM on March 24, 2010

Jessamyn: In the event that you are looking to buy it, go forward and ask them that you are planning to buy it.

Best case scenario in that event would be to go hunting for other companies that do the same kind of work and then see what they are offering.


Talk to others in the same business. As far as independent sources go, like everyone has said companies are private for a reason.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 10:03 AM on March 24, 2010

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