Start Your Business at the Library!
Are you one of those people who spend all day at your current job dreaming about running your own business? You have a surefire product or service idea… but it’s just an idea. Normal people don’t just start a company, right? And besides, who would even know where to start?
Well, did you know that thousands of Americans start very profitable businesses with the help of their local library?
Sorry, but it’s time to put away the excuse that starting a business is a complicated, secretive process open to a select few — that’s just no longer true! Thanks to libraries who have taken on the challenge of supporting local small businesses in a variety of creative ways, you now have the information, support, and resources necessary for every step of starting a new enterprise.
Let’s walk through the process of using the library to get a business off the ground — from your first business-minded visit to your local branch till the days when your company is thriving. Libraries have your back from start to finish.
Just Feeling it Out
So you heard the library has some resources for potential entrepreneurs and decide to wander in and get the low-down. Here’s what your first day might look like:
The reference librarian at the desk will be excited to show you several databases which are invaluable for people pondering a change of career. He or she will help you find out if the industry you’re interested in is even a sound idea.
Demographics Now lets you look at the spending habits of specific groups in your area. You might find out that your area has mainly young families — maybe that funeral parlor idea isn’t going to be a hit for a while. Or maybe you learn that you live near a lot of recent college graduates, and then Reference USA informs you that you don’t have a single craft brewery in the neighborhood (niche jackpot!) or that you already have tons of avocado toast restaurants (back to the drawing board).
You can also find trade reports, industry research, and global trends in a variety of databases, all easily accessible with your library card.
Free Business Plans
After learning there might be a market opportunity for you, look over a wide variety of published business plans to find one you could possibly model your own after.
Meeting with a Business Librarian
Many libraries prioritize supporting local small businesses by hiring specialized business librarians. If you find out your library has one of these, set up a meeting with them as soon as you can!
At Denver Public Library, BizBoost is a program where customers can share an hour-long meeting with a business librarian who introduces them to all the databases, physical resources, and lists of community partners which will be useful for getting started as a small business. Customers get the librarian’s contact info and are encouraged to check in with questions along the way as they delve into the resources and get started.
Thinking Seriously About This…
So your research has turned up hopeful prospects and you’re starting to think hard about going for this crazy business idea. Here are some next steps.
Online Small Business Builder
Organize your thoughts with a tool such as Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Small Business Builder, a “step-by-step online planning tool for starting, managing and optimizing a business or nonprofit” or Gale Small Business Builder — a database available through many public and private libraries that “walks users through five areas of exploration to develop a business plan focused on long-term success.” Programs like these help you see if this project is really within your reach and what success would look like.
Enroll in an Intensive Workshop
Many libraries offer high-quality series of classes to the public. For example, also at Enoch Pratt Free Library, you can sign up for the Entrepreneur Academy, a 10-part series of classes with limited space and which is free to the public, where you’ll study topics such as Marketing Research and Business Strategies and Developing Your Business Plan.
Connect with Community Organizations
Even though it might sometimes seem like it, librarians don’t personally offer every service you could ever imagine. However, they do have the resources to help you find who does provide just what you need. Your local business librarian likely already has a printed list of numerous local non-profit organizations who are excited to help you, as a prospective small business owner, get your business off the ground. You might quickly find expert classes or counseling to help you with taxes, financing, marketing, and more — all for free or very cheap.
I Did It! I’m a Small Business Owner!
Good job! You took the (well-researched) leap and started your own business! But the work and learning don’t stop there. Luckily, you know where to turn to for the next steps in your new endeavor.
Growing Your Skills
“Always be learning” is a motto that many companies have embraced in recent years, illustrating the modern business practice of continually improving one’s skills. Keep yourself learning by attending a library class on specific business competencies. Sign up for classes such as Legal Aspects of Crowdfunding, Building a Brand, or MadTech Series. Membership at many libraries also grants you access to the online training video collection, Lynda Library, which has incredible videos to help you learn new technical skills — all for free!
Especially in an age where running a business means staying tech savvy (one of the library’s specialties!), you can count on the library to connect you with resources to stay relevant.
Maybe you have all the forms signed, the website set up, and a few online customers — but you still don’t have an office. Well, feel free to utilize the library as your workspace until you are ready to move into that 20th floor VIP office.
The library has free wifi, quiet workspaces, meeting rooms available for reservation, printing, scanning, and many of the other features of a typical office setting.
If you have a question about your business, never hesitate to ask the library — you never know what kind of seemingly-serendipitous service they might offer. For example, Denver Public Library has a whole team of librarians devoted to patents. As partners with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, they can help with the intellectual property issues of just about any idea or creation out there!
Take the Leap!
Now that you know that libraries can and do help average people get businesses off the ground, what are you waiting for? Start with a quick visit with a librarian, and you’ll soon see that what you once thought was just a dream doesn’t have to stay that way.
It’s true that no one can start a business alone, but now you have a (very well-informed!) ally in the library who is ready to help you conquer the hurdles of entrepreneurship from the beginning to the end.