Column Description: Take a moment to think about how your library and its community are impacted by a robust economy, by job growth, and by entrepreneurial innovation. Supporting the business community is investing in the community as a whole. Each issue The Library Business Connection will show how libraries of any size can work with their business patrons and create success for everyone.
Three Types of Business Patrons and How You Can Help Them
The Potential Entrepreneur
This patron has probably been checking out Anthony Robbins, Seth Godin and Sheryl Sandberg books for years. They dream of starting a business but just don’t know where to begin.
How you can help them?
Most aspirational business owners really don’t know what it takes to run a business. It may seem out of reach for them. Maybe they think they have to jump in with both feet when, really, they can dip their toe into entrepreneurship.
Introductory programs about starting a business can be helpful for these patrons. Not only will they meet the professionals presenting the information but they also will be meeting other potential entrepreneurs in the audience. The Miller Center worked with the Stony Brook Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to offer So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur? Taught by an SBDC business counselor, this program pulled no punches. The business counselor was honest with the attendees about the good and the bad aspects of starting a business. He talked about the commitment needed to succeed. It was harsh, realistic, yet also motivational. This program helped a lot of people either take the next step or decide once and for all that entrepreneurship was not for them.
The Start-up Entrepreneur
This person is “in business” but doesn’t have any business yet. They are incorporated. They’ve got the business cards and the website. Now they need the customers.
How you can help them?
Business owners need to do the work to get the customers. They can’t just sit in an office expecting the phone to ring or the email to ding. They need to find customers, but start-up entrepreneurs may not know how to find potential customers.
A business plan is a crucial step in starting a business and forces entrepreneurs to really consider who their potential customers are. Unfortunately, many people start businesses without a plan. In fact, they may have not seriously considered who their potential customers are until this moment. First, I will always encourage these patrons to create a plan using Gale Small Business Builder database or the SBA’s Write Your Business Plan guide.
Since that will take time and they need customers now; talk with them about their business and brainstorm a potential audience. Many libraries subscribe to a directory such as Reference Solutions or AtoZDatabases. A resource like this is a great way to target commercial or residential addresses based on type, location, income and more. It’s a good start for a new business owner.
The Home-Based Business Owner
The home-based business owner has a great office at home – hey, it’s a tax write-off – with everything they need to run a successful business. Sometimes they get lonely and feel very isolated. They would love to meet other local business owners or professionals in a comfortable low-stakes setting.
How you can help them?
Sure, you can recommend they join a local chamber of commerce or other business organization, but that’s hardly low-stakes for a small business owner. The library is a great low-stakes place to connect business owners with each other.
The Miller Center offers 2-3 programs per month. Every in-person program invites attendees to arrive 30 minutes before the start of the program to network with each other. Librarians mingle among attendees to facilitate connections and conversations. Because programs are held in the Miller Center we also encourage attendees to stay after the program and continue talking.
I would love to hear what your library is doing to help the businesses and entrepreneurs in your area? Let me know at email@example.com.
Elizabeth Malafi is the coordinator of the Miller Business Resource Center at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach, NY. She is the co-author of "Small Business and the Public Library," published by ALA Editions and "Supporting Local Businesses and Entrepreneurs in the Digital Age: The Public Librarian’s Toolkit," published by Libraries Unlimited. Both of these books serve as guides for librarians looking to connect with their business communities. Elizabeth was awarded the BRASS Mergent Excellence in Business Librarianship Award (2017) and the BRASS D&B Public Librarian Support Award (2008)