Top Business Questions in Public Libraries <br />This list of typical questions asked at the public library by prospective business owners/ operators is provided by ASCLA – the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ALA), and also includes the top questions asked by clients of the South Carolina Dept. of Commerce. The top three are highlighted. Can your library answer them?<br /><ul><li>What business should I choose?
How does an out-of-state business do business in South Carolina?
Where can I find companies looking for partnerships, joint venture opportunities?
What networking opportunities exist in my community / in South Carolina?
How can I promote my business and find new customers?
How can I find out about supply chain options in South Carolina?</li></ul>Amanda Holling (Charleston PL) says: “Most people who come to the library looking for business information are in the start-up process. They range from people who have no idea what goes into setting up a business all the way to people who have owned other businesses in the past.” <br />You need to know your Library’s resources – what and where they are, and how to use them -- and you need to be able to refer outside the library. Do your “homework” before you advertise services for business people. <br />Services all Public Libraries Can Provide<br />for Small Business Owners/Operators<br /><ul><li>Referral to other agencies that support the small business owner/operator
Promote library as a networking venue – Breakfast meetings are good, or host an evening mixer (check alcohol regulations!)
Create a traveling library presentation to take to community events; be prepared with a tabletop display, handouts on what the library has to offer to business people
Attend a local Small Business Fair, and network with other service providers.</li></ul>Kicking Library Services up a Notch<br /><ul><li>Offer useful workshops – conduct them yourself, or bring in presenters/trainers
Create a calendar of important or useful conferences, trainings, networking events at the State and Regional level – help your business folks connect with the wider world.
Create a simple portal for business–related web content - but don’t duplicate what State or County has already created. Keep focus local, link to other resources.
Using sign-in sheets, collect business contact email addresses at all library events. Now you have a list of contacts to invite for future events.
Create a newsletter or e-newsletter (Constant Contact is an easy, affordable tool) – highlight library services for businesses, include articles on successful local businesses helped by the library.
Host a Small Business Fair – Include vendor exhibits, presentations, workshops, tours of library and resources. </li></ul>Potential Business Workshop Topics<br />How to Write a Business Plan <br />Financing your small business<br />Office of Small & Minority Business Assistance -- what they do<br />Marketing research<br />Accounting for Small Business<br />Training in productivity software (Email, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Quicken)<br />HR issues – hiring, firing, health insurance, training the workforce you need<br />Introduction to public relations<br />Work/Life balance<br />Networking for women in business<br />Great small businesses for stay-at-home parents or the physically homebound<br />Entrepreneurship options for veterans<br />Business-related Websites 101<br />Web 2.0 and Small Business – Marketing your business on Facebook and other social networking sites<br />Freeware and shareware for small business <br />How to start and run an online business (through E-bay and other business-hosting websites)<br />How to buy an existing small business or franchise<br />Business etiquette<br />ID theft law compliance<br />Business Service “Don’ts”<br /><ul><li>Don’t schedule services and programs at times when small business people are busiest – like mid morning, mid afternoon.
Don’t schedule programs in conflict with, or duplicating, other events in the community
Don’t be surprised if people don’t show up even when they have committed to attending – Business is full of surprises, things come up
Don’t waste time with lengthy, boring, repetitive, or duplicative information - Business people want expert advice and useful content.
Don’t offer a program using an outside presenter until you are certain of the content and quality being offered -- Some are sales pitches in disguise.
Don’t invest heavily in your collection until you know what your community wants and will use. Audio formats are extremely popular in SOME areas, not in others.
Don’t neglect your non-English-speaking community. New immigrants are responsible for a huge percentage of new business startups in South Carolina.
Don’t assume consistency is key -- Every community is different, each business owner has unique challenges. Library services must be tailored to local needs.</li></ul>Business Service “Do’s”<br /><ul><li>Identify the business service agencies in your community and at other levels of government - what they offer and how to contact them. Figure out who can best answer the frequently asked questions, and keep their contact information handy.
Find out if other agencies (colleges and technical institutions, government agencies) in your area are already conducting outreach. Try to fill in gaps in content or delivery.
Assign a friendly, enthusiastic, and self-confident librarian to be the small biz point person. She/he will quickly become “in demand” with business users, so make this a priority assignment.
Early on, make a presentation to the Chamber of Commerce or other business leaders’ association. Leave your card/contact information with everyone in the room.
Commit time to keeping your website offerings fresh; maintain links and change photos/focus often.
Invite enthusiastic, successful business people who have “made it” locally to share their experiences and advice with an audience of prospective business owners.
Have a giveaway for each program attendee – maybe a book bag. Stuff with schedule of upcoming business-related events, sample business publications from State and County agencies, coupons for free services, library brochures, Friends of the Library membership brochure and Book Sale information, Library pen/pencil, etc.
Make a big deal about local businesses that have donated to your Friends or to the Library – Thank them publicly, keep them interested in the Library.</li></ul>Roadblocks for Librarians and How to Avoid Them<br /><ul><li>Business reference is not librarians’ favorite area – Sketchy library school training; customers are often vague. Fear of the unknown is the problem. Like any other topic, you have to plunge in and learn about it. It’s not as hard as it seems!
Sources/resources can seem daunting. There are so many! Take time to read some librarian reviews, and become familiar with the core titles and how they are searched. Look through the most important business-related websites for your geographic area.
Finance questions can be discouraging – There are no easy answers. Everyone’s in the same boat now, moneywise; yet small businesses are opening every day. Financing can be found. Refer to the experts (SBA, SBDC, SCORE.)
The need for these services is not obvious in our community – no one is asking. As with many library services, people don’t always think to ask. We must infer the need, and target promotion. Business people will respond to marketing.
Implies communication with agencies the library has not traditionally worked closely with. It is time to change all that. Locate the Chamber, the SBA, and meet face to face with the small biz development folks in your jurisdiction. They will appreciate your support as well.
Not everyone on the library staff is equally committed. You need the full support of Library Administration. Directors are hearing about economic development, and they are more and more clued-in to the Library’s vital contribution. Make sure yours is on board, and if you are the point person, make sure your colleagues know.
Funding for library programs not readily available – grants seem too big, too difficult to win. Big grants are indeed extremely competitive, and also hard to administer. So start small. Ask your FOL for seed money. Apply for LSTA funds. Most services do not require a big outlay of funding – do what you can, get the ball rolling, and look for support along the way.