If you're on the hunt for business development resources, don't overlook your local public library. There, you may find facilities, resources and other positive benefits that come at the right price for a fledgling entrepreneur -- free!
"Local public libraries are a wealth of information for those starting a business," explains Mary Carroll, Senior Librarian at the Business & Career Library, which is a part of the Brooklyn Public Library.
Here are some of the ways your local library can be helpful in starting a business.
Facilities: It's no secret that libraries, with their free and available wi-fi, are the entrepreneur's best friend when starting out. Many a would-be businessperson, lacking the funds for an office, has set up camp in the quiet confines of the library. Some public libraries, like the Brooklyn Public Library, are taking a cue from universities and establishing "information commons," which are repositories of resources and space for learning, training and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Resources: "Most public libraries across the country, especially in the larger cities, have a business section with materials that would help one to build a business," says Carroll. "Most local libraries would be expected to have at least the very popular Reference USA. Reference USA helps with marketing plans, competitive analysis, raising funds and locating people."
Here are a few items to seek at out your local library:
- Books on business planning: check these out for tips on what you'll need to assemble for a strong business plan, including templates on writing one. Need some more inspiration? Here are some great business books to borrow.
- Databases: Libraries put large sources of demographic research at your fingertips, so you can know your market before you launch. If you're not exactly sure what you want to research -- ask! The highly trained librarians onsite should be able to give you some great advice. More on market research.
- Guidance on financials: Financial planning can be one of the most daunting tasks for new entrepreneurs. Carroll cites these book as great resources for financial planning: D&B Industry Norms & Key Business Ratios, Almanac of Business and Industrial Financial Ratios and RMA Annual Statement Studies. If your library doesn't have these volumes, ask for them on inter-library loan.
- Periodicals: Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal are just a few of the periodicals that are great to peruse in order to stay abreast of trends and look for great business opportunities.
Mentors: Carroll explains: "Many public libraries provide a SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) program. The SCORE counselors mentor and provide sound business business practices for entrepreneurs and small business owners. You can find locations online."
Classes and Events: Does your local library offer classes on entrepreneurship, writing a business plan, or financial planning? You might be surprised. If they don't, consider using library space to convene an informal networking group like a business support network.
Carroll notes that the Brooklyn Public Library is unique in the resources it offers its entrepreneurial patrons. The Power Up! program (which has been around for a decade) offers a top cash prize of $15,000 to the individual or team with the strongest business plan. Over 2,600 applicants have been through the program, getting free courses on marketing planning, business planning and more as part of the competition.
But if you don't live in Brooklyn, don't despair. Carroll says: "As for other programs you would have to contact the individual local public libraries to see what they offer. You can go online. For example, The Free Library of Philadelphia, offers a panel discussion where a business attorney, a loan officer and an insurance expert answers questions."