Every year, more than 500,000 entrepreneurs start new businesses in the United States. But how and where, with little money beyond what they can borrow on credit cards, from family and friends, do they do the market research, licensing, and all the rest of what it takes to succeed? One answer is at their library.
As they work toward realizing their dreams, many aspiring small business owners turn to public libraries for help. In fact, an early 2006 study conducted by the American Library Association found that 61 percent of people living in the United States said libraries are important in helping to start a small business.
How do they make a difference? Public libraries provide many crucial tools and resources to help small businesses launch and thrive in today's competitive marketplace - from training on how to apply for business licenses, seminars on securing bank financing and workshops on creating successful marketing campaigns. It's all available at your local library branch, often for free.
The Brooklyn Public Library hosts a discussion series "You Can Do It, Too," where business owners share stories about how they opened their small business using the free resources available at the library.
In addition, Brooklyn Public Library's Business Library conducts their annual "PowerUP!: Your Business Starts Here" competition, which gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn about financing, marketing, business trends and writing a business plan. The competition is open to entrepreneurs and new Brooklyn-based businesses that require start-up capital.
The 2002-2003 winners of "Power Up", Farid Ali and George Constantinou, owners of Bogota Cafe Bistro, were able to combine the small business knowledge they gained at the Brooklyn Business Library with the $20,000 prize money they won and opened in 2005. The establishment has been received favorably in the community and is doing well.
The Johnson County (Kansas) Library offers a series of small business seminars, "The Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Small Business," which examines the basics of starting and running a business from obtaining funding through sales and marketing to managing finances.
The library also provides an opportunity for local business owners to promote their company by hosting a booth at the annual Hispanic Festival, where they can display their products or services.
Denise Upah Mills availed herself of the resources available at the library to start Invisiband. Invisiband's mission was to increase penetration of broadband internet service to residents of rural cities. After Invisiband was sold, Ms. Upah Mills held a community celebration in the parking lot of the Central Library. Since then, she has started Six Degrees Solutions, which helps other business owners develop stronger business relationships and create strategic alliances through networking with other owners in their area. She works tirelessly to help local entrepreneurs learn about the small business resources available at the library by giving demonstrations to high school students showcasing the services they can access in the future to start a business.
The Library System of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania offers a free "economic gardening" initiative, "Biz Info to Grow: BIG", for small businesses and entrepreneurs. BIG's mission is to help grow the Lancaster County economy by offering free access to knowledge resources that will support new and expanding business enterprises and increase employment opportunities.
The Lancaster County Planning Commission, a partner of the Library System, provides small businesses with a range of services, from an inventory of available commercial and industrial building sites to assistance with site selection.
The new Duke Street Business Center houses a full business reference library with free print and electronic resources and a full time professional business reference librarian. This facility provides prospective small business owners with instructional how-to business books and videos that are ready for loan, access to online business publication and accessibility to many of Lancaster's major business organizations.
Sam and Jo Farner were able to start their concierge company, Extra Time For You, which can be hired to complete the everyday errands people need to complete - such as food shopping and picking up dry cleaning - but may not have the time to do so with hectic schedules. After being referred to the Lancaster Library two years ago, the Farners utilized the small business services provided by BIG. Library staff spent time with Sam and Jo, teaching them how to use available databases to build up their corporate client list. Since starting and growing their business, Sam and Jo have continued to attend many of the evening seminars offered, looking for further ways to enhance the profitability of their company.
The San Diego Public Library presents "Business Resources & Technology Link," an outreach program designed to assist small businesses. Small business services consist of workshops and seminars, focusing on topics such as Patent, Trademark & Copyrights, Successful Internet Marketing and Marketing Tools, and Techniques for Expanding your Small Business, including steps to understand e-commerce.
With help from staff at San Diego's Central Library, businesswoman Joy Lynn de la Ren successfully started a mail order company, "Caring Products Inc.," which sells "Camp Stamp," a stamp that remains permanent on fabric but stays wet on the stamp pad for use in identifying children's clothing. At the library, de la Ren was able to research various ink formulations to find the right mix. Once her product was developed, Central Library staff assisted her in obtaining a patent for the ink.
Other small business services at libraries in the United States include:
The Chicago Public Library hosts a workshop called "Creating An Effective Business Plan," which focuses on the seven key elements of creating a business plan including everything from development and production to sales and marketing.
The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore offers an Internet-based small business guide that provides hopeful small business owners with information on successfully writing a business plan, understanding market demographics and relevant industry trends.
The Queens Public Library offers small business and entrepreneurship information through its multi-lingual "Beginning Business Basics" class, which helps new businesses find the right location and discuss laws that regulate their industry.
SCORE (Service Corps. of Retired Executives) provides free one-on-one counseling sessions at many public library locations including the locations listed above. Topics include business plan writing, tax preparation and financial planning. These sessions are sponsored by the Small Business Administration.
"Many people around the country have realized their dream of starting their own business by using the wealth of information at their local libraries," said ALA President Michael Gorman. "Educational resources at local libraries also help to boost the profitability of existing businesses."
America's libraries are paving the way for small business owners to be the engines that drive our economy. Since small businesses represent a large and growing majority of all U.S. employers, this means an even larger majority of the workforce. The seeds of innovation are planted at libraries so that ideas and products blossom under the watchful eyes of small business owners. It's worth your while.
Information courtesy of the American Library Association.