We live in a world where multinationals grow rapidly, and it is hard for small local businesses to keep up. Small local businesses are part of our community, and it is our duty as citizens and organizations to encourage them as much as possible.
Bradley Collins mentions in his article that “starting a business is much more complicated than simply hanging a shingle, and libraries can help with a host of resources and programs.” Therefore, small businesses and entrepreneurs are an important community segment for libraries, no matter if they are small or big.
You’ll find in this post 11 examples of services that libraries in different countries provide to help local businesses and entrepreneurs.
1. Help or complete research from a librarian
Starting a new business, or growing your current one is all about research; knowing who to target, who are your competitors, etc. Information is valuable and is indeed one of the key success factors of a business. Librarians are perceived as being the most qualified people in terms of information research. It’s a valuable skill that libraries share with the business community of their city.
Either for free or as a paid service, small businesses can request the help or even a complete research from a librarian. The Toronto Public Library offers paid custom research (called Intellisearch) where businesses can leave their research to an expert. The public library of Montreal, BanQ, on the other hand, offers a free service where businesses can get help in their research from a librarian.
2. Rooms and venues rental
Small businesses and entrepreneurs don’t have the same resources as other larger businesses. For example, a lot of employees from small businesses work from a rented office, or even from home. They might not have access to a conference room when they have an important business meeting or to a venue to have a product launch event.
Numerous libraries have access to spaces that can be a big help for those companies in need. The Library Square Conference Centre, from the Vancouver Public Library, for example, provides meeting spaces suitable for events of any size that companies can easily rent when needed.
3. Conferences and workshops
There are a lot of great examples of libraries that have special events, conferences and workshops specifically created for small businesses. This is a great way to attract more users to the library, especially those who haven’t been to the library before.
Los Angeles Public Library, for example, has an entire section on their website called Money Matters, where they promote events like business counseling where you can get one-on-one meetings with a great businessman/woman from the region. They also have an event called “Talk to a banker” where you can ask questions and learn more about your possibilities.
Another great example is the Barrie Public Library that offers different workshops like “Starting your business”, “Business Plan Basics”, “Social Media Drop-in Clinic”, etc. Finally, The British Library offers a two-day workshop for Startups called Innovation for Growth.
Starting a business can be overwhelming, there are so many different aspects to consider, and it is easy to forget some of the important details. By developing guides, libraries help small businesses make sure that they are on the right track. It is easy to create and can have a huge impact on the success of the newly launched businesses.
A great example is from the Public Library of Ottawa where users can have access to guides on how to start a small business in Ontario, Canada. At the public library of Montreal, BanQ, people can also find guides about how to do a market analysis, how to create a business plan, how to find data, etc.
5. Access to different data banks
We hear about it everywhere now: data is the key to business success. Not all authoritative information can be found for free on Google and, usually, the local library has a dedicated page to an amazing list of research tools available for free for their users. At the library, the local businesses can have access to various data that contain useful information and relevant industry research results to better their business.
For example, The British Library Business & IP Centre National Network provides entrepreneurs and SMEs across the UK with free access to databases, market research, journals, directories and reports worth thousands of pounds. This is very valuable for small businesses.
6. Blogs and newsletters
Trends in the businesses world change fast. They come and go, and it’s often hard to keep up. One of the best ways to follow trends nowadays is by reading relevant blog posts and newsletters. Librarians are always up to date with new information, they can easily perceive what information is worthwhile and which is not. Content is the best ways to easily share this knowledge with the local business community.
Ottawa Public Library, for example, publishes a newsletter every other month about a specific topic in the business world. Past topics included “Market Research, “Business Networking”, “Intergenerational workplace”, etc. These newsletters include articles about new and old trends in the business world, to do lists when running a business, etc.
7. Video creation lab
Facebook and Google have been telling us for years now: the future of Social Media is all about video. Small businesses and entrepreneurs need to follow this trend. However, they don’t have the same resources as a bigger company and they can’t always have access to the material needed to create videos.
That’s where libraries are helpful. By offering video equipment, libraries help a lot of small businesses to follow this trend. Vancouver Public Library is ahead of the curve, they give access to their Inspiration Lab, where users can record and create videos that have professional quality. This can save businesses a lot of money because professional video production is often expensive.
8. Access to learning platforms
Most employees of small businesses wear many hats at their workplace; accountant, marketer, seller, website developer, etc. However, it is hard to have background experience in all the fields that will be needed of them, and they need to adapt quickly.
By allowing them access to learning platforms, for example, Lynda.com, libraries alleviate the cost that most small businesses can’t afford. Most libraries in North America give access to lynda.com to their users.
9. Access to online tools
There are so many online tools that can be beneficial for companies but that might be too expensive to consider. Most of the time, software is expensive, and it is only worth it if you use it every day.
This can include Photoshop or a Video editor tool, but it can also be simply the office suite or a software like Grammarly that can help with grammar mistakes. Other good examples could be an accounting software, a statistical software like SPSS or STATA, a qualitative research software like NVivo, the Adobe Suite or a survey tool like Qualtrics.
There are many more examples to be given here, but by offering access to various programs on their PCs, libraries definitively can share a lot of value with the business community.
10. Digital maker labs
Transforming an idea into a finished product can be a long path. You need to create a lot of prototypes and go through a lot of trial and error. It is hard work, it is costly, and it takes a lot of time. By having a Digital Maker, libraries help small businesses and entrepreneurs to smoothen this path.
John Garland mentions in his blog post on the current library tech trends that “from 3D printers, Computer controlled CNC routers, to hot presses for T-shirts and Laser cutter-engravers, Maker Labs are popping up in libraries all over the UK”. Since most small businesses most likely cannot afford this equipment on their own, it can be advantageous for libraries to supply this equipment to small businesses.
A more unique way that some libraries have found to help small businesses is by organizing a competition where people can present their business idea and get help with creating their business plan. This can be a very effective way to promote local businesses and to increase foot traffic at your library. In 2003, Brooklyn Public Library created an awesome competition called Power Up!.
This competition happens every year and it allows residents of Brooklyn, who have a business idea, to participate in a competition where the first price is $20,000. Since 2003, 7200 individuals participated in presenting over 930 business plans. More than $360,000 was given to the Brooklyn Business Community. Among those participants, in 2017, 27% were immigrants, 67% were women and 80% have never owned a business before.
This competition is great, because not only does it contribute to creating an event where business mentors and startup meets, but it is also an excellent example of how a library can partner with external organizations and companies to create a community space.
These are only a few examples of how libraries target small businesses and entrepreneurs. There are many other ideas that can be beneficial for them. As we have previously mentioned, the first step to gaining new users is to by targeting the message to the different community segments.
Just by promoting these services, the small businesses and the entrepreneurs will know what services are relevant to them. There are a lot of ways to promote these services, for example, you can do that by having a designated section on your website, or by having social media posts created specicfically with that segment in mind.
We’ll be back next week with another interesting article from the library world! Until then, you can get more interesting bits from libraries around the world by following us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for stopping by!