Four Ways to Reach Entrepreneurs in Your Community

Laura Metzler's WebJunction webinar provided concrete ideas to support small business development at your library.

Erin M. Schadt /

If you are looking for an impressive number of resources, templates and ideas on how to reach and serve entrepreneurs at your library, then look no further than the webinar Support Small Business Development at Your Library.

Laura Metzler, Small Business Information Librarian, Cecil County Public Library (CCPL) in Maryland, oriented her advice around four ways you can reach entrepreneurs in your community. No matter the size of your library or your community, Metzler showed concrete ideas big and small that you can initiate.

At CCPL, Metzler's part-time position is dedicated to reference and outreach to businesses and entrepreneurs. "The idea behind this position is that they are entrenched in the local business community: attending Chamber events, presenting at networking events, actively promoting the library's business services to the business community, building partnerships with other organizations focused on assisting entrepreneurs."

Knowing that it's not realistic for every library to have a dedicated position to these efforts, Metzler provided ways both small and large libraries can consider reaching businesses.

She highly recommends starting by reading the American Library Association OITP Report The People's Incubator (PDF), which gives examples of services and programs for entrepreneurs. And she made it clear that any librarian should feel that they can help their patrons with their business questions. "In my honest opinion, this is a librarian job," says Metzler. "If you know how to do research, you don't have to have specialized business knowledge. You learn it as you go. It's research; it's just like working at the reference desk, just all the questions are business related."

For great ideas and to see what your colleagues are doing in this area, make sure to download the chat where participants shared their work in this area.

"In my honest opinion, this is a librarian job. If you know how to do research, you don't have to have specialized business knowledge. You learn it as you go. It's research; it's just like working at the reference desk, just all the questions are business related."

- Laura Metzler, Small Business Information Librarian, Cecil County Public Library (MD)

4 Ways to Reach Entrepreneurs in Your Community

1. Create Materials Beneficial to Business Community

"A lot of people I see have an idea of a business they want to start, and that's all they have," says Metzler. "They don't know how to even take the first steps into making this big dream a reality. They also don't have the money to spend on a business advisor so they get really frustrated."

Because libraries are uniquely poised to help these people, Metzler says if you can do just one thing, you can create a brochure to simplify the process of creating a business. If you're thinking, "okay, great, but where do I even start to create that?" you are in luck! Metzler not only shared CCPL's Keys to Starting a Business Brochure, but she also shared the Publisher file, so that you can start with a template and customize it for your community.

This brochure not only can serve as a roadmap to starting a business and answer a lot of the questions patrons have with the process, it can also help library staff and patrons with comfortability in starting a conversation.

Metzler stresses that this is not a "one and done" brochure, however; it does need to be constantly updated, but it can serve as a great marketing piece at your library's branches, workforce center, Office of Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce, for example.

She gives more examples and suggestions for additional handouts as well. "We've really found that the key is segmenting to people's interests and marketing it that way."

Additional handouts can include:

List of local website developers

Guide to writing a business plan

Defining 5 C's of credit

Assistance with government contracting

List of local Chambers of Commerce

2. Promote Library Resources to Business Community

Metzler says, "Because it's not intuitive for business owners to come to the library for information, we have to promote our services."

She went suggested quite a few resources, describing them in detail, and then fielded questions from participants about these resources. Next, she suggested many places to promote the library's resources including:

Displays in the library. At CCPL, they have moved all small business books to the 658s and have found it really helpful. As opposed to, for example, shelving how to start a craft business books with craft books.

Chamber of Commerce. Attend networking events, be a speaker, host a business card exchange.

Rotary & Lions Club. Guest speaker.

Leadership Institutes. This is provided by Cecil County, and the library has hosted them as well.

Community College. Guest speaker.

Workforce Center. They have the brochures and this is an ongoing relationship for cross referrals.

Business License Office. Refers patrons to library.

Small Business Development Center. Metzler says they have counselors that act as mentors, but don't necessarily have the research resources; so it's a good collaboration.

Office of Economic Development. Refers patrons and co-hosts events with the library.

Public Schools. Guest speaker.

Local SCORE chapter. This is a service corps of retired entrepreneurs who act as mentors.

Social Media

3. Target Programming to Business Community

Metzler addressed how to decide on topics for programming and how to find speakers for the programs. She says offering programs is the second thing she would recommend (in addition to the brochure), if you can only do two things at your library.

She says that in their experience, specific topics work better than general topics. For example, a successful program could be "Email Marketing Tools for a Small Business Budget," whereas "How to Start a Business" is just too broad to attract an audience. Metzler advises to keep an eye out for common questions and ask "can I make a program out of this?"

Watch the webinar recording for great suggestions for how to find speakers.

4. Develop Strategic Alliances Within Business Community

Metzler talked about the different Cecil Business Resource Partners and how she has worked with them to cross promote events, plan joint workshops and more ideas. Finally, Metzler shared future initiatives and success stories from their community.

"Helping entrepreneurs also helps the library," says Metzler. "If you find it hard to make a compelling case to shift some of your library's time and focus to targeting entrepreneurs, you should really consider this: we have used these quotes and invited these business owners to speak on behalf of the library to elected officials during budget season. And when these patrons can stand up and say that the library helped them create a hair salon that now employs five people, that’s really powerful stuff."

Watch the full webinar recording here for free.

Related Resources and Links

WebJunction Experience: Webinars

Want to know more about WebJunction webinars and how to maximize your viewing experience? Then you'll want to read this article about just that!

"Helping entrepreneurs also helps the library. If you find it hard to make a compelling case to shift some of your library's time and focus to targeting entrepreneurs, you should really consider this: we have used these quotes and invited these business owners to speak on behalf of the library to elected officials during budget season. And when these patrons can stand up and say that the library helped them create a hair salon that now employs five people, that's really powerful stuff."

- Laura Metzler, Small Business Information Librarian, Cecil County Public Library (MD)

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