Getting down to business at your library

This article by Michelle Simon, the library's Business and Career Development Services Program Coordinator, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on June 14, 2015.

Starting a new business is hard work.

Deciding on a name, creating a corporation, getting the correct licenses, filling out tax paperwork for city, state, and federal governments, finding the right location…the list goes on and on.

I remember helping my husband through this process back in 1988 when we lived in Nogales, Arizona. No computers, Internet, or access to information with just the click of a button. I was armed with the Yellow Pages, a landline, my car, and the determination to succeed. I found out the hard way that the information I needed to start a business could not be found in one place.

The Yellow Pages had a section for government entities with telephone numbers to offices with cryptic names and receptionists who only took messages. After hours of frustration, I decided that driving to the Nogales City Hall would be my best bet because at least I could talk to someone face-to-face. My frustration really peaked after I waited in a long line only to be told that I had three other things I had to accomplish before they could help me. When I asked, “Who can help me?” I was handed manuals from the IRS and Arizona Department of Revenue to read and told that I would need to drive to Tucson to get more in-depth answers to my questions.

If you lived in Nogales in 1988, this will sound familiar. Driving to Tucson was a full day event with—quite possibly—an overnight stay. The trip required organizing and scheduling with every member of the family because everything had to be worked in. Appointments, shopping, and errands made for an exhausting day.

But we did it. I visited various government offices and stood in their lines and filled out their forms just to find out that I was often missing some piece of paperwork or information that was vital to any number of applications. I truly wanted to pull out my hair.

I look back on those days and ask myself why didn’t I just go to the library?

If you want to kickstart your business or nonprofit, here are my top five library resources:

1. Our staff
The great thing about the library is not only our expertise in finding information, but our ability to connect you to the best community resources as well. I didn’t think about the staff that would have gladly helped to answer my questions, point out the business resource guides and manuals on the shelves, or let me know that I could make copies of government forms they keep on hand using the the copiers right there in the library.

2. Workshops and drop-in sessions
The library partners with many business support organizations, chambers of commerce, and federal, state, and local government agencies to meet your business needs. We can give you the one-on-one help and tools you need to identify business ideas, implement strategies, understand technology, and learn the nuts and bolts of getting started.

If you’re a nonprofit, a small business owner, or an entrepreneur, you can learn how to create effective direct mail campaigns or how to use social media.

3. ReferenceUSA and Business Insights: U.S.
If you haven’t heard about these databases yet, start taking notes. All you need is your library card, and we can help you find information about market trends, customer lists, trends, financial reports, or local demographics using free online databases like ReferenceUSA and Business Insights: U.S.

4. Business plan handbooks
If you don’t know where to begin with your business plan, you can find business plan templates for almost any business from airport shuttles to yoga studios.

5. Business journals and magazines
Why pay for a magazine subscription when you can read or download them for free at your library?
You might ask: “How’s the library going to help me? My situation is different.” A few years back I thought that the library was the place where I took my kids to check out books. I thought that they couldn’t help me and wouldn’t have what I needed. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re looking to start, manage, or grow a small business, the library should be your first step.

Another tip that I learned about starting a new business is that someone in the family still needs to work a regular job. In our family, that was me. I went back to school, earned a degree in technology, and after many years found myself working at the library teaching computer classes. I was so impressed with the opportunities and resources available through the library that I decided to go back to school and get my degree in library science. As a staff member at the Pima County Public Library today, I know how the library helps small business. In fact, that’s what my job is all about—connecting people with the business and career development services we offer here.

One library customer told me, “The library is my million dollar business consultant. Whatever I need for my business…they have it.” We want to make sure that other business owners feel the same way.
When Michelle Simon, the library’s Business and Career Development Services Program Coordinator, isn’t busy helping people get their business and job research going, she enjoys spending time supporting her son’s high school activities, including band.