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#ULCchat Recap: Reaching and Engaging Underserved Entrepreneurs

Underserved Entrepreneurs

On Wednesday, November 18, ULC hosted our second-ever live Twitter chat. Aligned with Global Entrepreneurship Week 2020, this chat offered an opportunity for participants to come together during the COVID-19 crisis to raise awareness of the library’s critical role in supporting entrepreneurs and inclusive economic recovery. Over the course of an hour, ULC’s Twitter followers responded to a series of questions highlighting what targeted resources and supports they offer to help their community members start their own businesses.

Chat participants engaged in a lively discussion about how libraries can be critical drivers for local economic recovery and equity amid the coronavirus outbreak. Several ULC members led this conversation, including representatives from ULC’s Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs Cohort and Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses action team. Several allied organizations from across North America also joined the conversation, including the National Association of Counties, Cities United and Main Street America.

Check out highlights from the chat’s questions and responses below. To review the full conversation, use the #ULCchat hashtag on Twitter! Looking for more insights on serving entrepreneurs? Check out ULC’s resource Closing the Gap to Entrepreneurship: Tools for Libraries to discover more strategies and resources to help libraries level-up as entrepreneurial hubs, including COVID-19 responses.

1. What advice would you give to librarians who are just getting started with efforts to support underserved entrepreneurs?


Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (@PGCMLS) formed a new Workforce and Community Development Team to assist entrepreneurs with their journeys to owning a business using their existing skills and connect them to key resource partners like the Small Business Association, Maryland Small Business Development Center and the Maryland Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

Zachary Huber, Toledo Lucas County Public Library Grants, Business and Workforce Specialist Librarian (@zacharyhuber, @ToledoLibrary): The reference interview is critical. People can develop misconceptions about starting a business, which can negatively impact them down the road. If someone doesn't have the vocabulary down, it's important to understand their needs before they start.

Poudre River Public Library District (@PoudreLibraries) takes into consideration the preferred language of entrepreneurs and the needs that may arise from not having a developed understanding of sales tax, grants, permits and loans.

Main Street America (@NatlMainStreet) encourages libraries to get connected to their local Main Street organization, whose leaders are committed to supporting entrepreneurs and are always eager for partners.

2. COVID-19 has created many obstacles for outreach. How has your team pivoted to reach and engage local entrepreneurs during the pandemic?


Kansas City Public Library (@KCLibrary) finds that internal collaboration leads to novel ways to engage customer interests and pain points during this time through digital programming.

Morgan Perry, Mid-Continent Public Library Business Outreach Specialist (@MPerryBigHair, @MCPLMO): The Square One Small Business Services got safe and creative. We went old school by mailing handouts for those struggling with the digital divide and did drop locations for underserved entrepreneurs.

Poudre River Public Library District (@PoudreLibraries) strengthened connections with their local community, participating in a newly created think tank that shares issues and collaboratively share ideas for solutions. This team includes the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County Economic Development, Colorado State University, Small Business Development Center, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Authority and many others.

Meredith Snepp, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Business and Career Librarian (@librarian_mer, @TopekaLibrary): We shifted towards a digital first focus and made sure we knew what community/city organizations were doing. We then put that information in one place and kept it up to date. We made sure we were at the right tables for conversations and made sure the right folks were being listened to.

3. How can libraries foster community ambassadors and word-of-mouth promotion of their entrepreneurial support?


DC Public Library (@dcpl) suggests to identify internal ambassadors as an important first step. Find library staff who are curious about business, eager to learn the library's resources and connect them to the public.

EveryLibrary (@EveryLibrary): The core of good marketing is collecting stories of impact. Track your successes and not your shortfalls. It’s more than testimony. Folks don’t need your services but who want a thriving community want to hear too.

David Top, Toledo Lucas County Public Library Business and Workforce Department Manager (@davidjtop): For Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s business librarians, it’s all about connecting with business owners and creating relationships throughout the community. Then, provide excellent service and resources so they want to “shout from the rooftop” about our impact.

Kirstein Business Library & Innovation Center (@bplkirstein): We've found that connecting with your power users who are small business owners regularly helps. We give them opportunities to share their knowledge through presentations. Also, we'll give shoutouts on social media to our presenters/partners.

4. How have the needs of local entrepreneurs and businesses changed over the course of the pandemic?


Rochester Public Library (@RocCityLibrary): Many local entrepreneurs have had to pivot in some way. Restaurants switched to curbside pickup. A craft business that is social where people bring their own wine dropped off kits at people’s houses and then they met on Zoom to make the craft together.

Kansas City Public Library (@KCLibrary): In addition to people searching for funding and finding ways to pivot, there are many new entrepreneurs who are either putting an older idea into action or who have a new solution due to COVID-19.

Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (@PGCMLS): Many county businesses have closed or are suffering financially as a result of the pandemic. Entrepreneurs need to have a strong understanding of digital marketing, since it’s not feasible to rely on in-person sales now and creating an inviting online presence has never been more important.

DC Public Library (@dcpl): Businesses need to focus on connecting to the community virtually and maintaining loyalty in that space. It has been fun to work with partners like D.C.’s Department of Small and Local Business Development to help entrepreneurs learn new tools for creating online community with our resources.

5. What are common misconceptions about your library’s support for businesses/entrepreneurs? What are new customers often surprised to learn?


Morgan Perry, Mid-Continent Public Library Business Outreach Specialist (@MPerryBigHair): They are surprised by many things about us, but our network is the most surprising. Thanks to Open Belly Podcast and New American Economy for sharing data with us!

Linda Fayerweather, Toledo Lucas County Public Library Business Technology Specialist Librarian (@LindaFay419): We find that budding entrepreneurs are pleasantly surprised that we (as librarians) know enough about business to help them and then professionals are surprised that we have databases to help build sales and prospect lists and that they can "spy" on their competition.

Heather Lea Jackson, Prince George’s County Memorial Library System Area Manager (@hitthewall55): They are often surprised we offer more than books to help them! We do a really good job with reference questions and serving as navigators to help them access vital info and resources. We can be virtual tour guides for the robust resources available to them.

Kansas City Public Library (@KCLibrary): Most customers are surprised to discover how powerful the web-based business tools available in our digital catalog are especially since accessing them comes at no cost.

6. What is your library’s “elevator pitch” for its role in supporting entrepreneurs as drivers of inclusive economic recovery from COVID-19?


Meredith Snepp, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Business and Career Librarian (@librarian_mer): We are navigators and guides, helping folks through the uncertain currents of COVID-19 and recovery. We are in this with you and will make sure you’re connected, supported and have the right resources.

Kirstein Business Library & Innovation Center (@bplkirstein): We give you the resources for ideation to creation through operation for your small business.

David Top, Toledo Lucas County Public Library Business and Workforce Department Manager (@davidjtop): Part of Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s mission is to engage all of our communities and provide universal access to a broad range of information, so our pitch is that we’re here to assist at this difficult time and to provide critical resources.

Morgan Perry, Mid-Continent Public Library Business Outreach Specialist (@MPerryBigHair): It has to be all of us. Full stop. Representation matters and if you think that is too hard to accomplish, just let the librarians show you how.

7. What are helpful, free resources available online that any library can use to help support community entrepreneurs?


Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (@PGCMLS): PGCMLS offers several online resources to help support community entrepreneurs. From market research resources such as Morningstar and Reference USA to the availability of Legal Forms, we are here to help.

Zachary Huber, Toledo Lucas County Public Library Grants, Business and Workforce Specialist Librarian (@zacharyhuber): Our Toledo Lucas County Public Library team has been working with and recommending the Grow with Google tools. They offer free resources and training which help entrepreneurs embrace the digital landscape in a way that aligns with how customers are already using the internet.

Kansas City Public Library (@KCLibrary): The Census ACS results are a great place to learn about broader trends in small business. It's also likely that your digital catalog will have applicable resources to support marketing and customer expansion efforts.

DC Public Library (@dcpl): The resources offered by organizations like D.C.’s Small Business Development Center are fantastic — free consultations and workshops with experts. One of the payoffs of our joint programming is that we can point our customers to the resources they have available and they can be ambassadors for us.

8. How does your team translate business/library jargon into relatable and relevant messaging for the entrepreneurs you serve?


Rochester Public Library (@RocCityLibrary): You just need to meet people where they are and always start off by asking what research they have done and where they are in their business plan (if they have one). It’s important to break things into discrete blocks to not overwhelm people, e.g., when you have a draft of your business plan then come back and we will talk about identifying who you will sell your product or service to.

Betsey Suchanic, Urban Libraries Council Program Manager (@betseysuchanic): Concrete examples are essential - showing how easily you can use the tools to get your answers. Otherwise, it's so easy to get overwhelmed.

Linda Fayerweather, Toledo Lucas County Public Library Business Technology Specialist Librarian (@LindaFay419): We at Toledo Lucas County Public Library do our best to avoid any unnecessary jargon. If we're assisting someone with a subject or a term that's difficult to understand, we like to use resources like Gale eBooks that help provide simpler explanations.

Kansas City Public Library (@KCLibrary): We assume that any “first draft” for messaging will contain jargon that doesn't translate well. We rely on gathering feedback from partners and our KCPL Tech Access team to revise messaging to entrepreneurs.

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