How libraries can help women-owned businesses succeed

How libraries can help women-owned businesses succeed

There are 1.1 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and women cite a top motivator for starting their own business as making a difference in the world. Now that is inspiring!

Running your own business is empowering. It offers flexibility, financial independence, and a chance to build a career of passion. Of course, following that call to freedom can come with its own challenges like finding a workspace, funding your business, reaching clients, and knowing what to do next.

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The good news is there’s a not-so-secret resource that allows you to pursue your entrepreneurial dream without a team of experts, expensive training, or investment in state-of-the-art equipment. It’s your local library.

Many libraries have created resources specifically designed for entrepreneurs and small businesses. You can build, manage, and develop your business with next to nothing when you take advantage of free or low-cost workspace, computers and software, internet, equipment, and even business training.

It’s like having your own amazingly helpful business partner.

Work from the library

One of the first things you need for your business is a workspace. For many entrepreneurs, that place is home. But home can come with distractions, whether it’s noise from kids, partners, or pets, or the temptation to wash dishes or do the laundry.

For a productive spot to work, head to the library and find yourself welcomed with a peaceful, quiet calm. That could be your office! Some people also find having a workspace outside of the house helps signal to their brain that it’s time to work.

In addition to the beauty of the silence, most public libraries offer free computer access, Wi-Fi, electric outlets, and countless tables, desks, and workstations. Some even offer designated business centers designed as coworking spaces, rent-free! You’ll also be steps away from countless books on business, best practices, finance, and books specific to your industry.

Reserve a study room for business calls and video meetings, or rent a meeting room for in-person meetings with clients. Some locations, like Akron-Summit County Public Library, even offer auditoriums that can be rented for large presentations.

Access equipment to boost your business

According to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, small businesses make up 99.9 percent of all U.S. businesses. With the support of local libraries, entrepreneurs and those 30.2 million small businesses have access to the technology of bigger businesses without the investment.

So, before you purchase expensive equipment or software — or if yours goes on the fritz — save your money and check your library. Most offer printing, faxing, or scanning services for a small fee, and many boast computers loaded with software to support your creativity and productivity.

More and more libraries are even meeting the creative needs of businesses with high-tech labs and studios to support digital and physical creations.

Libraries, including Colorado’s Pikes Peak Library District and Arizona’s Downtown Chandler Library, provide state-of-the-art production studios with everything an innovative entrepreneur needs for creating and editing high-quality video, audio, and photography. You can even take your creativity on the road with audio/visual equipment and laptops available to check out.

If you’re looking to enhance your business with hands-on creations, see if your local library is one of many now offering the classes and equipment for sewing, woodworking, laser engraving, and screen printing.

Research industry trends and build lead lists

Big businesses invest in research that many entrepreneurs can’t afford. The library helps small businesses get that same insight with access to trade magazines, business journals, and databases. By researching industry trends, competitors, and target customers, you’ll have data to help strengthen the success of your sales and marketing efforts.

Creating business leads also gets easier and more affordable when you take advantage of what the library offers. Visit your library’s reference section for access to business directories and be sure to explore online offerings.

Many libraries subscribe to directories and databases, which can help you generate lead lists of businesses and consumers. Search businesses by type, size, and location, and dig into consumer demographics like age and geography.

Boost your knowledge and skills

Libraries have long been offering computer classes and many are now expanding with business-specific courses on entrepreneurship, accounting, and content marketing. These courses can be hosted at the library and are often available virtually with video streaming.

In addition to the courses at your local library, browse your library’s website for free access to online training sites. Many offer language learning apps to help you expand your business into other languages or expert-led courses on sites such as Universal Class and LinkedIn Learning.

You’ll find thousands of video courses in developing business/marketing plans, business taxes, entrepreneurship, selling on online marketplaces, public speaking, and on and on. Training is also available in a variety of computer software programs so you can learn to edit your own videos, fix up photos, or create beautiful data charts and tables.

When Sarah Finke, a writer from Akron, Ohio, decided to get back into writing after staying home with her kids, she felt a little out of the loop.

“I didn’t need another degree, per se, but felt as though I did need some training to make me current,” says Finke.

She found everything she was looking for free at her local library. After taking courses in Storytelling, Writing, Procreate, and Photoshop and joining children’s story groups and an adult writing group, the entrepreneurial mom completed her own children’s book written with her sister.

“I adore our libraries here. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them,” says Finke. “I’ve found friends, education, and fun through the programs they offer. After so many years as a stay-at-home mom, by frequenting my library over the years, I even found myself.”

Whether you are starting, managing, or growing your business, check out what your local library has to offer. The possibilities for how all those library resources can create success for your business are pretty exciting!