Five Steps to Intentional Business Initiatives

By Guest Blogger Kristin Linscott, Development & Community Partnerships, Plano Public Library

Engaging successfully with entrepreneurs and small businesses doesn’t happen by chance. Your library can take active steps to reach this audience by promoting relevant resources and developing partnerships, boosting your library’s visibility and reputation in the process.

Generally, entrepreneurs are not looking to libraries as their first source of business resources. So we must be intentional about seeing what we offer from a different perspective and connecting the dots for the business audience. The costs involved in starting a business can be significant; free resources from the library can serve as an effective on-ramp, especially for those who don’t have access to business funding up front.

Libraries and communities have a lot to gain from strong business support initiatives. Consider these five steps to start building intentional business initiatives.

STEP 1: Re-envision Your Image

We know library resources and learning opportunities go far beyond books, but we can’t assume everyone knows this. There can be a disconnect for non-readers, adults in general, and those who are unfamiliar with the modern public library. It’s our job to reacquaint them.

Highlight the value of your library by promoting the many benefits for community members:  building skills, nurturing community connections, and supporting innovation, among others.

STEP 2: Assess the Environment (Both Inside and Outside the Library)

Assess the environment within your library

What capacity does the library have to help? Think about the resources your library can offer to entrepreneurs and small business owners. This could include, but is not limited to: ​

  • Collaborative spaces: A place for natural conversations and networking can be essential to start-ups.
  • Technology tools and training: Internet access, public computers, 3D design/printing tools, training on Microsoft Office Suite or Adobe Creative Suite, online learning, and research databases are just a few examples.
  • Programs: Meeting business needs could include programs such as building a website or a business page on LinkedIn, marketing strategies and tools, technology for business operations and online sales, or exploring social media management tools.
  • Materials: Is your collection of business-related materials on leadership, marketing, and sales up to date?
  • Staff: Support business-centric programming by providing reference services, guiding access to equipment and tools, or locating research and data resources for patrons.

Assess the environment outside the library, both in the community and your target audience

Do the research and consider community demographics and trends. What are areas of need? What are areas of strength? What does your small business landscape look like? Get valuable data from your Workforce Board.

Take an interest in the perspectives of your intended audience, including entrepreneur support organizations as well as local small businesses.

Get in touch with your local chambers of commerce or neighborhood business associations. Find out which resource partners of the US Small Business Administration operate locally to you. Financial resources are also important to small businesses, so learn about community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and discover excellent resources offered by the Federal Reserve Banks and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Ask small business owners directly what they know about library resources, where they go to build skills, and who else they know supports entrepreneurship and small business development in your community. Ask where they go for industry information, news, and assistance. These questions will help you better understand their needs and identify potential partner organizations.

STEP 3: Build a Team

Supporting entrepreneurship and small business development is not something to do alone. Building partnerships is key to effective business initiatives and lends important expertise and resources to serve the business audience. ​

Partners can provide services or programs at the library or distribute library information at their meetings and in newsletters. Library staff can present at business gatherings as appropriate. Try involving a mix of local and national organizations, such as those mentioned above.

Connect with other libraries with business-serving initiatives, both locally and across the nation. Access resources from national and state library groups, such as the Libraries Build Business Playbook and Communications Toolkit (linked in the resources at the end of this post), as well as the community of active business-supporting libraries (meets monthly via Zoom). 

Library staff are obviously an essential part of your team. Utilize staff interests and experiences around business for programming ideas and resource sharing. Staff can engage by presenting programs, assessing needs and resources to serve businesses, and assisting entrepreneurs directly through your librarian appointment service.

STEP 4: Promote Collaboratively

Pay attention to the language you use in promoting library services and programs. Spell out how the resource will benefit the audience rather than assuming everyone knows what a database is or how using specific tools can help them build their business. Describe programs using business language. For example: “Gather market research, conduct competitive analysis and identify business-to-business sales prospects using Reference Solutions.”

Try non-traditional efforts. Attend in-person and online events and make announcements at community meetings. Assess your promotional plans to include social media channels businesses follow to broaden your reach—LinkedIn, Facebook—you may know of other opportunities in your community.

Ask partner organizations to promote your services and programs. Announcing library resources in their newsletters, online calendars, info boards, and meetings can alert their members or clients about free resources at the library.

STEP 5: Invest in the Future

Approach this work with a growth and sustainability mindset. Start small and continually reassess both community needs and library capabilities so you can build an intentional, dynamic, responsive initiative to serve entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Add new resources and services as you learn more about local entrepreneurs. As your initiative and public response grow, consider the benefit of offering training for staff or making facility and equipment upgrades.

Building business initiatives is a great way to reach new generations—several generations of library users. In our experience, the entrepreneurial audience covers a range of ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, experiences, resources, and ideas. Supporting small business initiatives is an investment in your community for the long term.


Intentionally serving the business community makes a positive impact in many ways. Potential rewards include:

  • New patrons – Because many people interested in starting a business are unaware of library resources to support these efforts, the library’s promotion of resources and programs will bring in new patrons. ​
  • Engaged staff – Many staff will be energized by this professional development opportunity and with meaningful, adult-focused programming
  • Productive partnerships – Building relationships with organizations with aligned goals will improve outcomes and the community will benefit from greater awareness of the resources and organizations that can help them succeed.
  • Happy stakeholders – Entities that fund the library will appreciate your responsiveness to community interests and your support for local economic growth.
  • Enhanced visibility – Working with partners can improve your visibility in the business community, enhance your reputation with adults in your community, and open doors to future opportunities.

What do you want to be known for? Economic impact? Serving as a skill-building and technology hub? Actively engaging adults in lifelong learning? Preparing people for opportunities that lead to a thriving community? Set your sights on becoming an integral part of the business community and take intentional steps to build a vibrant reputation by reaching out.

It’s Your Move!

How will your library begin to build intentional business initiatives?​

  • Envision the image you want to shape for your library in the business community
  • Assess your environment to identify your community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, your library resources, and partnership opportunities ​
  • Build your team: Identify staff members and potential external partners who have the passion to lead your efforts​
  • Think outside the box and integrate library promotions into your community in new ways​
  • Invest in your vision for the future by capitalizing on existing strengths, planning next steps, and being intentional in building something that will last

QR Code:  We have created an Action Plan for download to assess your starting point at your library. You can have an action plan for moving forward by marking down what you currently have in place, and also what you think are feasible next steps for your library, whether it is simply marketing the current resources to those who will find them helpful, reframing the way you refer to these resources, or possibly adding new databases, programs or partners. ​The toolkit also includes a list of potential partner organizations to consider for collaboration.

The resources provided herein were compiled by the Plano Public Library.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.