Without his local library, entrepreneur Nate Masterson says, “I don’t know where I would be.” He attributes the success of his career as a marketer and e-commerce entrepreneur to the resources the library offers.
When Masterson first started selling products online in the early 2000s, he spent hours at the New York Public Library on 235th Street, taking advantage of what was then a cutting-edge computer connection. It was “one of the only places (where) I was able to work with a respectable internet connection as I started my eBay store,” he says.
Now he has a thriving freelance consulting career and is the marketing manager for MapleHolistics.com, an online store for organic and natural beauty products. Turning to his library to launch his business, he says, “I was ahead of my time.”
Turns out there are many small business owners who are taking advantage of their libraries to grow their businesses. Some libraries even offer high-tech maker spaces where they can prototype products using 3D printers.
Here are seven benefits and resources that libraries can offer for growing your business:
1. Affordable meeting rooms
Paige NeJame, owner of CertaPro Painters of the South Shore/Boston, says she uses her library in part to take advantage of low-cost meeting space. She holds offsite meetings with her staff for strategic planning. “I used to use hotel conference rooms, but at $500 a day, it was quite expensive,” she explains. “I now hold them at my town library for about $75 for the whole day.”
She finds her library meeting rooms are nicer than the ones she rented in hotels, “and have all the same amenities – configurable conference tables, stadium seating, and computer projectors and screens.” She orders takeout for lunch, which is also cheaper than hotel food. “We haven’t gone the hotel route since,” she says.
2. Market research
When Matthew Baron and Todd Lieberman decided to launch their e-commerce business, Gourmet Nuts and Dried Fruit, Baron turned to his local library for help. “I know about websites and e-commerce and SEO. I have no idea about fruits and nuts,” he explains.
So he went to the Free Library of Philadelphia where librarians helped him research the health benefits and history of items like papaya, almonds, and walnuts. He used that research to help him write articles for his website, and ultimately drive traffic and sales. “The staff of the library loves the challenge when I lay out for them what I am there to learn,” he says.
3. Quiet conversation
Rather than trying to meet a client at a crowded coffee shop where someone might overhear the conversation, Todd Horton, CEO of employee recognition company KangoGift.com, often arranges meetings at his local library in Cambridge, Mass. It’s a great place to meet someone halfway, he says, and his library has plenty of places where it’s perfectly fine to hold a conversation.
“The design is conducive to talking,” he explains. “They have seating areas throughout the building and it is far more pleasant than a crowded cafe.”
4. Professional resources
Gustavo Mayen, Esq., is an attorney in private practice who saves money by regularly using the library to access research tools and publications that would be expensive if he had to purchase them himself. “I have had to figure out ways outside the box … to find ways of obtaining resources and do research without spending a lot of money,” he says. Mayen’s library is The Social Law Library in Boston, and he calls it “a gold mine for an entrepreneurial solo lawyer like myself.”
Some of the publications Mayen obtains through the library now offer electronic versions that he can access anywhere, saving him a trip. In other cases, he uses the library’s scanners to send himself copies of information he needs to review later. He even takes continuing legal education courses at the library. He says they are offered “at a very affordable cost, while still providing high caliber content with superb faculty.” His library charges a membership fee, but Mayen says it “pays for itself in the convenience, time, and money saved.”
5. Free community advertising
Looking for a venue to host one of her workshops, Lisa Lewis Ellis, founder and CEO of Kick Boxing Believers, looked at a variety of locations, including hotels, party rooms, and more. Finally, someone recommended she look into the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. However, the library wasn’t her first choice, primarily “because they don’t allow you to ‘sell’ on the property,” she says. But “after visiting the library, I concluded it was ideal for my needs.”
She learned the library partners with local businesses that offer services that can help the local community. It hosts classes and job fairs, and because Ellis helps individuals with resumes, interview skills, dressing for success, and other related skills, it felt like a perfect fit. The library even provided free advertising in the form of flyers, the library newsletter, and electronic monitors throughout the state-of-the-art facility. “How cool is that?,” she raves. “I didn’t even know that was available at the local library.”
Ellis’s workshop was a success, so much so that she’s going to host another one at the request of both the attendees and the library.
6. Recharge and focus
Scott W. Johnson loves running his online insurance agency, Whole vs. Term Life Insurance.com, from home. But there are times when he needs to get out of the house to get work done. “By the time afternoon hits, I become less productive and more distracted,” he says.
When that slump arrives, he may head to a coffee shop or to his library, where it is quieter. The only problem he runs into at the library is that it can be difficult to hold conversations on the phone. The library has outside seating where he feels comfortable using his phone, or he makes calls from his car where he can access the library’s Wi-Fi while parked outside, and turn his car into a virtual office. “On a few occasions, I have pulled up to one of [the libraries with accessible Wi-Fi] and started working in my car while on a conference call or a call with a client, and basically never got out,” he explains.
7. Free coworking space
Whether it’s a way to get out of the office, a place to get help with online research, or a place to meet clients, South Carolina CPA and realtor Robert Riordan says he “goes to the library every chance I get.” He takes advantage of the free help offered by librarians to use the internet or other research resources. Like Horton, he also finds the library to be a great place to meet with clients.
And it’s not just his local library Riordan finds useful. “If I am out of town, it is the first place I go to for help, and where I can get something done,” he says.
Riordan has discovered what other entrepreneurs have learned: A library can serve as a free coworking space, giving them a place to work – and so much more.