|In this issue:
• Library Business Classes
• SBRC Interview
• Research Spotlight
• Book Review
• New Book Spotlight
How has the Small Business Resource Center helped you in planning or growing your business?
Give us the scoop along with your contact information and we'll post your business story on our website, and it may make its way into one of our newsletters.
What a great and totally free way to spread the word about your business!
Email your story to the Business Librarian or mail it to:
Grand Rapids Public Library
111 Library Street NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
All submissions are subject to editing.
NEW BOOK SPOTLIGHT
It's a new year; time for new dreams and new goals with the Grand Rapids Public Library Small Business Resource Center! This quarter, we've got our class listings until the summertime, an overview of all the great information you can find through the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a book review of How to Ruin a Business Without Really Trying by MJ Gottlieb, and an interview with Grand Rapids tech entrepreneur Austin Dean!
How to Use the Library to Write a Business Plan
Wednesday, February 1, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Do you have a great idea for a business? Take the first step to starting your own: write a business plan! A more advanced class designed for those who already have a working knowledge of computers and the Internet, this course will highlight library resources to assist students in crafting a well written business plan. Both online and offline resources will be highlighted.
Using Facebook to Promote Your Business
Wednesday, February 8, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Wednesday, March 15, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
One of the first rules of marketing is go where your customers are. And where are your customers? Increasingly, they are found online! Join the Business Librarian for an informative session on how to use Facebook and other social media tools to engage customers and to start and grow your business.
Introduction to Finding Funders for Nonprofits
Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Designed for beginner fundraisers, this brief course shows how your organization can identify potential funders and prepare to seek grants. Using the Foundation Directory Online Platinum, a database of 70,000 foundations, students will compile a list of foundation prospects that match their organization's needs. We'll also briefly touch upon other grant sources, such as government and business, and learn about various guides to proposal writing.
Introduction to Proposal Writing for Nonprofits
Wednesday, February 15, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
You've found a possible foundation to fund your new project. That's excellent. Now the real work begins: writing a proposal that will put your program on the path to success by telling your story well to the people that matter most. To learn how to do just that, join the Business Librarian for a session on proposal writing. Learn the key components of a proposal that a nonprofit foundation is looking for, and how you can make your proposal as effective as possible.
Market Research Series
No matter your level, entrepreneurship is about risk. The most effective entrepreneurs understand how to reduce and understand their risk through information, specifically market research. But how does an entrepreneur actually do research in terms of their industry, customers, and competition? In this series you'll learn exactly that: the tools, tactics, and strategies to research your market faster, easier, and more more effectively for any entrepreneur at any level!
Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Session 1: Industry Information
Wednesday, May 10, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Session 2: Business-to-Customer Market Research
Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Session 3: Business-to-Business Market Research
SBRC Interview: Austin Dean of Collective Metrics
Steve: How did you start in your entrepreneurial endeavors?
Austin: I started my first business as an undergrad. It was a computer repair business. I knew nothing about computers, but I found a couple of computer science students who were interested in earning a couple dollars on the side.
We started going door-to-door, in dorms and apartments, asking if people were having computer issues with which they needed help. With no forms or anything, people would hand us their laptop. Then we'd go back to my apartment and try to fix these computers.
It started out as word of mouth business. Eventually, we were getting phone calls in the middle of the night because people's computers were crashing. It all ended up imploding because my CS students graduated. I lost my workforce overnight. In the end it combusted, but we did that for a year and a half and made a bit of money. That was my first foray.
S: Did you have an impetus for that?
A: I started that first businesses because I took a class in school, specifically an entrepreneurship class at GVSU. This was 2007; there was no entrepreneurship program like there is now.
S: What other projects were you involved in?
A: I also helped start Failure:Lab, a storytelling event where people focus on their most memorable brushes with failure, in grad school. They approached me with the idea and we just started going with it. We didn't seek out any business support at the time, but I was confident with my prior experiences I could make it happen.
I helped run that company for four years before I did a partner buyout, which was amicable. That’s still running, and they've expanded into a global company.
S: Tell me about the company you're working on now.
A: A few years down the line, I had worked in consulting, helping other startups get going. I decided I wanted to start a third company of my own: Collective Metrics, an online platform for assessing project and program performance.
I was doing a consulting project for GVSU, trying to map out GVSU's community engagement. Collective Metrics was born out of that project.
I had worked in economic development for awhile, and the hardest thing was always data. Our data wasn't as clean as it could be, and information was duplicated everywhere. It was a nightmare. I knew we needed to make data collection and retrieval a more streamlined process.
I got in touch with a developer, I had a friend in Columbus who could work with databases. We signed the paperwork and we got going, and now we’re here.
S: How many organizations are currently using it?
A: A couple hundred. They're mostly Midwest, concentrated in Michigan. We have a couple of partners in New York and a couple in Memphis. The rest are in Chicago and Michigan.
S: What were the big challenges you faced with Collective Metrics?
A: The biggest hurdle is that we're out in front of the issue. This blend of network plus business analysis tools, no one has done this before. That's what makes it special, but it's also what makes people uncomfortable with it.
In your head, a social network is supposed to do one thing, and your enterprise tools are supposed to do another thing, and Collective Metrics is a combination of those. So it requires a lot of education and time to onboard people. It’s a big learning curve.
If I can get a person for five minutes and show them down the rabbit hole, they’ll be hooked. But it's getting that first five minutes. That's the issue.
S: What are your target markets for this tool? To whom are you telling stories?
A: Ideally, it's good for top-down hierarchical structures, like the government. Nonprofits use this as a way to say "here's the data I've been collecting, it's clean, here's the impact that I'm showing, and if you want more information, here’s my page, go take a look."
I had to pivot towards economic development and entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) because that's where my network is and because that's where I saw the initial need. I can talk about an ESO's pain points pretty confidently. I can say "I understand where you're at because I've been working in economic development for six years." I think that resonates.
With this pivot, I think the biggest issue there is that I'm already invested into this hodge-podge system [not wholly focused on economic development]. It took me forever to figure that out, but there are sticky switching costs with that.
Privacy is also an issue. Again, coming back to the education piece, you control the privacy, but that seems to always be an issue. They feel like sensitive data's out there and they don't control it.
S: So really, you want an entrepreneur to utilize this service. What's your pitch to an entrepreneur?
A: Going to those ratings that they talked about. Ideally, Collective Metrics becomes the Yelp for the sector. You don't want to go to a bad pizza place. You wouldn't want to go in to talk to a consultant that has never helped anyone.
It's democratizing the quality aspect of the service that ESOs are giving. That riles some feathers, but it's very transparent for the end user. I fundamentally think that’s of interest. That’s why we're leaning towards it.
S: How do you see the expansion of this project going?
A: We're actually going down to present to the Kauffman Foundation Mayor's Conference on Entrepreneurship, where mayors from around the country come together to discuss entrepreneurship issues and economic development.
It shows that there's interest for developing solutions for tracking data in this way. We're focused on Grand Rapids because we need that first story before other places put our lessons to use. I'm curious to see how quickly that will move and what that will be like.
S: Did you get funding for this or have you bootstrapped it completely?
A: We've bootstrapped it, because we have the tech talent on the team that would make bootstrapping possible. When I consult with other companies, I always focus on that: build a team that would allow you to make the products or service happen. You don't want to rely on an external provider as much as possible.
S: What advice would you offer an entrepreneur?
A: This I've learned the hard way: they need to learn how to do tests. Test early and often. When you don't test, you overdevelop. It's an easy thing to talk about, but it's not an easy thing to learn how to do well. You have to think about ways to validate a price point, that a product will sell. You have to be a good salesperson too. That will save you so much time.
RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: BLS.gov by Lisa Boss
What is it?
Imagine having a fact finding force of 2,500 employees with a budget of 609 million, and it's all dedicated to providing you with critical economic information for your job or business—that's what the The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been doing since 1884!
Starting out as a part of the Department of Interior in 1884, by 1913 the BLS was added to the newly created Department of Labor as an official agency. From there it has gone on to provide over a century of trusted economic information for the government and the public.
What's in it?
Not just statistical abstracts! The BLS offers up a huge amount of information, accessible from a number of entry points. From the national to the hometown economy, they cover a wide range of subjects, data tools, (including calculators and the ability to create customized maps), economic releases, resources for teachers and students, and a variety of publications.
If we look at the homepage, the main entry points along the top include: Home, Subjects, Data Tools, Publications, Economic Releases, Students, and Beta. Taking a look at "Subjects," the drop down menu divides into about a dozen basic groups.
Each of these main subjects will subdivide into a half dozed to a dozen sections, which makes the search process fairly intuitive. For instance, everyone is interested in what the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is doing, and if one clicked on the major subject of "Inflation & Prices," the first item in that subject group is "Consumer Price Index." The best part of the BLS, is that there isn't a bunch of tables, you also get history, explanations, and how-to-use instructions. Great features include the Inflation Calculator, and "How to use the CPI for escalating contracts," which spells out how this works for businesses or employees, and has a handy mathematical formula to apply to the numbers.
Multiple entry routes for information are a nice plus. Sure, one can find the CPI and the PPI under "Inflation & Prices," but they are also accessible by other routes, such as the "Resources For" section.
Mousing over the top left category link, "Home," will show the subjects we looked at, and also adds the options of a tailored subject guide, depending on your situation.
The "Resources For" link provides information geared to a particular interest group: Business Leaders, Consumers, Developers, Economists, Investors, Jobseekers, Media, Public Policymakers, Students & Teachers, and Survey Respondents. Information will overlap, but it is going to be targeted to the jobseeker, or business leader, or consumer, among others. This personalization can be a good place to start, since it will group the information that will be the most useful to users.
They produce a number of publications, such as Economics Daily, Monthly Labor Review, Beyond the Numbers, Spotlight on Statistics, Reports, Career Outlook and (my favorite) – Commissioner's Corner. These publication reports and updates scattered throughout the site give you the feeling of taking the pulse of the nation's economy. They also have an oddly personal touch, as if the commissioner was an erudite uncle, letting one in on some inside information.
Searching in BLS.gov
One popular link is Industries at a Glance, which offers a snapshot of national data for over 100 industries, taken from BLS surveys and programs. One can search these industries alphabetically, or by NAICS (North American Industrial Code System), so if one wanted to find out about the national furniture industry, they could start with the subsector, "Furniture and Related Product Manufacturing: NAICS 337" (which contains three furniture industry groups of "Household and Institutional…," "Office" and "Other…"). You'd see a short description of the industry, followed by tables and charts on: Workforce Statistics, Employment and Unemployment, Employment by Occupation, Earnings and Hours, Work-related Injuries, Prices, Establishments, and Productivity. In short, a good bit of information delivered in a concise manner, that would be useful to an entrepreneur, investor, or jobseeker.
That is just one example though, in a site with enough depth and interest to warrant at least a weekly (daily for some entrepreneurs) review.
How easy is it to use?
Very easy! It’s a well organized, intuitive site, with multiple entry points for any subject, and they also offer FAQs, clear explanations of the subject matter, and an interactive format, where you can email or call them about specific data questions or comments. For a huge government site it’s remarkably easy to find what one is looking for. It's well worth spending a little time on it, to get acquainted with all the features. So, if you are an entrepreneur, or just curious about economic demographics, you may find it's compelling reading.
BOOK REVIEW by Angela Black
MJ Gottlieb's How to Ruin a Business Without Really Trying: What Every Entrepreneur Should Not Do When Running a Business
Thousands of great business books are on the market today with many more coming to a library or bookstore near you. Most of them are written by successful entrepreneurs who share their advice on how to start and manage a successful business. However, how many offer advice on what NOT to do?
Incorporating ideas from the next best-seller may seem easy, but what happens when you implement them and things don’t go according to the book? It’s not like you can call up the author and ask him how to fix it. That’s where this book comes in.
Unlike most "how to" business guides that tell you what to do for business success, this book explains what NOT to do. It's a roundup of the author's real-life examples along with the results of each wrong action and what the correct action should have been. MJ Gottlieb condenses more than 20 years of personal business screw-ups and the lessons he learned from them into 10 chapters of humorous anecdotes.
For ease of use, the book is divided into two major categories. The first section covers "My Most Infamous Screw-Ups" and gives readers "The Do-Nots and Never-Ever-Evers" of business. The second section covers "The Art of Screwing up the Deal" and "Doing Math With the Wrong Calculator" which explains the importance of money management.
In addition to valuable lessons this book is also fun to read. The situations are side-splitting funny and they relate seemingly common sense mistakes to the upcoming entrepreneur.
For example, Gottleib describes what happens when he hires his unemployed girlfriend to do marketing/PR. She does a great job and then they fight. She stops speaking to him and employees feel uncomfortable. The girlfriend makes up with him until they fight again. She refuses to do her work and his employees hate him for giving her preferential treatment. Ultimately, his girlfriend breaks up with him. Then it takes a while for things to return to normal around the office. What’s the lesson? Never hire friends as a favor.
Ink sketches inserted throughout the book demonstrate some situations and further drive home the points. By advising on what not to do Gottlieb offers a fresh perspective on business management for success. This business "lemon-aide" guide, as Gottlieb dubs it, shares 55 rules that came from his 20 plus years of experience. It demonstrates how he turned previous failures into current success, or in more practical terms, turned his lemons into lemon-aide.
Small Business Resource Center funding is provided by the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation – Titche Family Fund. Support your public library. Consider a gift today!
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