Columns Opinion — 27 February 2014
The Business Plan: Alexandria Library is a powerful resource for small businesses

By Bill Reagan
(File Photo) 

Agile small businesses have some operational advantages over large corporations, but one area where they have a competitive disadvantage is in-house research resources. Small business owners simply can’t afford to acquire or subscribe to proprietary databases or engage corporate researchers.

Corporate research departments help their organizations with decision support systems and competitive intelligence gathering.

They track what’s going on in their industry, evaluate target markets, assess consumer and demographic trends, and monitor legislative initiatives at the state and federal levels. This information gives large corporations a more complete picture of their business landscape.

Small businesses may lack access to in-house research analytics, but they do have several research options. The plethora of online resources has enhanced the ability of small business owners to get answers to an unbelievable array of questions.

But while there’s plenty of information, it’s not always easy to distill the most important points or even determine which information is correct. Who among us has not spent hours on searches that lead us in a variety of directions and not always to the answer that’s on target?

Many small business owners may not realize that they have access to abundant research capabilities — they simply need to reach for their library cards. The American Library Association often touts the library card as the “smartest card” in your wallet because of the free services available with a library account.

The Alexandria Library subscribes to many research portals specifically geared to the business community. These can be accessed online from the library’s website (www.alexandria.lib.va.us) or at your local branch.

Professionally trained librarians also provide critical one-on-one guidance to small businesses. Consulting with a librarian can improve the quality of your research and save time.

Not only can they help find information you’ve been unable to turn up through Google, librarians also can help you formulate a research strategy. They can help you explore available information and provide expertise on what type of information could be tailored to your particular industry, market or geographic setting.

Investing time in meeting with a librarian can pay off tenfold, whether it’s locating customers and assessing their buying patterns, evaluating potential locations for your business, analyzing your competition, or identifying market trends. The

Alexandria Library encourages you to contact the Beatley branch at 703-746-1702 to make appointments with librarians for one-on-one assistance and in-depth research help.

The Alexandria Library is undertaking a special outreach effort to acquaint residents and business owners with the broad array of services at its branches. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is working with the library to host a seminar focused on using research resources strategically, and our website will have the details soon.

February is Library Lovers Month, and it seems like a fitting time for us to recognize that our public libraries and librarians are truly untapped resources.
- The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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