How Can the Library Help Me Start My Business?

Mimi Curlee from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library shares how businesses can use the library’s resources to help them start (and run!) a successful business.

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Andrew Bowen: (AB)        Mimi Curlee: (MC)

AB – Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening—whatever time of day you’re tuning in, we’re so glad you’re listening to today’s edition of CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business resources directly to you. Presented by I’m your host, Andrew Bowen, and as always, our goal is to connect you to the information you need to start and run a successful business.

You might think you know every trick in the book when it comes to starting your own business, but when it comes to finding information for market research or for creating a business plan, do you actually know where to begin? Today, we’d like to welcome Mimi Curlee from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library to our show, and Mimi really does know all the tricks in the book for starting a business.

Mimi, thank you for being here today. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

MC – I’m a Charlotte native. I’ve worked for the Library for 25 years, and I’ve heard a lot of interesting questions over the years. It’s been fun!

AB – That’s awesome. I’m also a Charlotte native. What high school?

MC – Garinger!

AB – Ok. So I won’t hold it against you, I went to Myers Park.

You have a lot of books at your disposal for all kinds of things in the Library, but it’s not just books—there’s a multimedia lab. What brings an entrepreneur to the Library…what screams I need to go to the Library to see what I can do to start a business?

MC – Well, a lot of times, people, frankly, are floundering. They’ve talked to their friends, talked to their neighbors, talked to their cousin, and they get all these opinions, but they get to a point where they need facts in order to make decisions. And either they just make a decision when they need to come into the Library because they’ve been there before, or somebody else refers them—maybe SCORE or one of our other partners. It’s a really good place for them to sit down, take a deep breath, figure out exactly what they’re trying to do and get some facts to support that decision.

AB – I’m glad you mentioned SCORE because we actually have a series in this podcast with SCORE, as well as with CPCC’s Small Business Center. It sounds like you guys have a pretty good working relationship, and you refer folks back and forth and work on different parts of the process a little bit.

MC – Right, because each of us meets people at different life stages in their business career.

Maybe it’s somebody that’s just thinking of tossing an idea around. Or maybe somebody that’s sort of gotten started—they’ve got their toes in the water. Or maybe it’s someone who’s been in business for a little while but is thinking about making changes.

Each one of those people can gather information from all of the different partners. Also, one of the big things that we do is refer people. If I know somebody at the land-use department who can help one of my patrons, I’ll get on a phone. If I know somebody at county government that I think can give them the piece of information that will really help them, I get them on the phone.

AB – I actually remember being on the other side of the phone when I worked at the Chamber, and you sent people over to me a lot.

MC – And the Chamber sends people to us.

AB – Absolutely. So, Mimi, when entrepreneurs come into the Library, what are the kinds of things they ask you?

MC – It depends on where they are in their business cycle. We have people that don’t know exactly what type of business they want, and a lot of times we’ll ask them to do some research—maybe read a book about a particular type of business. We have a series that’s put out by Entrepreneur magazine. It’s a series called “start your own” whatever. Start your own blogging business, or start your own consulting business, or start your own cleaning service…

AB – …Start your own podcast business…

MC – And these are all really good because they give you operational information, practical information about what it takes to run that type of business. It’s amazing how many people have an idea, but they don’t really know after you get past the start.

Other people walk in, and they already have that passion for some kind of a business, but they either never started a business, don’t know the tax stuff, the permits, or the licensing. They don’t know how to hire anybody; they don’t know management. So we direct them sometimes to a book, sometimes an article. We have databases also on the Library’s website at Click on Resources, and you’ll get this huge list of databases. One of them is the ABIN forum, which has articles and business trade publications, and they can do keyword searches. They can type in the kind of business searches they are interested in and see what articles come up; this is nationally and globally, so they get a really good feel for what’s out there.

AB – That’s great.

MC – Another thing that we will direct them to is the Encyclopedia of Associations, because most professions have some kind of organization behind them, and those are the people that care. They pay dues, they go to conventions, they have libraries and sometimes websites. The new person entering the field can contact these organizations and see if there’s a local chapter or if they can get a mentor or shadow somebody. That’s a really good way for them to get an idea of what it takes to run that kind of business. We also suggest that they check the Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte Business Journal to better understand the local business climate. I don’t know about everybody, but a lot of people are very focused. They want to start this type of business, and that’s all they’re paying attention to, and nothing else matters. But when you start a business, it all matters.

Paying attention to that larger business climate is very important. A lot of times, I would suggest that they also look into franchises because, if they’ve never had a business before, this is a way to get into something that’s started and proven; they get a lot of help. So we can help them find a lot of resources to help them look into the franchise businesses. Oh, and if they’re going to go on our website they need a library card. Do you have one?

AB – I actually do have a library card, and I remember signing it for the first time in the Morrison Library when I couldn’t even reach over the desk. So yes, I still have my library card, though I think it’s a different physical card now.

MC – That’s okay.

AB – So the Library is really a one-stop shop of resources to really contextualize the formulation of a business idea.

MC – Right, and we have to also tell people that a small business may be a one person operation, or it could be a lot of people, but however you do it, you need a team. Usually a lawyer, an accountant, somebody that’s good with IT. You need people around you that will help you, and again, SCORE is good with helping with that. We also have directories of lawyers.

We also have another database called ProQuest Entrepreneurship which is also on the Library’s website at Entrepreneurs can get into that and read chapters of books that talk about business basics, bookkeeping, cash flow management, all those little picky details that really don’t have anything to do with that passion. Even if you’re going to have a team, you still need to have some knowledge of all of this stuff so that you can understand what your team is telling you.

The Library also has classes. We have free classes so people can learn how to use Word, Excel, Publisher. We have classes online that you can take at your own pace. and UniversalClass are good for that. At the Library, we have the Idea Box. It’s a maker space, so if you’re an inventor, and you want to try out some kind of gadget and see if it will actually work, make it in plastic and print it out.

AB – A small prototyping lab!

MC – Sure! It has all kinds of printers and cutters, all kinds of things that you can try out.

AB – Great, Mimi, is there anything else you’d like to add?

MC – One of the things I emphasize to people that come in is I would love, I would truly love, to be able to hand what you need to you on a platter with a nice pink bow, but usually I can’t. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed with all the different resources, but taking all the different bits and pieces that they get from all the different resources and putting them together in their business plan really makes it their own; they can figure out what matters to them and what makes a difference. Then they can sit down and honestly look at this information and compare it to those opinions that I was talking about before from their families and friends and their great Aunt Ethel to see if this business is really right for them. Or maybe if they need to move along and do something else. That’s worth the research, too.

AB – That’s great, and research always starts at the Library.

MC – Excellent; I like that!

AB – Alright, well that’s all the time we have for today. Mimi, thank you again so much for speaking with us. I know this has been as beneficial for our listeners as it has been for me. And listeners, if you want to learn more about starting your own business and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, be sure to visit or follow us on twitter @CBRbiz. Stay tuned for part 2 of our conversation with Mimi where we will be diving deeper into how the Library can help you start a business. Thanks for tuning into CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business resources directly to you, presented by

I am Andrew, your host, and until next time, we mean business.

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