How to Define Your Customers

In this podcast, Andrew asks Mimi Curlee from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library this pressing question: When it comes to customers, how should entrepreneurs define their customers, and how does this all relate to the business plan?

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

AB – It’s another beautiful day in Charlotte, and we’re glad to have you back for another episode of CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business resources directly to you, presented by I am your host Andrew, and as always, our goal is to connect you to the information you need to start and run a business.

Today, we’ll be continuing the third and final part of our conversation with Mimi Curlee from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library. So far, we’ve discussed how the Library can help you start a business plan as well as find out how much competition is the right amount of competition. If you haven’t yet, check out Parts 1 and 2 at

Welcome back, Mimi; thanks again for being here.

MC – Thanks, Andrew, I’m glad to be here.

AB – Yeah, we’re having a good conversation so far!

MC – I think so!

AB – Learning a lot.

When it comes to customers, how should entrepreneurs define their customers, and how does this all relate to their business plan? I know we talked about customers businesses might want to sell to in B2B, but is that really all there is?

MC – It depends on your product or your service. As we talked about last time, Reference USA is a great source for finding lists of businesses. If you’re selling or providing services to them, Reference USA is a great place to start. But if you are selling or providing services to people, then we have another source that is really great. It’s called SimplyMap; it’s on the Library’s website.

AB – That is a great, great resource.

MC – Our website is, and you can come into the Library building to use the website, or if you have a library card, which we know Andrew does, then you can do it at home in your jammies at two-o’clock in the morning, which I’m sure everybody’s wanting to do.

SimplyMap is a mapping software that uses statistics from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a lot of other agencies and resources to show geographic trends. They take those statistics and plot them on map. For instance, if you decided that your business was going to have products that you thought would appeal to an ethnic group or immigrants from a certain area of the world, you can go to SimplyMap, and you could look at census data that corresponded to that ethnic group and see where in Mecklenburg County a majority of those people lived. Now, it’s not going to give you name, address and phone number unfortunately.

AB – Yeah, that’s probably a good thing.

MC – Yeah, but it’s going to give you density areas. You might want to go to that geographic area, that zip code or census track and see if there’s a store that’s already there and talk to them about selling your product through their services.

AB – That’s great. So SimplyMap is really the start of the market research and location analysis part if you’re selling directly to customers.

MC – Right. Correct. And another example would be if you had some kind of service or product for people without cars. I mean, this database has the most interesting variables. That’s what they call them–all of these little characteristics. It’s just bizarre all the different things they have; it’s not just census.

They have a group, a variable, that’s for people without cars. Maybe if you were a taxi service or Uber, or if you had some kind of interesting product that you thought would appeal to them, again you could find out where these people–where the density of these people–live so that you can use your advertising dollars wisely, or you may want to participate in some kind of an event that was going on near there so you can advertise your service or product.

AB – You didn’t mention something similar that’s actually local–the Quality of Life Explorer that also packages similar data. Do you have any experience with that resource?

MC – I’ve heard about that, yes. It’s a marvelous product. And we have that linked on our website also. That looks at neighborhoods, and it has lots of different information. I’m not sure they call them variables, but you can pick different pieces of information about the characteristics of people and pull that together.

As I said in one of the previous sessions, all of the different bits and pieces from these resources are great to look at because…I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust easily. I love computers, I love databases, I love what everybody tells me, but at some point you have to stop and compare all of this information, so having the same information or similar information from two different sources really gives you a fuller picture of what’s going on in the area.

The beauty of both of these products is you can print this information out, or you can save it. What I like is some people learn visually and so having a map to show them gives them a much better idea of what it is you’re trying to explain to them. Whereas you have another person who likes the numbers and the chart and the spreadsheet—and they don’t care about the map and the pretty colors and all—so with these products, you can give them both.

AB – That’s great, so it’s actually taking different things from different sources and putting it together in a way that’s meaningful to your business.

MC – Right, and if you’re going to be taking your business plan to an investor or your great aunt, or whoever, the more ways you can explain your goal, your mission, what it is that you’re trying to do, and all that information that you have gotten together to support that, the more that person is going to go, Oh,  yeah. Okay, I can get behind this.

AB – The more the merrier, and full disclosure to the listeners: the Quality of Life Explorer is my project and is a partnership between the City, the county, and the Urban Institute at UNC-Charlotte.

MC – And I think it’s a great product. That’s why we encourage people to use it as well as other products that we have.

AB – So onto something a little less exciting: licensing and permitting.

MC – Did everybody else groan at that?

AB – I imagine so. People who want to start a business in Mecklenburg County–I imagine they have to do something with some type of a permitting process. Do you have resources that can help folks kind of see what that looks like or go through the process?

MC – You know, for years we had people come into the Library, and this was not even something they asked us about. They didn’t mention it. They didn’t bring it up, and we wound up having a person who was a counselor and had started his own business, and he put together a cheat-sheet of all the different local, state, federal agencies that you have to deal with in order to start a business, and this is just about any business that you could dream up.

I was so thrilled when he had that that I have continued to update it over the years. It gives you information on the North Carolina business link. So you can verify state licensing and sub-licensing requirements, local zoning information, if you’re going to be selling food products, if you’re going to be selling alcohol. All of those different bits and pieces, you have to go through these agencies.

At some point you have to decide on your legal formation: are you going to be a sole-proprietor, a partnership, a corporation, an LLC? You have to figure out who you have to talk to in those situations, and the cheat-sheet that I maintain is also on

AB – That’s great!

MC – Anybody can get to that. Once you’ve decided on the legal formation of your corporation, or your partnership, or your sole proprietorship, then you have to go through agencies to register your entity, and then of course you have to deal with the IRS and the North Carolina Department of Revenue, and you need a sales tax number. And you have to file unemployment insurance and all those other fun things that people just don’t naturally dream about when they’re thinking about making pastries or whatever it is they want to do for a living. We have put this list on the website so that everybody can access that. It has telephone numbers, it has links. Some of these things you can do yourself; you can just print these out and follow the directions online and do it yourself. Other things you may want to consult a lawyer.

AB – Yeah. Earlier you mentioned how you wish you could just hand people a present wrapped in a bow with everything they need. This just seems like this is the closest you get to just handing something to a business starter, wrapped up nice and neat that they can take and do with as they need.

MC – It’s very nice, and it’s so funny; sometimes when I do hand people this cheat sheet, they’ll look at it with this blank gaze, and they don’t know what to do with it. They kind of stand there and stare at it. Then it dawns on them: Oh, yeah, I probably do need this. And other people are like, This is great! Well, I’ve done this and this, but oh my gosh, I never knew I had to do that. It’s very convenient and very nice to have that available for people.

AB – That’s awesome. So the Library, a one-stop-shop.

MC – Yes, we have a lot of good things, either in the building…come in; talk to us. We can point you to a lot of things, and what we’ve talked about in these three sessions are the tip of the iceberg. I mean, these are just an overview of some of the great products we have. And we encourage people to come in, bring their questions. We get all kinds of questions, and you know, if you’re just thinking about starting a business, or if you already deep into the intricacies of all of your business stuff, we may be able to make a few things simpler, a little easier for you, and we’re always eager to try to help.

AB – That’s awesome. Is there anything else that you would like to add before we close it up?

MC – I hope everyone will visit and see all the wonderful resources that our partners provide. They can also come to and see the online resources and just walk into one of the 20 branches around Mecklenburg County and talk with the staff. Those people are eager to help, and if they don’t know the answer to your question, they will try to find somebody who does have the information or pass you to somebody else in our organization who may be able to help you.

AB – That’s fantastic! Mimi, thank you again for coming on the show.

MC – Thank you so much, Andrew. I appreciate it.

AB – It’s been an absolute pleasure hearing from you. This has been the third and final segment of our conversation with Mimi Curlee from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library. Listeners, if you want to learn more about starting and funding your own business, visit or follow us on Twitter @CBRbiz. Stay tuned for the next podcast.


Thanks again for tuning in to CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business resources directly to you, presented by Again, I am your host, Andrew, and until next time, we mean business.

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