In a previous podcast, we really went over the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library and all of the resources available, as well as what they can do to help the business owner starting a business plan. But what if you’ve already started a plan? Mimi Curlee has the answer.
Andrew Bowen: (AB) Mimi Curlee: (RH)
AB – Welcome back, entrepreneurs. We’re glad to have you back for another episode of CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business resources directly to you. Presented by CBRbiz.com. I’m your host, Andrew, and as always, our goal is to connect you to the information you need to start and run a successful business.
Today we’re continuing our three part discussion with Mimi Curlee from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. If you missed it, you can find Part 1 at CBRbiz.com. In our last conversation with Mimi, we talked about how the Library can help you start a business plan.
Welcome back, Mimi, thank you for being here!
MC – Thanks, Andrew. I appreciate it.
AB – Last time, we really went over the Library and all of the resources available there for only cardholders, but also what you can help with in the business owner starting a business plan. But what if they’ve already started one?
MC – Let me correct one thing. If you don’t have a library card—say you’re from outside the county—you can still use our resources in the building, or you can get a library card for people that are outside the county for $45 a year, and it covers your whole family. So we’ve had a lot of people that maybe work in Charlotte but live outside the county, and they decide they want to use our facilities…they can still do it.
AB – That’s a great distinction; thank you for correcting me.
MC – Sure! When people come in and already have part of their business plan ready, or they work part-time but haven’t gotten all the bits and pieces together, there are two things that are going on there. Part of their business plan is in their head. They know the product line. They know the unique features of their services or product. They know the operating procedure, or hopefully they do, as far as manufacturing or the service end of it…the legal structure, or who’s going be on their management team. But the other part is the research, and that’s where we help. The biggest two parts of that are usually competition and their customers.
AB – Okay. The two C’s.
MC – The biggest database that will help them is called Reference USA, and this is on the Library’s webpage at cmlibrary.org. You click on ‘Resources,’ and, again, if you’re going to do it outside the building, you do need that library card number. But if you want to come into the Library, you can use it on our computers inside. The great thing about this database is it’s actually a business directory. It has over 16 million companies all around the United States, and these are one-person operations to companies that employ thousands of people. If you are looking for your competition, first of all, you might not know who or how to describe them, so you can go in there and look at one company. Usually, most people at least know one competitor. For instance, if you wanted to look for a company like Lance Snyder that’s down the road here that—you know, that makes those wonderful little cookies and crackers…
AB – …and pretzels!
MC – Yes, yes! Then you could put that name in, and it will pull up a profile, and it would have name, address, phone number, a URL, whether they are publicly held or privately held, the number of employees, sales figure, a business description, their NAIC Codes and their SIC codes, which also describe the business.
AB – For the listeners who aren’t quite sure, those are the North American Industrial Classification Codes…
MC – Right. And the Standard Industrial Classification Codes.
There’s also a management directory—it depends on how big the company is as to how many people will be in that directory. Then, they give you a little bit of the company’s credit. They don’t give you the score, like a 700 or anything like that, but they give you an ABC score. If it says D,…run. It also tells you how many years they’ve been in the database, and sometimes the year it was established, but if they’ve been in the database for say 5-10 years, at least that gives you an idea they’ve been around for a while.
AB – So with Reference USA, can you tell us a little bit about how an entrepreneur would use the information that they are finding about all of these individual businesses? In order to help drive what they’re going to put in their business plan out to those businesses as their potential competition? And then figure out their customer base a little bit?
MC – Sure, as I said, you can look for one company, but most people are looking for a list of companies. You can go back into Reference USA, and you can use those descriptions–or those limiters, like I told you–to make a list of companies. So you can go in there, and you can say, “Okay, I want businesses that are this type. And I want businesses in a particular geography,” whether it’s a zip code or a county or a couple of states or the entire United States. And you can make a list. Say you know you want to start a bakery, you might think there are one or two bakeries, but did you include the Harris Teeters, and did you include all the other places that have bakery products? Those are also your competition.
Once you select that list, you push the green button, and you’ve got this nice, clean list, and it gives you all that type of information that I’d told you before. You can also download that into a spreadsheet, and then you can sort it. And you can see things like…this business has been in business at least 10 years. They have this number of employees, and they have this number of sales.
When you’re doing your business plan, at some point you’re going to have to get into that icky financial data part of it. With the information you get from Reference USA, you can then go back and look and see if what you were thinking as far as your financials are based in reality. Because if you said you’re going to be making a bazillion dollars in the next two years, but this company that has been in business for ten years in your industry is making only two bazillion, then you may have to redefine your financials a little bit.
The other thing is you may use this list to figure out locations. Again, if you’re making a bakery, it may seem romantic to have battling bakeries across the street from each other, but that’s probably not the best location to have. So using this list, you can figure out where these bakeries are, and you might want to put yours in a place where they need bakery goods instead of a place where they have a lot of choices.
AB – Location, location, location…that what I’ve heard before.
MC – Oh, yeah. And one of the things that I have had people encounter is they go in and do one of these searches, and they come up with 3,000 companies, and that just sounds ridiculous. But then they can limit it, like I said, based on the number of employees, based on location, or even narrow down the type of business. And this gives them a good idea of what they’re facing out there in their competition.
AB – So with Reference USA, how is it used to help people define what their customer base will be?
MC – They can go in, and–instead of putting a business description in of the same type of description of their business, which gives them competition–they can put in a business description of their customer if they’re selling B2B (business-to-business). And that way…let’s say I have a brand new knife product that I think will be great for restaurants, bakeries, all kinds of companies that cut with a knife. They can put that type of business in the geography, and then they can get a nice, neat list of all these businesses they might want to sell to, to contact. They might also want a list of suppliers–maybe they need a continuous supply of wheat or sprinkles or whatever–and they can go in and find companies that can supply them that they might not have just known off the top of their head.
AB – That’s great. As the Library is the resource of many things, and I know this is just one of the resources (Reference USA), are there people at the Library that can help someone navigate this and all the other resources that you’ve mentioned?
MC – Sure. We have staff at all 20 of our locations who can help. A lot of times, someone will call on a particular person in the branch who has a little bit more experience. Or we may even have the patron make an appointment and sit down with somebody for an hour so that they get that one-on-one concentrated help that they want, instead of trying to ask a question in between all the other patrons that are trying to get help with all their other projects.
AB – That’s fantastic. Time is up for today! Mimi, we can’t thank you enough for being here to share your insight with our listeners. Listeners, if you want to learn more about starting and funding your own business, visit CBRbiz.com or follow us on Twitter @CBRbiz.
Stay tuned for the third and final part of our conversation with Mimi, where we’ll be talking about defining your customers and how it relates to your business plan. Thanks for tuning in to CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business resources directly to you, presented by CBRbiz.com.
I’m your host, Andrew, and until next time, we mean business.