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Grand Rapids Public Library offers support for entrepreneurs

The Small Business Resource Center at the Main Library offers classes, assists students of all ages in crafting a well-written business plan, and provides other resources for starting and growing a business.
Steven Assarian, Business Librarian at GRPL's Small Business Resource Center

Steven Assarian, Business Librarian at GRPL's Small Business Resource Center /Carol Shirey

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Guts + luck + preparation = success. The biggest part of success is preparation.

60% of businesses will still be viable 3 years after startup. An original idea isn't all it takes to create a successful enterprise. Think of Facebook. There were other social media networks already out there--Friendster and Myspace are just two examples. But the people who made Facebook a huge success took that good idea to the next level. They were willing to work hard and were spirited about what they were doing. People who seek expert advice and who come up with creative solutions to problems are more likely to succeed than the average startup.

The SBRC features hundreds of resources, including books, guides and business software

The SBRC features hundreds of resources, including books, guides and business software /Carol Shirey

Funding for the SBRC comes from GRPL Foundation-Titche Family Fund.  Two computers are dedicated to business  data bases.

Funding for the SBRC comes from GRPL Foundation-Titche Family Fund. Two computers are dedicated to business data bases. /Carol Shirey

Ahhhh, to be your own boss. For many people- whether they’re working for someone else or are currently out of the work force- the thought of being their own boss is the stuff of dreams. But for some who might think that having a good idea is a shortcut to business success, the reality of running a business could turn out to be a nightmare. Luckily, there are several organizations in Grand Rapids that can help budding entrepreneurs learn the important steps toward real success in business.

The Small Business Resource Center (SBRC) on the lower level of Grand Rapids Public Library is the first stop for many people who are looking for guidance and resources. It’s just one of the organizations in the network of helpful, professional resources available for aspiring business owners in West Michigan.  

Steven Assarian is the Business Librarian at the SBRC. He's quick to point out that other west Michigan organizations also offer business resources. But public libraries have one benefit many of those organizations can't claim: access to the resources at the public library are completely free. The center is open for business whenever the Main Library is open, and the online resources are accessible 24/7 with a GRPL library card. The free resources include a series of small business classes and powerful specialized business databases, along with a multitude of books, magazines, pamphlets and even free business consultations.

Classes available to everyone include Small Business Research Essentials, Facebook to Promote your Business and a series of Market Research classes. There are even classes for nonprofit businesses. At a recent class titled Small Business Research Essentials, students got an overview of the many resources for business startups at the library. Mr. Assarian got the group of about a dozen students talking about their ideas for start-up businesses. Ideas included financial coaching, e-commerce, health and beauty services, construction, a nonprofit business and a farm market.

"All of these business ideas," he says, “require knowledge of a business world fraught with uncertainty and chaos.” 

“Everyone needs to find their own path in the world of capitalism and commerce,” advises Assarian. “There are so many unknown factors, and so much is changing every day.” For people just beginning to put their business ideas down on paper, the SBRC is an invaluable resource. 

Assarian can answer many questions about the best way to get started with essentials like writing a business plan or researching a chosen field, but what he really likes to do is show people how to find the answers for themselves.

“Referrals and education are the biggest part of what we offer here at the SBRC,” he says.  He’s happy to act as your guide to the many other resources available for business people, whether they’re fist-time entrepreneurs or seasoned veterans. 

For a new business to be successful, Assarian says, it takes three things: guts, luck and preparation.

"All of them are important, but the one you have the most control over is preparation," he explains. He often refers students to Grand Rapids Organization for Women, an organization which is not just for women and which offers the added benefit of being an SBA-approved lender. They also provide entrepreneurial counseling and business planning classes. SCORE is another West Michigan resource made up of volunteer entrepreneurs and executives, all trained and certified to advise their walk-in customers, with a variety of business backgrounds. The Michigan Small Business Technology and Development Center, housed at Grand Valley State University Grand Rapids campus has more advanced classes and offers advice for businesses that have passed the start-up stage and need help in some of the more complex challenges that businesses face.

The SBRC offers consulting services, which gauge how far along the road to success a hopeful businessperson is. They’ll help identify what resources are right for each level, and point patrons in the right direction for the particular kind of help they need. These steps help the entrepreneur understand the business environment and find out if their idea is viable.

The library also provides information about where to go to register a new business. On a federal level, businesses need to gain an EIN number for tax purposes, and can do so here. They  also need to register with the county in which they operate. Kent County registration can be done here. The fee for a DBA license  is $10.00. And finally, any prospective business owner should also check out LARA to see if there are any special licenses they require.

The Small Business Resource Center was established in 2008 and is funded by the GRPL Foundation and the Titche Family Fund. There's a work area with two computers dedicated to business databases available to patrons of the SBRC. You'll find internet access, specialized business databases, fax and copier access, plus librarians to help guide you through the stages of small business research. Use the center to write your business plan, target new customers, finds sources of financing and much more. Call 616.988.5400 or contact Steve Assarian at [email protected] for general questions.

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