The humble library, a valuable resource

With the information available at your public library, there's no such thing as a "cold call."

When Ben Franklin founded the first public lending library in America in 1731, he probably had no idea what he would inspire. There is no better bargain than a library card, and what better time to sign up for one than September, library card sign-up month.

Studies show that children who use the library tend to perform better in school. They are also more likely to continue learning and exploring throughout their lives.

If you don't use the library for business, now is a good time to start. We can obtain a high percentage of the information we need via search engines using our home or work computers. But there are a lot of hidden business jewels available at your local library, and many of them can be accessed online.

The average small business or job-seeker is penalized by having limited research capabilities. Big companies with big budgets pay for expensive databases. With a mouse click, they can instantly gain access to company data, sort through research reports, and locate newspaper and trade journal articles. Small companies and individuals who can't afford premium access are left out. Unless they have a local library card.

Most libraries pay for premium subscription databases that you can use for free. Want to use Dun & Bradstreet, ReferenceUSA or Hoovers to research companies, competitors and build lead lists? There's a good chance your library subscribes to a company search database. Want to see if the company where you're making your next sales call or job interview has been featured in an article? How about if the person you're meeting with has been cited as an expert in an industry trade journal? The library most likely has the information.

"Your library is an incredible source of business content," says Sam Richter, award-winning author and founder of the "Know More" business improvement program. "Even better, you can access most of these databases at no charge via your home or office computer, as long as you have a library card."

Find the best online business information sources, including your library's website, at Sam's free Know More Center, www.samrichter.com. Once on your library's site, choose a database and enter your library card number, and you're looking at many of the same high-end information resources that would normally cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

Every time I speak to corporate America, I say there is no such thing as a cold call at MackayMitchell Envelope Co. If you use the tools available to you through the Know More Center and your public library, you can gather the information you need to make "warm calls" where you're prepared.

For example, when you have a business meeting or job interview and don't know much about the company, Sam advises that you use a newspaper or trade journal database to see if an article has been written about the firm. There, you'll find information that is not necessarily on the company's website, including revenue and employee figures. Oftentimes, executives are interviewed where they talk about the company's direction, future products and more. Also make sure to research the company's industry and learn industry trends. Reference this information in your meeting, share data, and discuss how you have helped companies facing similar challenges.

With the amount of information available online today, there is absolutely no excuse for not knowing something about the company and person you're meeting with before you meet or call. Remember that the person you're meeting with -- regardless of how nice -- is not rewarded for caring about you. What they do care about is knowing if you can help them achieve their goals. Do your homework and you'll establish your credibility; you'll differentiate yourself. You'll be able to ask intelligent questions that solicit meaningful dialogue. And you'll be able to share relevant stories.

And as you know, a library card is still great for checking out books! Haven't read any good books lately? There's no time like the present to start. I love the convenience of my Kindle, but the feel of a real book in my hands is unmatched. You can even check out an audio book for your commute.

Book-club guidance, computer classes, periodicals, story time for the kids -- all through the doors of your library. And one of the most amazing features I like best: live technical help when I need it. Your library card is your ticket to the past and to the future.

Mackay's Moral: The library is a truly amazing resource -- check it out.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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