Friday, 26 February 2010

Ten tips for entrepreneurs

Another nugget of gold on The Travelin' Librarian site flagging up a post on the ReadWriteStart channel for first-time entrepreneurs and start-ups. In it, Kevin Rose, Digg's founder, provided ten tips for budding entrepreneurs - you can see the details here. None of it is rocket science, indeed at least a couple are self-evident truths until you take a step back and realise how often they aren't acted on in real life.

I'd argue that they apply significantly to developing a public library service.

  1. "Just Build It: You don't need anyone's approval and in fact, you probably won't get it, so don't even try." -- you're working in a bureaucracy; in all probability you're working in one of the more conservative corners of that bureaucracy. Sometimes you've just got to let that genie out of the bottle.
  2. "Iterate: Build, release and iterate. Make a list of the features you want to create over the next six months and get going" -- definitely!!! Don't imagine you've finished the work. Look at it, review it, ask yourself how it could be made better. If resources allow, do it. If resources don't allow, why did you do it in the first place? Development needs to be sustainable.
  3. "Hire Your Boss: Make sure you hire people that you would want to work for, who challenge you and you can learn from." -- I think this is the single most challenging idea for an English public library service to take on board. The rigid, top-down hierarchical model of working didn't work all that well in the first place and has become a liability if library services are going to use all their available resources nimbly and effectively.
  4. "Demand Excellence: Ensure staff are committed to and understand your vision" -- the second sentence is important. Excellence isn't something that is measured after the event, it is something that's signposted to before the event. You demand excellence by delivering vision.
  5. "Raising Money: The higher your evaluation is, the more equity you have to work with. Beg, borrow and steal. Be creative about finding ways to cut costs." -- more pertinent now than ever! If you can get money, use it. They can't take it off you if you've spent it. Investigate new delivery channels to see if you can do the same or better cheaper (at least one example will be coming up in point 9).
  6. "Hack the Press" -- make sure that you're getting your message out there. Not just to via "official" channels: chat up anyone and everyone who might be useful.
  7. "Invest in Advisors" -- not necessarily consultants in the bureaucratic sense. Invest in people who know things that you may find useful. (Including your own staff!) The investment doesn't necessarily have to be in money or stocks: librarians around the world are sharing ideas, advice and news in all sorts of different forums, make sure you're tapping into them. And then make sure that you're also using the same model to tap into networks outside the library arena (be creative about it) - you will be amazed at just how often the answer to a problem is a devolved community knowledgebase with meeting and event management facilities and free internet access. Join in, be positive, be useful; the effort you invest this way can be paid back many times over later on.
  8. "Connect With the Community" -- any public library service that isn't doing that already should be boarded up.
  9. "Leverage Your User Base to Spread the Word" -- talk to your customers; tell them what you're doing; then get your customers to be your marketing tool. Time was, we only had word of mouth to work with (but when it works it works very well indeed). Now there are all sorts of new opportunities, many of which are free. Which ties in nicely with point 5. If it costs £x to print out a couple of hundred leaflets which may or may not be actually read could you not use the money one something more concrete that you could tell people about buckshee on Twitter, Facebook, etc.?
  10. "Analyze Your Traffic: Pay attention to how people are using your site, and then learn and evolve" -- not just your web traffic (though that's important). How does/doesn't your online audience traffic relate to your library's visitors?

I know which ones I have and haven't been doing (and I'm not going to say here which they are!)

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