First in a series on how the Dallas Public Library and Dallas Economic Development partnered to create the Dallas Business Resource and Information Network (The Dallas B.R.A.I.N.)
The Dallas Public Library and the Office of Economic Development are city departments with seemingly unique missions. Economic development is analogous to business development in a company. It is about promoting business growth so the tax base grows. That pays for the police, fire, parks and libraries that make Dallas a livable city. The library is about democratizing access to information and that means way more than just warehousing books. Our Library is in a major strategic planning process to reposition themselves and strengthen their contribution to the life of the city. (That is a story for my library colleagues to tell.) When we began discussing a partnership, we needed to get the two departments on the same page. We worked through a focused process to clarify our purpose and what we wanted to accomplish.
What resulted was a framework, a business model that has guided the coordination of the two departments the last several months. This helped us identify the processes and tools we needed to make it happen. First, we clarified our joint mission: To support entrepreneurship literacy and local business development. We want to make Dallas a more entrepreneurial literate city. Entrepreneurship as a way of thinking and acting is valuable not only for being a business founder. It can also improve any project. It makes people better team members and employees. We want all our businesses to be truly local. Local businesses spend locally and, as they grow, they bring wealth into the community and create more jobs. Based on community feedback, we knew that our ideal clients are the self-employed and microbusiness owners that are isolated from mainstream business resources. The economic development and library missions came together pretty effortlessly.
Next, we thought about the brand promise to clients: “We help you identify the best next step in being an entrepreneur and recommend the information and resources you need to take that step.” Our library partners were especially helpful with this one. The focus and burden is on helping the client become clear on what they want to do. The key is working with clients to help them articulate their goals. Then we pull from the wide network of community resources and refer the client to the resource that is appropriate for their challenge.
Finally, a brand for the new partnership emerged organically from our conversations. The brand resonated. It focuses attention on the vast and diverse network of people in Dallas who are willing to share their wisdom to make this an entrepreneurially literate city. We are not the B.R.A.I.N., the B.R.A.I.N. is out there in the community. It is the community. We want to help connect aspiring microbusiness founders and other entrepreneurs to that community. With our mission and brand promise in place, we turned to defining the operations we needed to execute on those two.
Stewardship is a core value. We want to make the best use of what we have. Both departments contributed staff and assets. Two of us from Economic Development moved from City Hall to the Central Library. Economic Development had a business resource website and a large network of contacts in the small business and entrepreneurship communities to bring to the table. The Library Business and Technology Division dedicated staff time and gave the program a home base in their Sammons Small Business Center on the 5th floor. The Library also gives us a citywide brick-and-mortar presence where Dallas B.R.A.I.N. partners can deliver programming.
In essence, the Dallas B.R.A.I.N. provides infrastructure to help local microbusinesses, freelancers and small businesses make better use of the local business ecosystem. We help our clients cut through the noise and find timely, effective help for their business. This is more of a challenge for many businesses than some think. The internet does a good job of making a lot of information accessible. For people without a strong business and economics foundation, however, it is difficult to tell good content from bad. For our clients, two hundred thousand search results is a bad thing. This uncertainty and information overload leads to fear and inaction. Many microbusiness owners or aspiring entrepreneurs are stuck. We want to help them take that next step by connecting them to people who have already learned the lessons of entrepreneurship. How could we do that?
To make the brain operational, we created several tools and process that build on the talent and assets at our disposal. We developed a client-centric intake, assessment and referral process. We provide online shortcuts to groups, training and events that have proven effective. We are providing tools to speed up self-guided entrepreneurial learning: action sheets and checklists to give people a framework and help focus their thinking. We set up a grassroots and social media marketing strategy to reach businesses across Dallas. Over the next few posts, I will introduce these tools and how they are helping us keep our promise to Dallas’ microbusinesses.