Business Posts

4 Invaluable Business Startup Services Available at NaperLaunch

As of June 14, most Naperville Public Library services have been restored to full capacity. This includes NaperLaunch, the business startup services center and coworking space located at the Nichols Library in downtown Naperville.

Reopening means not only that our spaces and technology resources are available, including the free coworking space, conference rooms, and public computers and software, but also a reinvigoration of the NaperLaunch community, which is built on the people we connect with and the opportunities we create.

Whether you’re a returning regular or encountering us for the first time, we encourage you to take advantage of the key (and free) services that can be found at NaperLaunch:

1.Guidance and Mentoring

NaperLaunch coaches, including business librarians and volunteer mentors, guide entrepreneurs and small business owners through the process of starting or growing a business.

Members of the library’s Business Services team can provide a one-on-one orientation to the library’s business resources. Set up an appointment to learn about our workshops, roundtable discussions, and master mind groups and receive a demonstration on how to use our online resources to conduct market research, create mailing lists, or write a business plan.

In addition, the library partners with SCORE Fox Valley, a volunteer organization of experienced business leaders who mentor entrepreneurs and small business owners. SCORE mentors provide customized assistance in starting and expanding a business. SCORE volunteers attend at NaperLaunch events and accept appointments for individual mentoring sessions.

2.Business Education

The NaperLaunch Academy offers a focused curriculum to help entrepreneurs develop fundamental business knowledge and learn the “lean startup process.” To meet the needs of busy entrepreneurs, the curriculum is presented in two formats: live workshops or self-guided virtual courses.

A series of evening workshops are offered on a rotating basis, with the next session beginning July 7. Participants can choose the workshops and sequence that best meet their needs. These live, interactive workshops are currently offered via Zoom videoconference.

For those looking to work through the courses on their own schedule, a sequence of 17 NaperLaunch Academy class sessions can be accessed on demand via the NaperLaunch BizVids webpage. Videorecorded sessions for each course are presented with links to handouts and PowerPoint presentations.

3.Peer Learning Opportunities

Peer learning experiences are designed to spark collaboration and productivity through group discussion and coaching.

Business roundtables are moderated open discussions addressing issues faced by the entrepreneurs and business owners who attend. These interactive discussions are designed to spark interactive communication. Participants take advantage of collaboration and networking opportunities as they gain significant insights on how to enhance productivity, strategic marketing, and overall business success through group discussion and coaching. Discussions are moderated by SCORE volunteers, who have extensive business management and business mentoring experience.

Several roundtable options are offered, including a monthly startup-focused roundtable, a roundtable specifically for women’s business owners, and an evening session offered in conjunction with the NaperLaunch Academy.

Master mind groups bring together established business owners. Each meeting supports collaboration and accountability through discussion, sharing insights, problem solving, and goal setting. Business advisors attend and add insights to the conversation in each meeting. Group members become intimately acquainted with the business models and plans of each participant.

4.Library Resources

Naperville Public Library has extensive online resources to help small business owners and entrepreneurs develop business plans, research market data and demographics, and more. The online resources are authoritative sources of information that far exceed the depth, quality, and relevance of search results generally available in web searches. They can be accessed from within the library, or from anywhere with your Naperville Public Library card number and PIN.

In addition, the library maintains a business reference collection that can be used in the library and a collection of business books that may be checked out with a library card. Business magazines and newspapers are also available.

Market Research

Using databases such as Reference Solutions and Gale Business: DemographicsNow, entrepreneurs can access information about markets, consumers, competitors, suppliers, and industry trends. This data comes from research companies and is only available on a subscription basis; it cannot be found in a web search. Entrepreneurs can develop all the information necessary for a startup’s strategic marketing plan by using the library’s databases and print resources.

Business Planning

Through several different resources at the library, entrepreneurs have access to example plans for every type of business imaginable, which can be a helpful guide or template for writing a plan. In addition, the Gale Business: Plan Builder software can be used to create a business plan to “take to the bank.” This top-of-the-line software application was, in fact, developed by a local entrepreneur in Naperville. Such tools are indispensable for a startup that is seeking to gain new partners, senior level employees, or investors.

These four key services only scratch the surface of what is available at NaperLaunch. Our coworking space nurtures an environment of networking and collaboration with other entrepreneurs, and our cutting-edge technology allows our members to produce professional results without the price tag. New startups should not overlook the extensive resources at NaperLaunch when seeking guidance and assistance along the entrepreneurial path.

To learn more, visit our website.

Posted: 
Tuesday, July 6, 2021 - 13:30

Some Do’s and Don’ts for Pitch Decks

Funding a startup frequently requires securing some type of capital investment from other individuals or entities. Sometimes those arrangements are made through venture capitalists or angel investor groups. This process is not simple and will be time consuming and challenging.

When approaching the capital investor, most startups use a pitch deck, or set of presentation slides, or possibly video, to make their pitch for funding. Because of the time required to prepare such a pitch deck, it is important to get it right.

In a blog post titled A Guide to Investor Pitch Decks for Startup Fundraising, Richard Harroch, Managing Partner and Chief of Global M&A at VantagePoint Capital Partners, gives some excellent tips on preparing a pitch deck.

Harroch writes: “Too many entrepreneurs make a number of avoidable mistakes when creating their investor pitch decks. Here is a list of preliminary do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.” (For the full article, click the link above. Here are Harroch’s lists.)

Do this:

  • Do include this wording at the bottom left of the pitch deck cover page: “Confidential and Proprietary. Copyright (c) by [Name of Company]. All Rights Reserved.”
  • Do convince the viewer of why the market opportunity is large.
  • Do include visually interesting graphics and images.
  • Do send the pitch deck in a PDF format to prospective investors in advance of a meeting. Forcing the investor to get it from Google Docs, Dropbox, or some other online service just puts up a barrier to the investor actually reading it.
  • Do plan to have a demo of your product as part of the in-person presentation.
  • Do tell a compelling, memorable, and interesting story that shows your passion for the business.
  • Do show that you have more than just an idea, and that you have gotten early traction on developing the product, getting customers, or signing up partners.
  • Do have a soundbite for investors to remember you by.
  • Do use a consistent font size, color, and header title style throughout the slides.

Don’t do this:

  • Don’t make the pitch deck more than 15-20 slides long. (Investors have limited attention spans.) If you feel you need to add more information, include it as an appendix.
  • Don’t have too many wordy slides.
  • Don’t provide excessive financial details, as that information can be provided in a follow-up.
  • Don’t try to cover everything in the pitch deck. Your in-person presentation will give you an opportunity to add and highlight key information.
  • Don’t use a lot of jargon or acronyms that the investor may not immediately understand.
  • Don’t underestimate or belittle the competition.
  • Don’t allow your pitch deck to look out of date. You don’t want a date on the cover page that is several months old. (That is why I avoid putting a date on the cover page at all.) And you don’t want information or metrics in the deck about your business that look stale or outdated.
  • Don’t have a poor layout, bad graphics, or a low-quality “look and feel.” Think about hiring a graphic designer to give your pitch desk a more professional look.

In addition to these tips from Harroch, the Naperville Public Library print collection offers several excellent books on the subject that may be helpful to the startup entrepreneur preparing to request capital investments through venture capitalists or angel investors. Here are a few titles to get you started. The first three may be borrowed; the last one is available at the Nichols Library for in-library use only.

The art of startup fundraising : pitching investors, negotiating the deal, and everything else entrepreneurs need to know
Secrets of Sand Hill Road : venture capital and how to get it
Building wealth through venture capital : a practical guide for investors and the entrepreneurs they fund
2020 guide to venture capital & private equity firms, domestic & international

The library’s online resources are also quite helpful in the preparation of a pitch deck. For instance, LinkedIn Learning offers several related courses, including one titled Raising Startup Capital. (A Naperville Public Library card is required for this link.)

In his post, Harroch also provides some links to sample pitch decks that might be helpful, including:

For more information about this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy workshop series or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with a business librarian or NaperLaunch coach.

Posted: 
Monday, June 21, 2021 - 10:30

4 Steps to an Effective Brand Identity

“Once we have enough revenue, we can invest in building a brand.”

Sound familiar? It’s common for small business owners to think this way, if they think of brand identity at all. Some think they don’t have the time to worry about brand in the startup phase of a business. However, skipping the important work of brand identity usually causes more time-consuming challenges in the long run.

Brand identity is much more than a logo and a tagline. It’s more than style guides, marketing materials, or color palettes. Brand identity is the culmination of how your brand looks, feels, and speaks to customers. It influences the entire customer experience and ultimately affects how others view your credibility and business. In reality, brand identity is more about what audiences think of the business than anything else, because what they think is your real brand identity (no matter what you think it is).

Ignoring branding may mean that messages get through loud and clear but produce undesired results and create long-term problems. It may not be noticeable initially, but the impact from this approach becomes apparent all too quickly and painfully in various ways: you’ll get more questions than sales, audiences won’t be clear on what you’re all about, and potential customers will buy from your competition instead.

In order for small businesses to compete, they should create and cultivate emotional connections with target audiences through messaging, marketing, and engagement. Brand is the most valuable asset of a business, and when it is done right, the benefits and ROI are measurable and immediate. It takes effort to mold an audience into thinking of a business the way the business owner desires or expects. It doesn’t magically happen! It requires time, research, and deep thinking, but the results are worth it.

So where do you start? In this blog post, we’ll review 4 steps to creating a small business brand identity.

  1. Research and understand the market

A brand identity that resonates with customers can’t be created until the business owner understands those customers. So, first take the time to truly learn about first-, second-, and third-level audiences. Develop personas that define their likes and dislikes, hobbies, and values. (We’ve written about personas previously.)

Once you have a deep understanding of your customers, move on to competitor research. How are other companies positioning themselves in terms of visual elements, personalities, and themes? What will be your advantage over those competitors?

And finally, don’t forget to interview the people closest to your current brand: your employees. They have an important point of view on how the company should be portrayed and what has and hasn’t worked in the past. If they don’t believe your message, then who will?

  1. Create assets

Once the research phase is done, the fun can begin. It’s time to translate what you’ve learned into visuals. Here’s a quick list of common brand assets:

  • Logo
  • Color palettes
  • Typography
  • Iconography
  • Photography and graphics for marketing campaigns
  • Style guide that explains appropriate logo usage and tone of voice, among other things

As you’re building your brand assets, think about the 3 Cs of branding and how they can help:

  • Clarity: It’s your job, not your customer’s, to figure out your message. If they have to work to interpret something you’ve created, your brand isn’t clear enough yet.
  • Consistency: Your billboard needs to have the same voice as your website, which needs to have the same voice as your Twitter account. Why? Consistency in your brand inspires confidence and discipline.
  • Commitment: We want our ads to go viral, and the minute they don’t, we get discouraged and shift directions. Don’t forget that great branding takes great time.

Thinking of the marketing process—of creating promotional pieces, capturing customer attention, and converting that interest into sales—can also help once you move deeper into asset creation specifically for marketing campaigns.

  1. Define your brand story

Cement your brand identity with a brand story. This isn’t necessarily your origin story, although it will have components of why you started your business.

Your brand story should answer these questions:

  • What does your brand believe in?
  • What pain points does your product or service alleviate?
  • How does your business solve those problems?
  • Why did you decide that your business should alleviate those pain points?
  • Where do you see your business going?

As you’re crafting your brand story, remember that it’s not just the elevator pitch you give to people when they ask what your business is. It’s about how your brand relates to people and why it exists. Brand strategy is not the same thing as marketing, but it may be the foundation of the marketing and promotion of a business. Brand identity could be a major part of the messaging that you are trying to get across in your overall marketing efforts or specific promotional campaigns.

As we’ve written elsewhere, this story development may be supported by or include selecting the company’s name and creating your unique value proposition. So, those are part of the brand story, too.

In all of this, your message mapping should appeal to the potential customers you researched in step 1. Delivery of your offering (product or service) should cause the customers to think and feel about your brand the way you have envisioned based on the research. In this way, your messages should help your audience understand how they should think, feel, and speak about your brand.

  1. Formulate and refine

Your brand identity may change over time, and that’s okay. Once you’ve formulated your initial brand identity, analyze and refine it based on customer feedback. Test new strategies and tactics to see what works best. For example, you could use A/B tests to try out different taglines on your homepage and see which story resonates best with your audience.

If you’re new to branding, you may want to consider hiring a brand strategist to help pull it all together. We’ve already hinted at the importance of creating a brand identity. Getting expert advice at the outset can help you avoid making a costly mistake.

For more information about this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy workshop series or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with a business librarian or NaperLaunch coach.

Posted: 
Monday, June 14, 2021 - 14:00