With the rise of digital publishing and eBooks, many people tend to undervalue the place of libraries in the modern world. However, libraries provide a number of services and resources beyond just books, and several of them are potentially useful to aspiring business owners. In fact, if you have a public library card, there is a good chance that you have free access to a massive database full of potential industry leads and might not even know it.
ReferenceUSA is a source for business and residential information compiled from thousands of public sources, and many libraries provide their users with access to their databases. This can be hugely beneficial for business owners, as it essentially means you have access to unlimited business leads. At a recent class, Barbara Caine walked us through the database and demonstrated how to use it to expand your business.
What Is It?
The ReferenceUSA database is largely built from U.S. Census data and features listings for millions of businesses around the country. Along with more general listings, there are specialized databases for newer businesses, recent movers, historical businesses, and potential internships.
The best part is you don’t even need to make an account to use ReferenceUSA: an ID number from a collaborating library and the last four digits of your social security are enough to give you full access to the main database and allows you to download search information. Creating a ReferenceUSA profile does have a few extra benefits though, such as the ability to save searches for later use, but even this is free if you belong to an eligible library.
How Do You Use It?
The key to using ReferenceUSA effectively is knowing who to target: there are millions of businesses listed in the database, so you should be as specific as possible when deciding on the type of businesses you are looking for. Barbara recommends narrowing down a sample to no more than 200 businesses, fewer if possible. Thankfully, ReferenceUSA has a number of options to get more specific results. Some perimeters you can apply to searches include:
- Age of the Business
- Size of the Business
- Location (Map-based, city, state, county, metro area, ZIP code)
- Credit Score
You get full detailed information about these businesses or individuals including contact name, mailing address, phone number (for most records), website address, and so much more. Pretty much the only thing you don’t get access to for free is the email address, although you can pay to retrieve this or do some minor research on the company website yourself to obtain it. However, if you do obtain an email address this way, you cannot and should not add it to an email marketing mailing list. Reach out to the company contact person first and ask for permission to add them to a list if that is your intent.
You can also filter out keywords or certain locations if there are certain types of businesses you are not interested in.
Once you have your sample of businesses, look through them and see if any seem like promising business leads. When you’ve picked out which businesses seem worth contacting, you can select your businesses, then download their information as a Microsoft Excel compatible document, which you can either save it to your computer or send it to an email address.
How Do You Reach Out?
When you’ve figured out which businesses you want to contact, you have to decide on the message you want to send with your first connection and what the end result is that you’re looking for in contacting them. For Barbara, it might be convincing a business owner to become a member of FUSE Business Training or attend one of her classes.
Since ReferenceUSA does not provide email addresses, Barbara recommends sending your leads a letter in the mail and feel out if they would be interested in your services. Try to set up a (phone or in person) meeting with them to talk and get to know one another. Barbara has six major points your first message should cover:
- Congratulations: If they are a new business, congratulate them on getting started.
- Basic Bold Questions: Ask a simple, bold question to get their attention (ex: Do you want more people to know about your business?).
- Statistics: Pull out a relevant statistic or fact related to their industry.
- Pain Points: Point out a problem they likely have, tug at the heartstrings.
- Solution: Position your business as the solution to their problem.
- Call to Action: Convince them to do whatever the next step is.
When you compose your letter, be sure to use the person’s name, as it will feel more personalized. Also, avoid language that sounds overly “salesy.” Try to be conversational without sounding too casual. Most of all, remember that your top priority isn’t to sell your services, it’s to expand your network and get to know people, listening to their needs and seeing if they could use your help. And remember that not everyone will need your services. If you know of another resource that they could use, recommend it to them. Just because they don’t need you now doesn’t mean that they won’t need you in the future, or that they won’t mention you to someone who does, so don’t be bitter and don’t burn bridges.
If you want to learn more about how to use ReferenceUSA to expand your business, or if you have any other questions related to growing a small business, check out one of the classes hosted by FUSE Business Training, or contact Barbara for a one-on-one consultation.