The Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Business

by Mark Pond, MILS

Mark PondLast month, in these pages, I launched a broadside about why, in my mind, I think it makes an abundant amount of sense for public libraries to support and foster entrepreneurship in our local communities. If you missed that opening salvo, you can find it in the November 9th edition or online at

One of my professional goals is to bring the tools and business support expertise to our libraries across eastern Washington and northern Idaho. As that effort gathers momentum, the Spokane Public Library, Spokane County Library District, and the entire effort at StartUp Spokane ( stand ready to support our region’s businesses.
If you’re reading this and you happen to be in Sandpoint or Davenport or Northport, for example, and you’re thinking that StartUp Spokane looks great for Spokane’s businesses, please keep this in mind: the longer I’ve been doing this business support work at the Spokane Public Library, the more firmly I’ve come to believe that our local economies are not self-contained units that stop and start at city or county or state borders.

To have a fully fleshed out and developed view of “the Spokane economy,” I think we need to acknowledge Spokane’s interdependence on the economies of Curlew and Bonners Ferry and Chewelah and Worley and Republic. At times, our city, county, and state political boundaries get in the way of putting together a cohesive, regional approach to library services, but rest assured that StartUp Spokane is more than willing to link arms with our neighbors when it comes to economic development issues. The better we all do, the better we all do.

Speaking of doing better, one of the goals of the StartUp Spokane program is to simplify and clarify the process for starting a business. I’ve come across any number of “Start Your Business” checklists and they usually read something like this:

Write a business plan
Estimate startup costs
Create a marketing plan
And so on…

While I think lists like these can provide some good general guidance, they fail to provide any direction or assistance when it comes to the “how” of accomplishing each of those bullet points. Such lists strike me as being somewhat akin to dropping someone off in the middle of Death Valley with a thimble-full of water, a rusty compass and saying, “Now that you know where to go and that your destination is 63 miles in that general direction, good luck! Let us know how it works out!” In my mind, that’s not exactly helpful. Especially for someone with a business idea but no former experience to draw upon.

business planning

Enter the “Get Started” option on the StartUp Spokane web page. The bit of functionality that StartUp Spokane brings to the table is to take the extensive list of business resources available through Spokane’s libraries and break them out by business topic and what piece of the business planning puzzle they would be most useful in addressing.

Industry and market research? IBISWorld, Statisista and RMA are great places to get started. From determining industry financial ratios to pinning down realistic anticipated profit margins, to discovering how much of your assets you can expect to have tied up in inventory, these tools give our prospective business owners a solid place to start developing some financial projections.
Sales lead development and customer research? Data Axle and DemographicsNow provide a powerful one-two punch for that bit of work. If you need to pull together a list of all the trucking companies on the West Coast with more than 10 employees, that’s a 30-second search (with downloadable lists of contacts) via Data Axle. Need to know where to find concentrations and pockets of retired households in Seattle and Memphis and Fargo and Coeur d’Alene? DemographicsNow can do that.

Looking to discover potential competitors (or perhaps collaborators and partners)? Data Axle is the go-to for that.

Trying to decide where to locate a brick-and-mortar storefront? CoStar, Data Axle and DemographicsNow can be used to tackle that question. Dig into traffic count data, comparisons of lease rates, and discover where there might be geographic concentrations of your customer base.

Looking for on-demand, online education for nearly any business topic under the sun? LinkedIn Learning and Udemy provide tens of thousands of online courses, all taught by industry experts. Ranging from a six-hour course on how to become a pro at using Adobe Illustrator to a four-hour course on how to make QuickBooks function at its highest level, local businesses have tens (hundreds?) of thousands of hours of instruction just waiting to be tapped.

And that’s just the tip of the business research iceberg that is StartUp Spokane. Interested in stock research? We have access to ValueLine, MorningStar, and most improbably, a Bloomberg Terminal. Side note: Spokane Public Library, New York Public Library and Boston Public Library are the three public libraries in the nation offering public access to Bloomberg data. We’re not just dabbling in this business research world…we’re all in and leading the charge.

Beginning next month, my plan for this column is to start taking a deep dive into the tools in the StartUp Spokane toolbox. Interspersed within that, I’ll also take some side roads and explore some freely available business research tools that I’ve found to be worthy of attention. In the meantime, if there are any questions about StartUp Spokane that bubble to the surface, do reach out to me at and I’d be happy to kick around some ideas.

Have a lovely holiday season and here’s to a prosperous 2024!

Mark Pond, MLIS, has been the Business Research Librarian with the Spokane Public Library since 2006, and, before that, worked in similar capacities for the Seattle Public Library and the University of Washington Libraries since 1998. Mark has led the effort to develop Spokane Public Library into a nationally recognized leader in the field of business research.

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