Business owners often turn to Google to do research for their business plan or other marketing. However, that only scrapes the surface of what’s available in terms of government and other data that’s out there. For that, you’ll need to travel to your local public library (in person or virtually.) You thought Google and Facebook knew a lot about you?!? Then you’ll be blown away by the data your local public library has on you and your buying habits!
This week we speak to Williams Bandoma, the Business and Government Librarian, who regularly helps business owners get the data they need to succeed.
In fact, Williams runs a business database workshop every Thursday (virtually for now), and you can learn more here.
Rich: Our guest today is the business and government librarian at Portland Public Library. He’s been in this role for almost three years since he moved from Ghana to Maine, which he now calls home. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Arts with a major in textiles from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, and a Master of Arts in Information Science from the University of Ghana. He’s also certified with the Federal Depository Library Program for Government Documents from the United States Publishing Office, the GPO.
He has been instrumental not only as a member of the reference team at Portland Public Library but also among this community partners in the greater Portland area. His work includes hosting monthly business workshops with the Portland SCORE chapter, creating the “For More Information” posting after each Eggs & Issues event for the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, publishing the new Mainers Guide with the Immigration Welcome Center, and partnering with the USCIS to provide immigration corner and outreach service at PPLs main library.
We are very excited to be chatting with Williams Bandoma. Will, welcome to the show.
Will: Thank you. Thank you.
Rich: This is really cool because you have been brought up, not by name – we had to track you down – but you’ve been brought up on a couple of different shows as being an amazing resource for business owners and entrepreneurs here in the entire state. So this really is awesome, glad you came in today,
Yury: As I said earlier, you are the rock star and I’m quite honestly geeking out right now. So thank you for coming because we definitely have a lot of questions to ask. But before we dive deep, can you tell me a little bit about what drove you or what drew you to the information science and how did you find yourself at the Portland Public Library?
Will: I’m a trained librarian from the University of Ghana, as you just read. And then I was a college librarian. Before I worked for a college, I worked as a college librarian for close to a year and half before moving to the U.S.
And I remember when I came into the U.S. it was a Thursday, and on Friday my wife drove me to the Portland Public Library and we walked around and because she knows my love of libraries and as a trained librarian and I couldn’t work at that point in time. So I decided to volunteer my time at the library. So I was going in twice or three times a week. And then I became a substitute when I was allowed to work. And then there was an opening for the business and governments librarianship, which I was fortunate to meet the lady who was in charge before me. I worked with her for about two months and I learned a lot.
So I consulted the other librarians. I like consulting a lot. And they were like, “Sure, give it a try”. And I was taken through the hiring process and I eventually landed the job.
Yury: Which you’ve been doing for the last three years, right?
Will: I would say two and half. Yesterday was three years since I got into the U.S., so close to three years. Yes.
Yury: So how did you become so famous in the business community right here?
Will: Well as I said, Sonya who was my predecessor, had laid down foundations for the role and she happened to be the adult services librarian at a time I was volunteering. So I learned a lot from her.
And some of my studies, I came across the need for what I do now within the communities, see if the library has the resources to offer. So even before I was given the role, one of my goals was to get information out there. So I set myself about six months priority to do constant outreach. So I was going from every community partner that I know about and I thought they can help or they can use our resources. So I was going to Goodwill Workforce Development, Portland Adult Education, Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, I was reaching out to almost everybody I can lay hands or get to know about attending events, introducing myself and what I do to people.
And it got paid off, just as you mentioned. Now people know what we do, people know what we offer and by word of mouth, by also to our websites, and some of our community partners. The word is out there now. So that is how far we’ve come with the outreach.
Yury: That is pretty impressive. Thank you.
Rich: As we mentioned, a number of our previous guests mentioned the PPL as an amazing resource for owners and entrepreneurs. Can you give us some insight about what makes it so valuable? What are you doing over there, or what are the resources there, that make this such an amazing resource for business owners and entrepreneurs?
Will: So we have free and amazing resources that business partners, owners, and people who are trying to set up businesses can use. And that’s not the only thing. I might say that we are the most visited cultural center in the state of Maine. And just last year alone, we served over 775,000 people.
Rich: That’s a lot for Maine.
Will: My colleagues and I, because this discussion is purely business related, I would kind of speak more to the business side. Being the center, we have so much, information that sometimes when I sit back and reflect, I feel underutilized. And I feel the city of Portland supports us a little bit with budget, most of our budget is from the city. And I feel like this is information or resources procured through your money, right? Why don’t you come use them? So that’s another backbone of the constant outreach event.
So we have resources from books, old books of course, and new books. And then we have databases. We have over three dozens of databases for business and government only. And some of the most used ones among our business database are our reference USA, which the library pays for since its business bureau demographic now, Small Business Research Center, Consumer Report, Value Line Investment Management Solution, Business Premium Collection, Business Economic and [inaudible] Collection.
And I must explain that half of our database is actually provided by the state of Maine through what is called The Digital Maine Library. And then some of the databases is also something that we paid for as an institution. And to use our database, that is where they need to get a library card. So if you’re a member or a patron, you get access to these databases for free. There’s no limit to how much you can download, how much you can use.
Yury: So can we talk just a little bit about these, you know, business databases? So what kind of information can we get out of them?
Will: It depends on what you’re looking for. So most of the time people come in looking for stuff like market research. Again, I work with so many community partners that aid or assist people going through such process. An example is SCORE. I work closely with New Ventures Maine. So mostly people are looking for market research, consumer market information, consumer competitive intelligence. I’m going to take time and explain some of these.
So what that means is that if you are in a business, let’s say you are in the coffee industry, like you want to open a coffee shop, maybe you already opened your shop. You want to know how many coffee shops are within your area or a certain area, how much they’re making a year, how many employees they have, who is the leader, who is a CEO, how many employees they have, what is their location, their website, the address and the phone numbers and all that. And also if the information they provided is verified information or not.
Mostly people also want expenditure behavior. So again, if you want to go into a business and you want to know if maybe you want to open up a business in Portland and you want to know if people within the area that you’re looking at are into your business. So you can find individuals who again, for example, spend on coffee. So if I ever spend my money on coffee, my name will pop up, my address will come up, my gender, how much I make in a year, where I live, everything will pop up.
Rich: Wait a sec. All right, hold on. How do you, who is tracking my coffee purchases here? I want to know about this because I blame Google and Facebook for this sort of stuff, but I didn’t realize we do it down to the public library and get a lot of this information as well.
So, let’s use another example. Let’s say that we wanted to open a doggy daycare, right? Okay. So, if I’m understanding, what you’re saying is I could go there and there are databases that will tell me about say how many dog owners. That’s certainly something that’s public knowledge or public information, is how many dog owners are in greater Portland or something like that. What other information could I gather about the owners?
Will: Well, how many dog owners you can get an estimate, but then there’s no official number of how many dog owners. But I would reference for example, you can get something reliable in terms of the numbers. So…what was the question again?
Rich: Well, so like if I want to find out how many dog owners there are, you’re saying that I could probably find out approximately how many numbers there are. But I wouldn’t necessarily be able to find out their names and addresses, or I would be able to get that kind of info?
Will: You’ll find their names. So this is how it works. You go to the portion that allows you to do that. So it allows you to select the areas that you are looking at. You can select the city, you can select the state, you can select the county, you can select the zip code, census, and neighborhood. So depending on what you’re looking for.
Since Portland has more than one zip code, we’ll stick to one. For example, you want to look at zip code 04101, how many dog owners. It will give you all the dog owners, their full names, home address. It doesn’t tell you what they do for work. Their gender, how much they make, the home income, home value, the percentage of ownership if they own their house, if they’ve paid 40% towards the mortgage, they will tell you that.
Yury: And it’s all available at the Portland Public Library?
Will: Yes. It would tell you who live close to that particular person. So for example, you’re looking at Will, and you want to find out who lives next to me, who is a potential dog owner. You can also tell, not necessarily going from scratch and researching all those kinds of coordinates and all that. You can search who lives next to me that might be a dog owner, and it’ll bring all those information as well.
Rich: Or if I had a product that would quiet dog barking, that would be something that I would market to all of your neighbors if you own a dog. So there you go.
Will: It also tells you, I’ve already mentioned the gender, it gives you the phone numbers sometimes. And in rare occasions it gives you their email addresses as well, but it is illegal to call them and solicit and sell your business to them. Obviously it’s a federal crime, so people would normally do is to send a postcard through the mail, which is obviously allowed. So that’s the goal for those people. So just to let people be aware of that.
Rich: Makes a lot of sense.
Yury: You know, I’m just shocked. I actually, I have to say, on Thursday I’m actually going to attend the seminar at the Portland Public Library. So I’m actually going to be sitting there and conducting my research on what Rich Brooks is doing and what he is very good for lunch and how much he spends on coffee.
Rich: Just as me anytime. So you mentioned a little bit about how we could also check out our competition as well. So I guess by using that same mentality, if I’m a B2B kind of company, business to business, I could also find like, if I’m selling to manufacturers, I can get a list of all the manufacturers in Maine and the contact people and all that sort of stuff as well. This just sounds like really critical information for anybody who’s looking to develop a marketing plan and or business plan. Correct?
Yury: So, you know, if I’m in a particular kind of business, using this information I can basically understand how much competition I have and what is the size of the market that I may potentially tap into. Correct?
Yury: You know, so if we take this information and we put it in our business plan, so we’re basically increase in our chances for being funded or being more successful. Since you launched this program or since you’ve been part of this program, do you see more people coming back to conduct those researches? Are they using this information more often?
Will: Yes. I’ve had people mostly right after they… so this is what I do. I do it every month and dedicate an hour and 20 minutes. And afterwards I have an open channel where people call or email me when they have a challenge. Especially I encourage them to send me a screenshot of whatever they are facing so that we can walk through it. But day in and day out, people come back.
But that isn’t the only thing I do. So sometimes, mostly I don’t encourage people reaching back to me on the databases. But there’s no limit to attending the workshop every month if you have the time. You can attend all the sessions if you want.
But yeah, people keep coming back and they call and say, “Hey, I was able to do everything, I’ve seen everything that I wanted, but I cannot download it to the way I wanted to download it. I don’t want the gender. I don’t want the race of the company owners. How do I do that?” Then I’ll show you how to custom download and it’s downloadable in Microsoft Excel as well. So sometimes I encourage them to download it in that sense so that they can filter out some of these columns or spaces that they don’t need.
Yury: So you know for those of us that don’t really go to libraries to get information from the internet, just using Google, what’s the main difference? I understand the piece where you can hold their hands and walk them through the databases. But you know, why can’t I get this information on Google?
Will: You cannot get this information from Google. You may get some numbers from Google, but the question is do you trust it? My opening lines doing some of these workshops are, search areas that you know. So we are all familiar with this area. So search the areas that you know, it’s true that these businesses here do what they say they do. But Google, you can do that and you cannot find all this information on Google. You may be able to Google, “Reference USA”, and it will lead you to the database. But if you don’t have a subscription to it, which is quite expensive as an individual, you can’t get it on Google. So unless you are willing to spend the money on it, if not, it’s not easily available online.
Rich: Right. And because you’re not using this day in and day out, it doesn’t really make sense for you to have your own subscription anyway. So go on down to the public library. Do I have to physically be in the public library to get this information, or is there any sort of remote login that you guys have for these databases?
Will: It depends on the situation. If you have a library card, you don’t have to necessarily be in the building. But if you do not and you want to use it, you have to be in a building either using one of our public computers or using your own laptop connecting to our Wi-Fi connectivity.
Rich: It’s just an amazing resource. So I briefly touched on B2B companies versus B2C. Obviously there’s more rules protecting the privacy of consumers in many ways than there are businesses. So for these databases, for businesses, I assume I get all the same type of information, but I would be able to call if I got phone numbers of all the manufacturers or all the coffee shops in town, if I’m selling to those two groups, and I’d be able to reach out to the?
Will: From B2B, you can do that. B2C, you can call it an order, but just a business cannot call an individual on their private line.
Rich: Right. And it’s also against the rules most of the time to be sending out emails, blast emails, to people as well. So they should be aware of that, too. But you could take – I’m just going to throw this out there – you can take their emails and upload them to Facebook and advertise to them on Facebook. I’m just saying that’s still legal as of today.
Yury: You can also do geo-targeting based on the addresses and advertise directly to those business owners while they are in the office.
Rich: When you’re down there on Thursday, make sure you can get all the data we need to advertise the Fast Forward Maine conference.
Yury: Oh, absolutely. Well, can you, can you tell us about, as I mentioned earlier, I’m going to the workshop this Thursday. But you know, what are the other workshops, what do you teach during the workshops and why would the listeners want to participate and attend workshops?
Will: So with this particular workshop, I will work closely with SCORE as I’ve mentioned earlier. So SCORE, every year I train the trainers for the SCORE mentors. So they kind of understand what we have and before they send somebody there so they know where we have. So they send their mentees there if at that point in time they need that data. I don’t have it for the class or the workshop, when I start the first few people present, I ask them, “What are you looking for?” Mostly people, which makes sense, people feel uncomfortable sharing that I want to go into floral business in maybe Westbrook. You don’t know what the other person is looking for, so maybe people feel a little bit uncomfortable. So I asked just like an informal thing and then they’ll tell me, “Oh my SCORE mentor says I need a business plan, and I’m at that point that I need market research. He also encouraged that I download some samples of stuff like that”.
So the first few people and those that walk in afterwards, usually everybody is looking for either consumer expenditure behavior, competencies, intelligence or business plan. So when I’m able to satisfy the first few interactions in the room, and we have time and if anybody has anything that we’re not satisfied, I open the window to concentrate on that one as well. And I might say it’s a lot of information to get at the go. That is why again, we have channels where people can always reach back or attend a class again if they want.
Yury: Can someone participate in those classes remotely or do they have to be on site?
Will: Remotely, not at this point. Maybe someday we’ll get there, but you have to be there. This very moment you have to be there.
Rich: That’s awesome. What are some of the other resources that the library offers for business owners out there?
Will: Well, it depends on what you’re looking for as a business owner. We have a database, small business research center. Tt has four different pages if you like, and it teaches you about management. So anything under management. If you want to expand your business, how to deal with your employees and all that. It has a funding if you’re looking for funding, if you want to see governmental personnel funding, it gives you all those ideas. And then it has planning and has a market research and all that. So it all depends on what you’re looking for as a business owner or somebody who wants to go into business.
But the main key usually is to market research, competition intelligence, consumer expenditure behavior, build a business plan. And then we also have over a thousand professional and scholarly publications related to business. So if you are just a curious minded person, you just need something business related to read, be it a student or a professor, we can satisfy that need as well with what we have.
The beautiful thing is that, sometimes we don’t have everything, so we are happy to connect you with other resources that we think will be very useful to you. So if we aren’t able to satisfy that particular query, we make sure we connect you with other resources available for you to find whatever you’re looking for.
Yury: And the resources that you mentioned, are they free of charge or how would it work? Would you assist me with obtaining information that you don’t have as your member?
Will: Usually there is a referral connection that we make, most of them are free. For example, if you want to use a database, let’s say like [inaudible] and then we don’t have it – which you don’t have a subscription to, it’s usually academic institutions and USM has it – the USM library has a policy where you are allowed daily usage so you can access to everything in there for free on a daily basis. So we connect you to that and you can use that for free. So usually we channel people to resources that are either free or we add them. I haven’t seen any referral we’ve made that cost money.
Rich: So again, just for everybody listening, this is just another amazing free resource here in Maine. There is literally no excuse for you not to be growing your business here. Tap into the public library, tap into Will for sure. Attend one of these business data workshops because there’s just some great resources out there.
Yury: All right, so now we are finally at the part where we can ask the biggest question of the show. You are ready, so here it goes. What one thing would you change if you could, to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?
Rich: Yes. Wave your magic wand.
Will: I think in Maine we need a central dissemination of business related information and resources. This is what I mean. We have more than one, either the city or the state or nonprofits, some of these organization are doing basically a little bit of the same. And that’s because they are not under one body, people tend to repeat what is being done already. So instead of rechanneling resources to things that are important to the business ecosystem that is not being looked at, the wheel is being reinvented.
So I believe if we’re able to have an umbrella body or platform where I know what Rich does, Rich knows what I do, I wouldn’t repeat what you’re doing but I will concentrate and challenge people more to be creative and find solutions that are pertinent to the business ecosystem. But since we don’t have that, I think that is another thing that I wish I can change.
Rich: Awesome. That is great answer.
Rich: Will, this has been fantastic. Can you just remind us where we can find you online for people who want to connect with you, and a little bit more info about the next business data workshops take place?
Will: So everything about some of our resources and everything is on our website. If you go to portlandpubliclibrary.com, you can access all our resources, either book or database, remotely. However, if you do not have a library card, you may not be able to do so from the comfort of your home or office. You can also call the reference desk at 207-871-700 x725, and anybody on desk would pick up your call if we’re open and try to answer your question. If it is more detailed and needs my attention, they would share my information with you to connect with me either over the phone or via email.
The next database workshop would be Thursday, the 27th. And there’ll be another one in March and in May as well.
Rich: Awesome. This has been fantastic. Will, thank you so much for stopping by today.